Alberto Giacometti: The Artist of Attenuated Sculptures
Conveying his unique artistic vision of the image of humankind in space and creating attenuated sculptures of solitary figures in bronze, that shows the influence of Existentialism, the Swiss sculptor and painter, Alberto Giacometti, is best-known for his elongated and withered representations of human forms, seen as metaphors for the postwar experience of doubt and alienation.
Associated at various times with Cubism, Surrealism and Existentialism, Giacometti was born on October 10, 1901, in the small mountain village of Borgonovo, Switzerland, near the Italian-Swiss border. From an early age, Giacometti displayed precocious talent and was much encouraged by his father, Giovanni, Post-Impressionist painter, and by his godfather, Cuno Amiet, a Fauvist painter. In 1906, his family moved to the nearby town of Stampa, where he spent a happy childhood and to which he returned regularly until his death.
In 1919, Giacometti moved to Geneva, where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and École des Arts et Métiers. After spending some time in Venice and Padua in May 1920, he went to Florence and Rome, where he encountered rich collections of Egyptian art. The stylized and fixed, yet striding, figures with their steady gazes proved to have a lasting impact on his art.
Between 1922 and 1925 Giacometti studied at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière in Paris. Although he owed much to his teacher, Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, his style was very different. It was related to the Cubist sculpture of Alexander Archipenko and Raymond Duchamp- Villon and to the Post-Cubist sculpture of Henry Laurens and Jacques Lipchitz.
In “Torso” (1925), Giacometti merged the classical tradition with the avant-garde and reduced the human body to a grouping of geometric shapes which, together, capture the contrapposto posture. He was also inspired by primitive art as in “The Spoon-Woman” (1926), however, it was his flat slablike sculptures such as “Observing Head” (1927/28), that soon made him popular among the Paris avant-garde.
Continuing the abstraction trend in the early 1930s, Giacometti began working in a distinctly Surrealist fashion as well, attempting to express unconscious desires in erotically charged works such as “Suspended Balls” and “The Palace at 4 A.M.” Using the themes of life and death, he attempted metaphorical compositions such as “Hands Holding the Void” and “1+1=3”. After an acrimonious break with Surrealism in 1935, he began his radical revision of the representational tradition in sculpture.
With the outbreak of WW II, Giacometti left Paris and returned to Switzerland, where he would work until the conflict's end. During this time his sculptures of the human figure became elongated and thin and increasingly small, lending the figure an air of loneliness and suffering. His severe figures explored the psyche and the charged space occupied by a single person. The anguish present in works like “Man Pointing” (1947) and “City Square” (1948), earned him solo exhibitions in New York in 1948 and 1950.
During the 1950s, Giacometti's work continued to evolve, with his sculptures becoming larger, thinner, and more complicated. He also undertook a series of dark, intense portraits of family members and later in the decade he began a lengthy period of illustration work for books by contemporary authors. Internationally famous by the early 1960s, he was awarded the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Amidst falling health, in 1964 he also received the Guggenheim International Award for Painting, followed by retrospective of his work at the Tate Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
At the age of 64, Alberto Giacometti died of cardiac exhaustion on January 11, 1966, in Chur, Switzerland, and was buried in Borgnovo cemetery.