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Giorgio Morandi


(Excerpt from Karen Wilkin's book contributed by Nick Dell'Oso)

"Morandi's themes and, to a large extent, his style were essentially established by the time he was thirty. For the rest of his life as an artist, he remained committed to exploring a deliberately limited territory, in a nearly obsessive investigation of perception that produced images at once remarkable for their repetitiveness and for their subtle variation. But for all the conscious narrowing of his field of inquiry, for all the rigorousness of his self-imposed restrictions, he had no single way of making a picture. It often seems as though he were testing the limits of representation, now vigorously modeling and separating forms and setting alike into broad, uninflected passages of paint. It even appears that each new picture, each new set of visual phenomena, no matter how familiar, elicits from him a different touch, a different way of orchestrating color. In fact, the more closely we look at Morandi's art, the more images we examine, the more individual each picture seems.

"This is true even among the still lifes constructed of utterly familiar, repeated objects. In some, Morandi gangs those objects together so that they touch, hiding and cropping one another in ways that alter even the most recognizable features; in others, the same objects are treated as distinct individuals, gathered on the surface of the tabletop like an urban crowd in a piazza. In still others, objects are pressed and staggered like the buildings of a town on the fertile Emilian plains. In Morandi's closely linked "serial still lifes", apparently identical groupings of familiar objects, altered by the addition or subtraction of a single element, the presence (or absence) of one more bottle, one less box, as casually placed as an afterthought, can serve not only to completely shift the dynamic weight and the spatial logic of a given composition, but to change its color harmonies, and even the entire proportion of the picture.

"At first glance, Morandi's objects appear to be the detritus of domesticity, a collection of things once in daily use, but discarded either because they have suffered some kind of damage or because their contents have been exhausted. Confronted by such subject matter, it is easy to understand why Morandi has been compared so often with Chardin, whose still lifes also celebrated the ordinary and the humble, the trappings of the kitchen and the pantry, presenting them without sentimentality, but with scrupulous attention to their individual formal characteristics. Yet longer acquaintance with Morandi's still lifes makes their artifice more apparent. Clearly, these are studio set-ups, groupings created to be scrutinized, their plastic and visual relationships probed.

"Particularly after the 1940's, Morandi tended to emphasize the shapes and profiles of his objects in his pictures, distinguishing them by shifts in color, but unifying them with an even-handed, brushy application of paint…Yet it is clear from the objects that he hoarded in his studio that he often selected his subject matter as much for tone and texture as for form. The vases are opaque opaline glass or ceramic, dulled by age and dust. Matteness, dullness, and neutrality obviously counted a good deal for Morandi. Boxes and bottles, for example, were routinely stripped of labels or had identifying must have helped to homogenize disparate materials and reduce them to essential forms. In addition, many objects were brushed with flat white or grayish paint, to destroy reflections and anything accidental, as though the painter were striving to distance himself from the particulars of his circumscribed subjects in order to render them as abstract geometric archetypes.

"In the same way, Morandi's landscapes and his urban scenes - economical views of the countryside near Bologna or of the cortile of his apartment house on the Via Fondazza - tread a narrow line between the essential and the particular. Some of the landscapes have the suddenness, instability, and rightness of an unexpected view from a moving train. Light and shade become abstractions momentarily made identifiable (and tangible) by a transient association with walls, foliage, and earth. A narrow register of grayed, pearly tones, like the rock-solid construction of these pictures, simultaneously pays homage to Cezanne and evokes the special character of the Emilian landscape: the moist, hazy light of spring and fall, the dusty, baking sunshine of summer, the elementally solid farmhouses, the dense rows of silvery juniper, the harshly ploughed fields. The landscapes are soundless, distanced, almost dreamlike. (Brandi recalls Morandi's using binoculars to study a landscape motif from his studio window). But there is nothing sentimental about the painter's view of modern-day Italy; there is no nostalgia for an idyllic past…Television antennae and electric wires provide and excuse for subtle, delicate mark-making that mediates between sky and roofline in a series of Via Fondazza paintings of the late 1950's.

"This dialogue - or tug of war - between the specific and the elemental lies at the heart of Morandi's work. He seems to explore how much he can simplify before the objects and the places he obsessively returned to throughout his long career become unrecognizable. At other times he backs away from generalization, insisting on particulars to the point where each bottle and vase seems as individual as the subjects of the portraits he draw as a precocious art student."

- From "Giorgio Morandi", by Karen Wilkin

Further reading on Giorgio Morandi

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Giorgio Morandi Images

1920 Still Life (The Blue Vase)
1951 Still Life (Cups and Boxes)

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