Giorgio Griffa. The Seventies
by Ivan Quaroni
The Seventies were, artistically, a period compressed between the rigorous approach of the conceptual, minimalist and poor neo-avant-gardes and the subsequent returns to painting of experiences such as the Transavantgarde, Haftige Malerei, Figuration Libre, Bad Painting and Graffiti. Yet, between these two opposing cultural climates, in a median but somewhat uncomfortable position, the research of artists who have been able to tackle the problem of painting with a new energy has matured. At the end of the season of informal experimentation, and grappling with the conceptual legacy, which relegated painting to an apparently marginal position, these artists, called, rightly or wrongly, Analytical Painters, were able to re-establish the value of a millenary practice, starting from its foundations, that is, from the grammatical and linguistic foundations that constitute it.
The "loose dogs" of Analytical Painting, as Giorgio Griffa defined them, had the merit of restoring centrality to a discipline which - in what Achille Bonito Oliva defined the "Lenten" climate of the neo-avant-gardes - seemed to occupy a peripheral position compared to other practices.
It was thanks to the individual commitment of artists such as Giorgio Griffa, Rodolfo Aricò, Marco Gastini, Claudio Olivieri, Claudio Verna and others, that the history of painting in Italy took a new course. A direction of renewal which, while referring back to the abstract researches of the Second World War and to the conceptual ones of the 1960s, aimed to start again from the basics, that is, from the primary and unavoidable elements of painting: the sign, the color, the support, considered as tools of a cognitive process of reality and the world.
Giorgio Griffa's work is part of the climate of these researches, variously defined with the terms Anti-Form, Painting-Painting or Analytical Painting. The place is Turin, where the artist works, and the starting date is the two-year period 1967/1968, "in which the passage from a previous traditional and generic work to my specific work can be fixed", admits the artist . It is, in fact, in that period that a methodology takes shape in Griffa's painting that is not the result of a sudden revelation, but the result of a long reflection on painting, considered as a language no longer virgin, but molded from a centuries-old tradition and burdened by the weight of historical and cultural sedimentation.
The discipline, the languages and the iconographies, but also the materials and tools of painting are, for Griffa, full of traces and full of memories, so much so that "anyone who uses the means of painting naturally finds himself with a very wide range of references ". Not only. The artist's inner ability to manufacture images, to build figures since ancient times is also sedimented. For this reason Griffa believes that the artist can "strip off the task of processing these images", so that they coincide exactly with the mark of the brush. An anonymous sign, which does not designate a personal abbreviation, but which appears, rather, as a minimal intervention for the realization of that meeting of materials (color, support, tools) from which the images take shape. "But to affirm this, to say that my hand is like your hand", Griffa confides in an interview, "I made marks on the canvas as you could: this was my message [...]". The works created from the end of the 1960s to the end of the following decade are the most evident outcome of this reflection. They show a progression of "Primary signs", arranged on canvases without frames and frames, according to scores of very dry and concise horizontal and vertical lines.
These lines are configured as interventions that are each time different in thickness and color on surfaces that are most empty, but marked by the subtle folds of the canvas, which form a sort of grid or quadrature made up of shadows and lights. The works of the"Primary Signs" cycle highlight how his painting is the product of the encounter between the memories of gesture and sign, which summarize the entire tradition of art, and the material traces of the support. "I am convinced", Griffa affirms, "that painting has this memory so strong, so important, that the only thing left for me to do is to put the brush, my hand at the service of painting [...] ". Nonetheless, his are signs full of history. In their simplicity, the lines of color, drawn by hand, summarize the memory of all the pictorial events. They are, in essence, the effect of a gesture of synthesis and, at the same time, of a "lightening" of the entire sedimentary corpus of art.
To convey the value of the "primary signs", Griffa later resorts to the thought of the philosopher and anthropologist Arnold Gehelen (Leipzig, 1904 - Hamburg, 1976), who believed that man was capable of creating codified behavioral patterns whenever similar circumstances arise. . This ability would have exempted man from developing responses to environmental stimuli or similar internal impulses, thus making him save energy to be used in other activities, such as the development of abstract thinking. Gehelen called this procedure of energy saving and coding of human activities "Principle of exemption" (Entlastung).
As I noted elsewhere, Griffa did not miss the analogy between his own way of thinking and practicing painting and the mechanism of Gehelen's exemption. The artist's gesture, "his differentiated repetition, that is, that way of modulating [...] the bases of the pictorial discourse (the point, the line, the surface, the material), is something very similar to the conditioned reflection and to the practical habit that has its roots in the very physiology of painting ". The pictorial practice, with its millenary memory, can thus become a summarizing activity favored by the "principle of exemption", a way to "condense" and, at the same time, "lighten", through the economy of symbols and signs, the enormous mass of information which constitutes the history of art.
The works exhibited in this exhibition, created between 1973 and 1979, are the perfect demonstration of this synthesis. From a formal point of view, in fact, no analytical procedure is implemented in Griffa's painting. Rather, what is produced is the result of condensation, not decomposition. In the encounter of the hand with the brush and of this with the color and with the canvas, in turn marked by its own experience, the ideal conditions are generated for that coding mechanism that allows painting to be relieved of its history, summarizing it in the drafting. of simple color lines on a bare surface. But its "Primary Signs" are also abstract signs in that “they do not pass through the threshold of figure ". Griffa's painting, in fact, has always been in constant dialogue with the great figurative tradition, from Piero della Francesca to Paolo Uccello, from Henri Matisse to Tiepolo, up to Mario Merz. The Turin artist, who had made his debut at the Martano gallery with a still figurative language, has always considered himself a traditional painter, in the sense that he has always considered the dialectic between abstraction and figuration to be harmful. His was not, therefore, a choice of field, but an acknowledgment of the uselessness of the figure in the elaboration of his own pictorial conception: "I realized that I had to look at the painting-event, instead of using painting to tell the external event, so that this was 'the "supper of the gods" or a line that moves in space ”.Griffa's pictorial procedure is clarified in detail in a speech by the artist at the First Conference of Work Communications of Contemporary Artists, held in Rome in May 1979 and can be summarized as follows: first the elementary components of each individual intervention are decided , i.e. the size, width and length of the signs and, therefore, the tool to be used (thin brush, wide brush or sponge); secondly, the starting point of the sequence of signs is established (top left, as in Western writing or top right, as in Eastern writing systems, or from top to bottom or vice versa); finally, we proceed to the pictorial drafting in a state of extreme concentration. "The work is never completed", explains the artist, "that is, the canvas is never completely painted, so that the trace remains, on that timeless and complete product that is the painting, of the operational method that is instead for the its temporal nature, the metaphor of a space that is perennially unfinished ".
For Griffa, painting is a process, an event or an occurrence within which the artist introduces himself. Just as the work of art is not an object but, if anything, a subject that condenses the whole of humanity, transcending the position of the individual. The action taken by Griffa is, therefore, an action in which all the experiences that man has entrusted to art over the centuries precipitate, summarized in the fatal encounter of a gesture and a sign on the surface of the canvas, that is, on that fragment of reality on which the magic of painting is eternally fulfilled and renewed.
Precisely on these premises is the belief that the function of art is based on "saying the unspeakable, what cannot fall into the meat grinder of media communication". Given that "other forms of human thought and action are unable to become an instrument of knowledge in the same way as painting, they are unable to reach the same share of the unknown, the unknowable, the surplus".
Griffa often cites the mythological episode of Apollo who hands the lyre to Orpheus as a metaphor for reason that gives way to madness to explain how the dominion of art circumscribes a different type of knowledge. A knowledge that inevitably resorts to a cryptic and enigmatic grammar, the only one that, together with music and poetry, can penetrate the dimension of the ineffable, that extreme limit of human experience and consciousness, where all the others stop. systems of understanding the world.
Tags: Giorgio Griffa - Grifa - Pittura Analitica