Maurizio Fagiolo, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa, Galleria Godel, Roma, 1972.
Vittorio Fagone e Aldo Passoni, Catalogo Fare Pittura, Museo di Bassano del Grappa, 1973.
Daniela Palazzoli, Pittura Radicale, Domus, maggio 1973, p. 54.
Tommaso Trini, Come e perché dipingono, Data, estate 1973, pp. 50-59.
Paolo Fossati, Nuove pitture: Gastini e Griffa, Data, inverno 1973, pp. 66-75.
Germano Celant, La pittura fredda Europea, Domus, ottobre 1973, p. 53.
Tommaso Trini, Giorgio Griffa, biographie d'un peintre, Art Press n.15, dic 1974-gen. 1975, pp. 18-20.
Vittorio Fagone, Catalogo Sempre cose nuove pensando, International Cultureel Centrum, Antwerpen, 1975, pp. 23-25.
Hermann Kern, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa , Kunstraum, München, 1975.
Klaus Honnef e Catherine Millet, Analystiche Malerei, Masnata, 1975.
Filiberto Menna, La linea analitica dell'arte moderna, Einaudi, 1975, p. 83. ISBN 978-88-06-16051-7
Giulio Carlo Argan e Italo Mussa, Catalogo I colori della Pittura, Istituto Italiano-Latino Americano, Roma, 1976, p. 138, 213.
Gillo Dorfles, Ultime Tendenze nell'arte d'oggi, Milano, Feltrinelli 1976, p. 77. ISBN 978-88-07-81566-9
Achille Bonito Oliva, Europa-America, Parma, Franco Maria Ricci, 1977, p. 156.
Germano Celant, Identité Italienne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1981, p. 249, 472, 480, 579, 626.
Jürgen Schilling, Catalogo 11 Italienische Kunstler in München, Kunstlerwerkstäten, München, 1982.
Flaminio Gualdoni, Catalogo Registrazioni di frequenze, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Bologna , 1982.
Francesco Poli, Pittura di superficie ma profonda un secolo, Nuova Società, 13 novembre 1982, p. 55.
Giorgio Griffa e Claudio Cerritelli, Dialogo sospeso sulla pittura, Galleria Nuova 2000, Bologna, 1984.
Filiberto Menna, Catalogo L'Italie aujourd'hui, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Nice, 1985.
Flaminio Gualdoni, Catalogo On language and ecstasy, Alvar Aalto Museo, Jyväskylä, 1985, pp. 63 e seg.
Francesco Poli, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa, Galleria Martano, Torino, 1985.
Silvana Sinisi, Giorgio Griffa, lieve replicante, Galleria Banchi Nuovi, Roma, 1987.
Piergiovanni Castagnoli e Flaminio Gualdoni, Catalogo Disegno italiano del dopoguerra, Cooptip, 1987.
Claudio Cerritelli, Maestri d'avventura, Ravenna, Essegi, 1987, pp. 36 e seg.
Silvana Sinisi, Catalogo Il passo dell'acrobata, Mazzotta, 1987.
Filiberto Menna, Catalogo Mediterranea, electa, 1988, pp. 96 e seg.
Giovanni Maria Accame, Catalogo Ragione e trasgressione, Electa, 1988, pp. 48 e seg.
Paolo Fossati e Mario Bertoni, Griffa, Ravenna, Essegi, 1990. ISBN 978-88-7189-145-3
Paolo Fossati, Catalogo Architettura e urbanistica a Torino 1945-1990, Torino, Allemandi, 1991. ISBN 978-88-422-0312-4
Giorgio Griffa, II principio di indeterminazione, Milano, Maestri Incisori Editore, 1994.
Giovanni Maria Accame, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa l'origine profonda, Bergamo, Galleria Fumagalli, 1995.
Martina Corgnati e Giorgio Griffa, Di segno in segno, Bergamo, Galleria Fumagalli, 1995.
Giorgio Verzotti e Tommaso Trini, Pittura italiana da collezioni italiane, Milano, Charta, 1997. ISBN 978-88-8158-125-2
Giorgio Griffa, Come un dialogo, Milano, Lorenzelli, 1997.
Giorgio Griffa, Approdo a Gilania, Torino, Galleria Salzano, 1998.
Dede Auregli e Danilo Eccher, Catalogo Arte italiana. Ultimi quarant'anni. Pittura aniconica, Milano, Skira, 1998, pp. 178 e seg. ISBN 978-88-8118-441-5
Riccardo Passoni, Catalogo Turiner Künstler in Stuttgart/Artisti torinesi a Stoccarda, Torino, GAM, 1998.
Annemarie Sauzeau, Bruno Corà, Giorgio Bonomi, Catalogo Le soglie della pittura, Perugia, Rocca Paolina Perugia, 1999, pp. 48-49, 88 e segg.
Giorgio Griffa, Intelligenza della materia, Torino, Galleria Salzano, 2000.
Maria Cristina Mundici, Maria Mimita Lamberti, Mario Rasetti, Giorgio Griffa. Uno e due, Torino, GAM, 2002. ISBN 978-88-88103-15-0
Marco Meneguzzo, Catalogo Pittura Analitica, Galliate, Museo Angelo Bozzola, 2003 pp. 38 e seg.
A.A.VV, Castello di Rivoli - La Collezione, Torino, Allemandi Torino, 2003 p. 190.
Giovanni Maria Accame, Catalogo Le figure mancanti, Torino, Palazzo Bricherasio, 2003, pp. 54 e seg., pp. 129 e seg.
Francesco Poli, Arte Contemporanea, Milano, Electa, 2003, pp. 77, 82, 90. ISBN 978-88-370-3706-2
Claudio Cerritelli, Catalogo L'Incanto della Pittura, Mantova, Casa del Mantegna, 2004, p. 238.
Klaus Wolbert, Luca Massimo Barbero, Marco Meneguzzo, Giorgio Griffa, Milano, Silvana, 2005. ISBN 978-88-8215-881-1
Germano Celant, Vibrazioni cromatiche, in L'Espresso 16.6.2005, p. 135.
AA.VV., Castello di Rivoli - 20 anni di arte contemporanea, Milano, Skira, 2005, p. 284.
Francesco Poli, Minimalismo Arte Povera Arte Concettuale, Roma, Laterza, 6ª ediz., 2005, p. 104 e altre. ISBN 978-88-420-4568-7
Alberto Fiz, La linea analitica della pittura, Milano, Silvana, 2007, p. 26 segg. ISBN 978-88-366-0841-6
AA.VV., Catalogo TIME & PLACE Torino-Milano 1958-1968, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2008, p. 138. ISBN 978-3-86521-641-0
Francesco Poli e Francesco Bernardelli, Arte contemporanea dall'informale alle ricerche attuali, Milano, Mondadori, 2008, pp. 136, 155. ISBN 978-88-370-5229-4
Pier Giovanni Castagnoli e Elena Volpato, Dieci anni di acquisizioni per la GAM di Torino 1998-2008, Torino, Allemandi, 2008, tavole 132/5. ISBN 978-88-422-1635-3
Alberto Fitz, Giorgio Griffa. Segnando Pittura, Milano, Silvana, 2008. ISBN 978-88-366-1241-3
Giorgina Bertolino e Francesca Pola, Catalogo Torino sperimentale 1959-1969, Torino, Giulio Bolaffi, 2010, p. 129. ISBN 978-88-88406-56-5
Giovanni Maria Accame, La forma plurale, Milano, Charta, 2010, pp. 44 seg.
Luca Massimo Barbero, Torino Sperimentale 1959-1969, Allemandi & C., 2010, p. 415 segg. ISBN 978-88-422-1848-7
Giorgio Griffa e Giulio Giorello, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa - La divina proporzione, Milano, Studio Guastalla, 2010.
Martina Corgnati e Giorgio Griffa, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa - Alter Ego 1979-2008, Milano, Skira, 2011. ISBN 978-88-572-1068-1
Luca Massimo Barbero, Francesca Pola, Giorgio Griffa, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa - Canone aureo, MACRO Roma, Marsilio, 2011. ISBN 978-88-317-1030-5
Wita Noack, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa - Golden Ratio, Berlino, Mies van der Rohe Haus, 2012. ISBN 978-3-935053-73-0
Francesco Tedeschi, Il Colore come forma plastica, Ginevra-Milano, Skira, 2012, p. 16, 35, 46. ISBN 978-88-572-1746-8
Charles Wylie, Catalogo Giorgio Griffa - Fragments 1968-2012, Casey Kaplan, 2013. ISBN 978-0-615-78039-9
Seung-Taek Lee e Giorgio Griffa, Giorgio Griffa's Segni orizzontali (1975), London, Tate Etc. Issue 30, Spring 2014, p. 107.
Ivan Quaroni , "Giorgio Griffa : esonerare il mondo / to relieve the world", ABC-ARTE S.r.l, 2015, Bilingual edition 96 pages, Publisher: ABC-ARTE S.r.l, ISBN: 978-88-95618-08-1, Dimensions: 26,5x19,2
Un mondo astratto non basta
Giorgio Griffa in conversation with Leonardo Caffo
Caffo.The abstract world is not enough, but perhaps today more than ever we realise that the abstract is a form of the patently concrete, tangible, almost tactile. The world has never been as virtual as it is today; among the digital clouds, primary structures as forms and colours seem to be all that takes place. Colour, in fact, represented as a pure form of the intellect still seems to be something mysterious to us. Wittgenstein defines the science that seeks to understand what the pure ideas are that form the grammar of vision as a ‘mathematics of colour’. I thought that, basically, this idea of Wittgenstein would fit much of your work (from Segni primari [primary signs] to the analysis of Sezione aurea [golden section]) perfectly. If I say ‘colour’, we are bound to think of an abstract idea that only takes on form in the concrete.
So let’s start here. What comes to mind when I say the word ‘colour’? Do you agree with this definition of Wittgenstein? It is on the tightrope between the abstract and the concrete, where colour seems to be something privileged, that we find that ‘trace of life’ of Yves Klein: ‘Long live the virtual!’.
Griffa. Yes, long live the virtual.
Science with quantitative mechanics and philosophy with Wittgenstein and Nietzsche (as a philosopher, you can tell me if I am wrong here) have reopened a vast pasture of the unknown that the West seemed to have filed away, relegating it to the ‘primitive’ peoples, though they were not primitive when it came to thought and not technology.
The arts, which have always drawn on what is not material, resume that dialogue that had been interrupted when the West began to pay the price of an immense scientific and technological development, reducing the person to a mere economic subject.
It is not by chance that Schopenhauer wrote ‘My Orient’ at the beginning of the nineteenth century, while colonial exploitation was becoming widespread on the pretext of cultural superiority. Although thanks to Romanticism, of which I am not particularly fond, we have regained that lost unity of the material and the non-material, of the known and the unknown, of being and non-being, of Yin and Yang.
The vast energy of the universe, which operates as an unimaginable intelligence through imperceptible particles that only appear when they are active, comprises not only stones, trees and living beings, but all the thoughts of everyone. This is the title of my exhibition currently on show in Spoleto Museum.
The mark of the brush on the canvas and the passage of that immense, undifferentiated universal energy into that fragment of material energy that is given substance in the mark.
Caffo. This energy, which in philosophy reminds me of the theory of shared intellect of Averroes, seems to appear practically everywhere in your work. The continuous coming into being of marks understood as black holes, the fields that are charged with an immense energy like that of Dionysus, are certainly something that has a very privileged and critical relation with the present. You spoke of this ‘immense price’ of progress and of techno-industrial society, and your scepticism vis-à-vis the internet already seemed to play a large part during our first meeting. Yet, at bottom, the internet is this very non-material, undifferentiated energy that can be crystallised in a mark and originated as a dream of a shared intellect. So have things gone wrong? Perhaps. The point, and here comes my second question for you, is that not all marks have the same value when they try to crystallise the energy that gives rise to them. Is there an ethic within this aesthetic of energy that you are talking about?
Griffa. I would say that, with its capacity to collect billions of data in a storehouse that does not exist, without space or time, virtual, the internet helps me to consider Gilgamesh and Apollo as real from the single fact of being thought. It would be absurd to deny them just because we do not find them in the material world.
Our era has only just opened an immense gateway, perhaps comparable only to the two major inventions of the past, namely metals and writing. The contraries coexist here, there are margins to recover an obviously different richness, that of archaic man, who became aware in the time of Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Thales and Heraclitus, the birth of philosophy, and the successive centuries.
The shrunken homo œconomicus of our recent times has to regain that lost unity of spirit and matter, must pick up the tracks that reason indicates to transcend it, must abandon the spirit of dominating the world and others, which has become dangerous because the instruments are too powerful.
Yes. I believe there is a strong ethical necessity that I had not dwelt on until today. The arts have continued to enter the unknown since the era of Orpheus. And the unknown is that part of reality which we cannot identify. Ethics, in turn, is non-material though anything but unknown, it is also a part of the reality which we all have to take into account, including the arts.
Caffo. At this point I think it would be wrong, since it is an unprecedented moment for you, not to dwell for a moment on this question of ethics. Your work is anything but as Cartesian as it might appear: there is not the intellect on the one hand and the corporeal on the other. In their apparent abstraction, colours and forms seem to generate an idea of the world very different from that of the conflict, epidemics and ecological crises that we are obliged to experience today. If a colour and a form can depend on their coming into being, without assuming any stable form, this means that there is a respect for the fragility of indecision, and that it is a moral form. This is what I see when I look at a lot of your work, because if there is a process that never arrives at a stable form, then there is a respect for this process. Nevertheless, it is true that aesthetics is ethics, as Wittgenstein claimed in his lecture on ethics: they are both not only non-material, but above all incommensurable. What idea of the real moral world lies behind the abstract world of aesthetics?
Griffa. I’m not sure that I can follow you and I rely on your patience and on the patience of the reader.
In my opinion, it is always a question of rational trajectories, of a reason that is not necessarily Cartesian and yet for us Westerners is always a child of Descartes. Even poetry is a child of reason, a kind reason that is receptive to everything it cannot regulate. I would like to quote from Calvino’s American Lessons, but I’m not sure of the text.
Until yesterday there were the animate world and the inanimate world. Painting took materials and transferred them to the animate world, gave them the capacity to transport knowledge, emotion, ecstasy, even the spatio-temporal shock of the Stendhal syndrome. The mountains were stable forms for billions of years, a flower for a few hours.
And still, cattle continue to give birth and stones continue to be unable to give birth, but our reason has discovered through science that there is a hidden universe in which all is life, process, the particles move, collide, fuse, generate, are born and die everywhere, even in the mountains and the flowers. Time and space are the coordinates of our dimension but they are no longer the fixed tracks of the Newtonian universe.
What has all this to do with ethics? My reply can only concern the specific ethics of my work, not a general ethics with its spaces everywhere, from religion to politics and everyday life.
It is a question of the choice, among its infinite aspects, of painting as a knowledge process, a choice that perhaps, though it is not for me to say, may be aesthetic and ethical at the same time.
Caffo. At this point, allow me to take a less conceptual step backwards. What forms of material knowledge compose the virtual archipelago? Which meetings, persons, masters, places have been central in your life? You mentioned Calvino, I am thinking of his lightness and his way of telling the story of Perseus and Medusa: on wings ‘to climb onto’ what is heavy in order to transform it into something light. How Pegasus is born, the beauty of the paradox of a cow who gives birth to a stone. Who are the faces who have ‘lightened’ your journey?
Griffa. I find it difficult to go back in my memory and I am not used to doing it. In a recent text on my 11 cycles of painting, I recalled when, around the age of fifteen, I went into the square to listen to the Agit-Prop of the Communist party and on my way home I passed the USIS American bookshop to see the painting of New York. And I recalled how in the same years I had a genuine revelation in front of a painting by Mondrian. I reply by mentioning the fundamental books I read: Ulysses and the Cantos, but also Gargantua and Pantagruel, and besides Joyce and Pound, Eliot’s The Waste Land and Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I made a work recently about the latter, while on Eliot I have a project that I hope to complete in the next few months.
As you can see, a lot of poetry, but also the popular books on oriental thought that began to appear in the 1950s, the moving discovery of the beauty of Zen, the Vedas, the Tao. And the writings and thoughts on the art of Matisse that made me grow up. They were followed by popular works on science, Capra, Feymann, Rovelli, and lots, lots more.
I am a sedentary nomad who travels across the written pages.
Then the people, starting with Aldo Mondino who introduced me to contemporary art when we were still kids, Alighiero and Anne Marie Boetti, Filiberto Menna, Paolo Fossati, Maurizio Fagiolo, Germano Celant, my teacher Filippo Scroppo, Claudio Olivieri, Carlo Battaglia, Claudio Verna, Marco Gastini like a brother and Sperone accompanied by Arte Povera, in line with Anselmo, Penone and Zorio. As a solitary person, I never went to try to meet poets and writers, I preferred to read them.
Caffo. I was thinking, while you were talking about this idea of solitary beings, about your series on three lines with arabesque. It seems obvious to me that the interesting thing is the absence of hierarchy and the tendency toward the infinite, but there’s something else: these parallel lines, by definition, will never converge. In the reply you have just given me there is a kind of underlying idea that the ideas in parallel count more than the often forced associations between individuals that these ideas have produced. We have all jointly decided to call this exhibition of yours ‘An abstract world is not enough’, perhaps also convinced that the essential task is not to contrast the abstract with a presumed concrete, but to do rather as you have done in your work, destroying the difference between the line, the traditional means of tracing a figure, and colour as a means of filling in this form. It is a fictive distinction, depending on the width of the brush, exactly as the line separating the abstract from the concrete is fictive. Your motto ‘I do not represent anything, I paint’ is famous. Are you still so sure? It seems to me that in an explicit and tangible way you have represented a world made of extremely concrete energies.
Griffa. For some time I have considered that the figurative/abstract polemic has damaged both Italian art and the lives of many artists. I painted figures until I felt that they had become superfluous and at this point I simply abandoned them. That I do not represent anything can mean don’t give me too much importance, it can also mean that I don’t use images. It’s an inevitable contradiction because one would like not to represent the part of the world that cannot be represented, the hidden part, but painting is by definition representation and, and all things considered, the marks that it produces are also images, figures.
Here too the contradiction is not superable with a logical device, but with an act of life, the act of painting.
When Matisse faced the problem of the conflict between line and colour and invented the cut-outs, I do not believe he resolved the problem because cutting with a pair of scissors becomes in some way a line, but he has constructed a fantastic, supreme oeuvre worthy of the whole life of a great artists. And he was eighty years old.
Somewhere I wrote that the difference between line and colour, in my view, depends on the width of the brush and the way it is used, I would say the reason, the abstract ideas is not divorced from the action. In some way it has some similarity to what happens when the undifferentiated energy of the world is crystallised in the particles and these construct a cow and a stone, or a line and a colour.
And in this latter case the representation coincides with the event.
Look, an abstract world is not enough, abstraction too is a real event, thanks to the particles even the virtual world is a tangible world, all the thoughts of everybody are a part of reality, the marks of the brush are as real as stones and cows. So reality of spirit and matter, indissolubly united in the arts, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand how a sound, a word, a mark can illuminate us with immensity.
Nothing new, rather something very old.
Let’s take a small step further. Since it is probable that the primary energy of the world is not spatial or temporal,there where there is no before and after, and not even a there, the event is enriched because it passes from an indeterminate state to our spatio-temporal configuration.
And I ask myself whether that strong continuity that I feel in the history of art, in spite of the very big differences between one time and another and one place and another, is due to the scent, that cannot be more than a scent, of that original state of indefinite energy in which there are neither before and after, nor here and there, nor time and space.
Caffo. ‘What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence’. It is well known that the seventh, ultimate proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus drives philosophy into a mysticism that, according to many and as I find in this last and wonderful reply of yours, hands it over to art. There is an unrepresentable of the world that we must nevertheless try, in some peculiar way, to represent within the paradox of the ‘final things’. The big questions of meaning, certainly, but also, as you suggested, this indefinite energy external to the mediocre temporal line that we have adopted. Your work travels, like the lines and colours you propose, between many worlds: the latest physics, the philosophy of becoming, literature. If possible, I don’t want to reduce this interview or dialogue to a banal and simple corollary of another – in your words there is the desire to say something so urgent and yet so obvious: there is no sensible thought that is not translated into a form of life. For me, an artist is not only his works (and here, please, give me a moment to explain what I mean): it is his modus operandi, the form of life and the capacity to follow an almost private rule and a discipline vis-à-vis the world into which he has been thrown, and with which he is bound, almost by nature, to be in conflict. I use the phrase ‘form of life’, so welcomed – and not by chance – by a tradition stretching from Augustine to Wittgenstein. What lies behind a form of life like yours?
Griffa. I am surprised by the relevance of your reference to Augustine and Wittgenstein to my way of working. Paolo Fossati once said to me that every day I went ‘à la Trappe’. The icon of the wayward genius does not match me. I have a life happily regulated by the necessities of work, home and studio, studio and home, early to bed. I have had to work all my life, I’ve also had a different profession, but I have never accepted the idea of work as a punishment. On the contrary, I regard work as the supreme, extraordinary invention of humanity. From the amygdala to the computer, man has constructed and continues to construct his world and to realise himself through work.
Yes, there is a certain conflict with work as nothing but a means of earning a living, money as compensation for the effort. There’s nothing wrong with the reward, but it’s not the essence, as it seems to me to be for one-dimensional homo oeconomicus.
A discipline, no, a discipline imposed by one’s own work is not a limitation of freedom but its realisation. The abstract idea of liberty in the pure state, self-sufficient, can become an alibi for the worst slavery, violence.
Let’s return to the undifferentiated energy of the universe that becomes a particle, the particle that works and becomes a cow or a stone. I see a general plan in which idea cannot be separated from action.
And work seems to me to fit perfectly into this reading.
Caffo. OK, let’s return to this energy. But this time I want to be a bit more direct. When you speak of ‘general plan’, are you referring to God? What is your relation with the final cause? If you imagine God, what is it like?
Griffa. I don’t think that the arts can provide answers, they are limited to opening the door and you have to settle your own affairs yourself.
Religions, on the other hand, are a response to the human need to give an identity to everything, including the unknown.
If I’m not mistaken, in India the Brahman – I think that is the name of the fundamental principle – cannot have any definition, an indistinct identity, and so I think that is why hundreds of divinities have sprung up there, so that every one of us can find what he needs in the unknown and enter into harmony with those tangible aspects closest to his mode of being, that is, the individual divinities. We draw resolution, consolation, confidence, vital energy from that part of the world that we do not know.
I think all the religions deserve great respect for this function of theirs and for the others connected with it. I don’t know whether this idea of mine of a general plan comes from my religious education or from the more recent scientific discoveries that attest the presence of an unreachable intelligence, generalised from microcosm to macrocosm, and to a large extent mysterious.
In the present state we can hypothesise the dance of the microscopic particles, a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a millimetre or less. That dance gives birth to fiery stars and cold planets, entire galaxies, black holes, dark matter, nuclear explosions and permafrost, as well as sea and sky, mountains and valleys, trees and fruit, people and animals, fantastically complex organisms, as well as bridges and railways, ships and aeroplanes, towns and villages, and also thoughts and memories and the profound, bottomless unconscious in each of us, and Mozart and Dante, Heraclitus and Newton, the Divina Commedia and the Nozze di Figaro, the Parthenon and the pyramids, and you can go on when you have a sleepless night.
I don’t feel the need to give a name and identity to this unapproachable intelligence. Painting has no need of it, precisely because the arts are limited to opening the door.
Caffo. Perhaps it is excessive to drag it in here, but I was thinking of the theory of language games formulated by Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (1953). We think we can give names to things and that this is language, but in fact our linguistic competence is much more tied to usage and thus expresses, once again, a form of life. It is complex, but perhaps, as you suggested, it is now necessary to try to exist without giving any name to many essential things in our forms of the world. ‘If a lion could talk, we would not understand him’. A lion, in this sense, is no different from God. Even if a God could take the trouble of saying something to us, I’m afraid it follows from our idea of him that we wouldn’t be able to understand him: the unsubtle mind is limited, constrained within the cage of reason, or of the reply that Franco Battiato gave me in an interview about the meaning of his music that is just like the one you gave to me just now; I thought that, perhaps, all those who are looking for an expressive road without taking the trouble to make it taxonomic arrive at similar conclusions. It’s up to us to treasure a sort of principle of indetermination that is not only physical but also, perhaps above all, metaphysical.
What are you working on at the moment and how does this principle affect your current work?
Griffa. I am working on three cycles at the same time, now one and now another without any order. They are the Golden Canon cycle with the number of Euclid that will never end and begins again on every canvas; the Shaman cycle with incomprehensible words without identity (for example OKUROTUMOZ); and the Dilemma cycle in which opposites coexist (for example DAVANTIDIETRO [frontback]).
Once upon a time we used to write in Latin, now I write in Italian and English. And strangely, the written words have become images themselves with some distant analogy with the form of oriental writing. The harmony with which Battiato replied to you confirms my opinion that all the arts have a common basis.
You are right, the principle of indetermination is not confined to science.
Caffo. Thank you, Giorgio.
To relieve the world
To understand the meaning of the research by Giorgio Griffa, one of the leading abstract artists in Italy, we must understand that his work cannot be analysed with formalistic values. Since it is true he created an original artistic language, simple and basic as sharp and effective, it is also true that this language has been realised thanks to the progressive definition of his way of thinking and making art based on the inner qualities of painting.
Giving interviews during his long and still active career, Giorgio Griffa claims a sapient role for art, equating it to philosophy, science, poetry, religion and, in general, to all branches of human knowledge. This artist from Turin assigned to painting, and to art in general, an epistemological purpose. It represents a tool to understand and penetrate what is ineffable and indescribable, which lies in every human being and escapes any logical and rational thought. It does not concern the irrational or emotional side, but that irreducible aspect that cannot be measured or evaluated. It's a quid, in other words, something similar to what happens in the quantum theory. The attempt to observe the conduct of subatomic particles makes their wave function collapse. We know that inside Heisenberg's uncertainty principle lies the same unknown which has been a prerogative of religion and poetry for centuries. In the same time, we know that this principle extends the awareness of its own limits to new sciences.
Many times Griffa mentioned the metaphor of Orpheus receiving his lyre from Apollo as a crucial moment of western culture. The wisdom of the origins, the Sophia of the Greeks becomes Filo-sophia, the "speech on knowledge". Since that moment, the comprehension of the unknown, the ineffable is channeled through religion to poetry. Man can access it not through scientific reflection, but only through lyrics and myths, such as stories of the Gods holding knowledge in symbolic ways.
Griffa's painting challenges religion and poetry to symbolise the world. He lightens and synthesizes it through simple, elementary shapes, following a "relief" process, as it was defined by the philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Arnold Gehlen, beloved by the artist.
As noticed by Robert Mastroianni, quoting Maria Teresa Pansera1: "With this term, Gehlen wants to specify man's ability to create standard systems of behaviour. Once established, these systems are activated automatically in similar circumstances, so they relieve man from continual responses to the environment's incentives and internal pulsions. In this way, man may free more energies for further and more elaborated efforts, which may include symbolic and representative functions."2
Of course, the philosopher from Leipzig refers to a process taking place at a motoric level as well as at a linguistic and cognitive level. The first aspect helps to shape habits and conditioned responses, while the second transforms perceptible experiences in words and symbols.
Given the nature of his work, based on the gestural repetition of summarizing signs and graphics (and numbers later), Griffa found in Anrold Gehlen's intuition the perfect description of his own way of thinking and practicing painting. The distinguished repetition of Griffa's gesture, so his very human (or "analog") way of regulating the basics of painting (dot, line, surface, substance), is something very similar to a conditioned response. It is a practical habit whose roots lie in the physiology of painting.
Not much has been said about the value of gesture in Griffa pictures. Perhaps it could have been assimilated to the methods of Action Painting or Informalism in a too simplistic way. Griffa's gesture is instead truly important because of the meaning of his actions. Hands do have their own physiological, organic talent, coming from the biology of the individual and the artist, but hands do also relate with the talent of painting itself, along with its evolution and history.
Several times Griffa said that painting is not an object for him, but a subject which relieves the world through its signs and colours. It gathers and synthesizes the history of mankind, almost in an alchemic way. At the same time, painting is also a standard connection with the world. It is a a "sapient" procedure, as we said, to discover the relationship between man, space and time. Within this relationship lies the meaning of the human evolution and parable, synthesized and reactivated in an eternal present time.
As I mentioned elsewhere 3, in his writings the artist sums up this parable in a series of milestones (such as the golden section, in the spatial conception by Greek Art and the perspective canon in the Renaissance), to show how important the past and history are in his art.
Griffa believes that the thousand-year-old memory of painting is jointed by the thousand-year-old memory of hands (and brains). The pictorial practice, like the epos' verbal legacy, becomes a summarizing process substained by the relief principle by Gehlen. This is indeed a concentration and reduction mechanism of a huge quantity of information through the use of symbols and signs.
Griffa uses very simple signs: straight lines, dots, numbers and arabesque. These graphic signs are applied to the canvas and keep irregularities and imperfections of pictorial actions. These repeated signs are distinguished by the uniqueness of each single gesture.
Even if Griffa's work is considered part of Analytical Painting, the synthetic relief principle by Gehlen prevails in his method. Synthesis is a diametrically opposed approach to the analytical decomposition. Lines, dots, numbers and even colours used by Griffa are not the result of a formal dissolution, but the primary element of a figurative language. These are the basic phonemes of painting, they belong to everyone and everyone can remake them. Griffa's signs are simple, easy and reproducible, they are universal, in contrast with other abstract artists who distinguish themselves for their own authorial sign. The artist himself recognized his signs as anonymous, the simple trace of brush, differently from the stylized and personal signs of artists like Capogrossi. Nevertheless, as any other pictorial sign, this sign is different from a natural event because it has been made by a man, who carries at least thirty-thousand years of history in his hands.
Giorgio Griffa's painting, as much as during the period examinated by this exhibition (1968 - 1978) as later, when it is enriched by the addition of numbers and arabesque, is an abstract and conceptual way of painting. It is far from representation, as description of external events, and from traditional abstraction, as a form of idealized representation by the artist. This artist from Turin does not want to represent something, he wants to "go himself into" the phenomenon. The act of representation is a distance between the object and the subject. Griffa goes himself into the phenomena because he considers painting as an event. So he begins from the primary, physical relationship of painting with its substances and supports. The artist uses frequently the expression "remaking the world" instead of "representing the world" to underline the moving of the subject from "outside" to "inside" the event.
Roberto Mastroianni properly noted that "Griffa uses a cognitive activity which refuses the subject - object contrast and recognizes the world as a game of relations, a perpetual, refined and uninterrupted re-interpretation of painting tradition." He also adds that "He does go back to painting, to its essential components (dot, line, surface, canvas and colour…). He creates the conditions through which things reveal themselves, through a hand's gesture, he frees the talent of nature."
The pictorial alphabet of Griffa is developed between the end of the Sixties and the beginning of the Seventies. These are concise and dry works, with minimal pictorial traces on almost empty surface. The Primary signs series, realised in the same period of the works now exposed, shows vertical, oblique, horizontal line sequences on frameless canvases nailed to the wall.
The thin shadows, drawn by the canvas' foldings, appear as added to the painted lines. The empty space on the canvas, as well as the pauses, is a fundamental element of the composition, a hint to the potentially infinite pictorial action.
To Griffa painting is a present event, an epiphany never considered as "past".
The relation between the subject (painter) and event (painting) reactivates, as we said, its thousand-year-old history. The making itself of painting is concentrated in every line, colour, rhythm. It collects from the bottom each milestone of its glorious evolutionary path.
The repetition of signs, another essential element of Griffa's work, has got a double meaning. By one side, it replays the way natural forms evolve, interacting continuously with the surrounding environment; by the other, it connects with the history of art as reinterpretation and reiteration. Such an aspect may be acknowledged when comparing the way certain themes belonging to the Pagan or Christian iconography have been repeated along the centuries, achieving different and sometimes new results.
To Griffa, to make and remake "the world" from his elementary signs is a way to discover the unknown, that underground part of art he then illustrated with the golden ratio, canon of proportion and beauty corresponding to the numeric value 1,6180339887... It is not a coincidence that, at a certain point, the artist added numbers and arabesque next to the primary signs. As if he wanted to highlight the importance of rhythm both in nature and human artefacts. Actually, the golden ratio is the most brighting example for this unknown gradient. This irriducible extra may be assimilated only by painting and not by other disciplines of knowledge.
Painting's relationship with mystery and the ineffable matches with religion, poetry and also divination practices. It is all about the ability to recreate various and contradictory aspects of reality. Through the ambiguity and polysemy of symbols, metaphores, allegories and signs, painting becomes the perceptive limit between the known and the unknown universe. Like two-faced Janus, it sees what lies beyond the border on both directions, outside and inside, along the visible and the invisible.
Of course, Griffa knows that, through the principle of relief (Entlastung), painting corresponds to a process of fictional products of reality. It relieves the world, but it does not cancel its complexity. The basic signs by the artist are simple and ambiguous at the same time, so they are the result of that peculiar synthesis: "I relieve the world to know and manage it", says Griffa, "I cancel the representation of the world and I leave the images of signs and brushes and, through them, I find again the world in the fictional mechanism".4
This is the meaning of the enigmatic expression "make and remake the world". In the same time, it is the deepest meaning of his paintings.
1 Maria Teresa Pansera, Antropologia filosofica, Paravia Bruno Mondadori Editori, Milano, 2001, pp.23-24
2 Roberto Mastroianni, Quadri d'epoca e immagini del mondo, in AA.VV, Giorgio Griffa. Il paradosso del più nel meno, Gribaudo, Milano, 2014, p.31
3 Ivan Quaroni, Silenzio: parla a pittura, in Giorgio Griffa, Silenzio. Parla la pittura, Lorenzelli Arte, Milano, 2015
4 Giorgio Griffa, Giulio Caresio, Roberto Mastroianni, Secondo colloquio (15 luglio 2013), in AA.VV., Giorgio Griffa, Il paradosso del più nel meno, op.cit., p.122
Absolute Painting. Giorgio Griffa, Tomas Rajlich, Jerry Zeniuk
“One should remember that a painting, before representing a horse in battle, a nude woman or some anecdote, is in the first place a plane surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order”,1 wrote Maurice Denis in 1890. Shortly before, Paul Sérusier had painted the legendary Le Talisman, which Denis was to own for many years.
This was the first moment when painting realised that it was not a question of a possible abstraction from its highly stratified iconographic tradition either, but of much more: to think of painting as the act of painting, a self-grounded and self-sufficient act. Here became clear what, mutatis mutandis, had already become clear when the Carracci embarked on their career, that is, “a new awareness, which is the critical awareness of the action. In short, what emerged here was an eminently critical conception of the creative act”.2
In other words, the raison d’être of painting is not its subject (what is represented), nor its how (the question of style), but its very existence as an absolute “made by human hand” (cheiropoieton) – in contrast to the myth of the acheiropoieton, the fixation through mysterious metaphysical paths on the image of Christ “not made by human hand”, and therefore fundamentally authentic because not an artefact – that emerges from the lucid process of intellectual scrutiny of its very being as painting.
That something transcends theory itself, divorced from the time-hallowed genealogies, breaking away from them in many ways as it moves towards the goal of a painterly operation that can be called absolute in itself.
This applies to the few, among the protagonists of the extraordinary decade of the 70s, whose trajectory did not stop at New Abstraction, fed as it was by a “conceptual approach to painting”, already grasped by Ben Heller in 1963,3 but was based on emphasising the mentalisation of processes.4 They no longer confronted the problem of non-objective abstraction nor that, which had already been widely explored in many ways, of monochrome,5 but had something else in mind.
On this occasion we present the work of three painters – Giorgio Griffa (1936), Tomas Rajlich (1940) and Jerry Zeniuk (1945) – whose careers spanning several decades have remained faithful to the basic choices, but transcend the specific contingencies of what has been variously called Analytische Malerei, Geplante Malerei, Fundamental Painting, etc., in spite of the fact that they were protagonists in that movement, in their quest for a different possible value of the absolute.6 These artists belonged to the generation that reached maturity at a time when non-representational art was no longer an issue. However, neither did they allow the pictorial object to be reduced to the chill demonstrative exercise of a thought located elsewhere in the version of Conceptualism that tended to prevail initially. Their way of making a painting aimed at an effective and full experience that involved their physical and intellectual totality, obviously free of any irrational tension of Nervenkunst, but understood as an effective moment of listening carefully to the material, space and specific time in which the painterly actions take place.
In the case of Griffa, Paolo Fossati demonstrated his awareness of this already in 1968, on the occasion of Griffa’s début:
However you interpret it, painting is a gratuitous act: whether as a conceptual ensemble of acts, as a guideline of action, or, finally, as a physical presence […] A canvas by Griffa is filled in to a certain point, irregularly, and then continues bare: neither the canvas nor the colour can explain anything. On the contrary, they are combined in meeting here to refuse all meaning: their combined action rules out any semantic reading and restores the play of reciprocal attraction to the abstraction of the ideation itself.7
A few years later, the same artist emphasised:
In fact, the very difference between line and colour is illusory because it depends only on the width of the brush or on how it is applied to the canvas. And the form which results is nothing but the result of the direction and duration of the brushstrokes. So my work consists of nothing but the application of colour to the canvas.8
In 1982, Griffa presented the cycle “Matisseria” e altri lavori, with “the concentration of the operational horizon in the limiting point in which the pictorial image appears in its primary genesis, in the signifying interstice in which relations are no long representation”. And once again, the extreme stripping of the element of fattura, of the possibility of a gesture (“the application of colour to the canvas”), regulated by a neutrality that becomes a general norm, moves on to canvases in which “Matisse’s composition in coloured shapes, obeying sensuous linear rhythms, surfaces in Griffa’s canvases as a weave (all on the surface, projected virtually, as usual) of relations between signs/warm colours that have even acquired faintly suggestive thicknesses, arranged according to organic horizontal patterns: orange for the curved segments, green for the colour planes, blue and violet for the stains with the supporting red, and a blue and a curvilinear motif”.9 The pictorial morphemes, projected in their historical essence, are the foundation of the very idea of painting. In the direction now taken by Griffa, those minimal units follow openly, and no less lucidly, poetic paths, leading to the sumptuous present period which still contains the possibility of beauty.
In the work of Griffa, Rajlich and Zeniuk, the critical experience of painting in the very act of painting, free at last of all theoretical and disciplinary trappings, aims to distil and recover its fundamental identity, the degree of autonomous, indefinite but precise incandescence. It is the absolute, or rather the idea of an absolute (if one wishes to avoid, more prosaically, the pertinent but more ambiguous term “beauty”) that skirts around philosophical currents without becoming their mouthpiece, a condition bared in a questioning that stirs a sort of internal and totally autonomous diapason of the painting.
1 “Se rappeler qu’un tableau – avant d’être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue ou une quelconque anecdote – est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées”: M. Denis, Théories 1890-1910, III ed., Bibliothèque de L’Occident, Paris 1913, p. 1.
2 A. Emiliani, La tecnica di Annibale e di Agostino nel periodo bolognese, in Les Carrache et les décors profanes, Actes du colloque de Rome (2-4 octobre 1986), École Française de Rome, Rome 1988, p. 6.
3Toward a New Abstraction, exh. cat., ed. B. Heller, The Jewish Museum, New York, 1963.
4 Ad Reinhardt, “Twelve Rules for a New Academy”, in Art News, vol. 56, no. 3, May 1957, pp. 37-38, 56, wrote: “Everything, where to begin and where to end, should be worked out in the mind beforehand”.
5 For a comprehensive discussion see D. Riout, La peinture monochrome, revised and expanded edition, Gallimard, Paris 2006.
6 For an excellent survey of this period see I colori della pittura, exh. cat., ed. I. Mussa, Istituto Italo – Latino Americano, Rome 1976.
7 P. Fossati, “Griffa tra empiria e funzionalità”, in Giorgio Griffa, exh. cat., Martano gallery, Turin 1968.
8 G. Griffa in Giorgio Griffa, exh. cat., Claudio Bottello gallery, Turin, April 1975.
9 F. Gualdoni in Giorgio Griffa. “Matisseria” e altri lavori, exh. cat., Martano gallery, Turin, 1982.
10 R. Dippel, in Fundamentele schilderkunst : Fundamental painting, exh. cat., ed. E. De Wilde, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1975.
11Tomas Rajlich, exh. cat., ed. H. Paalman, Schiedams Museum, Schiedam, 1971; Tomas Rajlich, exh. cat., ed. H. Locher, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, 1971.
12 P. Peters, Struktura nebo poesie?, in Tomas Rajlich : Kesby / Drawings : 1965-1976, exh. cat., Zámek Klenová gallery, Klatovy, 1997.
13 F. Gualdoni, “Pitture di Rajlich”, in Tomas Rajlich. Opere 1969-1993, exh. cat., ed. F. Gualdoni, P. Peters, Nuovi Strumenti, Brescia 1993.
14 Fundamental texts on the works of that period are A. Pohlen, “Jerry Zeniuk: Malerei”, in Kunstforum International, 35, May 1979, and Jerry Zeniuk. Bilder. Paintings. 1971-1989, exh. cat., ed. S. Salzmann, Kunsthalle Bremen, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 1990.
15 This and the following citations are taken from J. Zeniuk, How to Paint, ed. H. Liesbrock, Sieveking, Munich 2017.
16 Jerry Zeniuk Paintings: Not for your living room, texts by A. Klar, J. Daur, L. Romain, E. Bergner, P. Forster, Kehrer, Heidelberg 2014. For example, in 2001 the artist painted a 4 x 8 m canvas in Mainz.
The Genoa Local Authority has always shown great dedication to the promotion and diffusion of its cultural patrimony, and has on several occasions in the past had the pleasure of hosting events organised by ABC-ARTE. In this context it is important to mention the solo exhibitions of Giorgio Griffa (Esonare il mondo) and Tomas Rajlich (Fifty Years of Painting), which set out to gain a more in-depth understanding of the works of both artists in the course of their long careers and to introduce them to fellow citizens, students and lovers of contemporary art.
This book and the related exhibition explore the careers of three of the most important exponents of Fundamental or Analytical Painting.
The city of Genoa is also focusing its attention on the appreciation and promotion of its extraordinarily rich landscape and culture for tourists and in the region. The vitality of the cultural attractions of the city is also demonstrated in quality cultural events such as Absolute Painting. This exhibition aims to highlight an important moment of cultural ferment in the aftermath of the Second World War, in which the international avantgardes (Nul, Azimut, Zero among the best-known) were able to develop their own researches and to trace developments that were to become crucial for the history of contemporary and Italian art.
I would like to express my profound gratitude to ABC-ARTE, one of the most authoritative galleries of our city, and to all those who in various ways have made possible the holding of this exhibition in the city of Genoa, the custodian as ever of a vast artistic and cultural heritage.
Major of Genova
ABC-ARTE continues it path of research and in-depth analysis of the theme of painting in the 1970s with the major European avant-gardes and their protagonists. In its endeavour to contradict the death of art and its reflections on the raison d’être of art through the specific act of painting, Analytical Painting successfully established itself internationally with new proposals and a return to the poetry of colour and material.
After the book La Pittura in sé/The Painting itself by the collective of artists consisting of Pino Pinelli, Ulrich Erben and Claude Viallat, that on the personal exhibition of Giorgio Griffa entitled Esonerare il mondo, and Fifty years of Painting on the personal exhibition of Tomas Rajlich, this one compares the parallel trajectories of three artists who have been protagonists of the historical experiences of Fundamental Painting and Radical (or Analytical) Painting.
Giorgio Griffa has a way of painting that puts the emphasis on features that are considered essential such as colour, space and composition. His canvases are free, not confined by the stretcher, ready to conquer the space. In this immediate, essential and luminous representation, Griffa traces lines that go back to the long memory of humankind, kept alive thanks to painting as the link between present and past knowledge.
Rajlich founded the avant-garde Prague group Klub Konkretistů in the wake of the international neo-avant-gardes such as Azimut in Italy and ZERO in Germany, while in the Netherlands he was able to confront the theories of the neo-avant-garde of the Nul group. His works, which are solidly anchored in a quest for the roots of painting, stand out for a materiality that is both symbol and metaphor of physical substance and carefully controlled gesture.
The painting of Jerry Zeniuk first found appreciation in the 1970s after he took part (together with Tomas Rajlich, Jaap Berghuis, Jake Berthot, Louis Cane, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Kees Smits and others) in the landmark 1975 group exhibition Fundamental Painting in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Colour is the fundamental element in Zeniuk’s painting; physical and visual beauty is the goal. According to the artist, colours are not only bearers of emotions, but their interaction is capable of reflecting social and, more generally, human relations too.
The artists documented in this publication are eloquent examples of an approach that that has gone beyond the artistic developments of the 1970s to become, in its evolution down to the present day, a singular and definitive experience. The thread that connects them is fidelity to painting in the specific essence of the medium, free of all theorisation, to achieve a lofty and resolute degree of mentalisation and operational concentration.
head consultant & director, ABC-ARTE