In the spring of 1927, Alberto Giacometti rented a small studio at 46 Rue Hippolyte-Maindron in Paris. With no electricity or running water. It was to become his refuge (as well as his wife’s, Annette) for the rest of his life; or a veritable 'other self', as his friend and playwright Jean Genet - who frequented it from 1954 to 1957 - called it.
However, to fully understand the creative intensity of those years, it is necessary to take a step back.
Giacometti was born on 1010 October 1901 in Borgonuovo, in Val Bregaglia, in the Swiss canton of Grigioni. His father was a painter of some renown and baptised his second son Diego, in honour of Velàzquez. Diego was to become Alberto's first model, helping him discover his vocation as an adolescent. During that period, in fact, Alberto began experimenting with plasticine, inspired by Rodin.
After enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, he left to continue as an autodidact and approached what was to be the decisive epiphany of his artistic career: during a stay in Italy in 1920, he discovered Giotto's painting which overwhelmed him with its irresistible force.
In 1922, he decided to move to Paris with Diego. The French capital was the centre of the artistic world, fresh from the First World War and the intellectual turmoil of the time.
The Parisian twenties, witnessing the birth of Surrealism and Dadaism, set Montmartre on fire, revealing it as the ideal place for Giacometti to settle. Within the walls of his new home, Alberto realised that he was unable to paint what he saw (almost discovering himself to be a disciple of the symbolist Moreau); reducing his oeuvres to abstract forms, without forgetting the diktats of Cézanne's work, considered him as one of his greatest sources of inspiration. Questioning the three-dimensionality of bodies; isolating limbs, heads and torsos, he abandoned verisimilitude, making way for a more intense result in which body and psyche coexist on canvas and in sculptural works, creating a state of hyper-reality.
Giacometti's experimentation continued for the next two decades, while remaining faithful to his credo:
Whatever it is, sculpture or painting, it is only the drawing that counts.
Drawing became a fundamental element of his pictorial and plastic works and led him to master every medium: from woodcuts to engravings and etchings. The subjects were to become increasingly distant and enigmatic, inaccessible and in continuous struggle with the author in the attempt to get out of the canvas, forcing him to compete with time and space.
The Portrait of Isaku Yanaihara is emblematic in this sense. Isaku Yanaihara (1918-1989) was a Japanese philosopher and art critic who came to Paris in the mid-1950s to further his studies of French existentialism. He met Giacometti for the first time in 1955 at the Café des Deux Magots, although his acquaintance intensified from 6th October 1956, when he began to pose for him and became, together with the aforementioned Diego and Annette, his model of choice.
Isaku's intense and expressive physiognomy is a continuous challenge that defines Giacometti's last artistic period, forcing the model to exhausting sittings in an attempt to capture its essence.
The purity of the line, its continuous search and the consequent exasperation in not finding it fully, are superbly sketched in the pages of the volume recently translated into Italian and published by Giometti & Antonello: I miei giorni con Giacometti (My Days with Giacometti).
A heartfelt diary, as exciting as a novel, which Yanaihara writes as he relives her friendship with Alberto. A rare and necessary jewel that we do not want to reveal more than necessary, to allow the reader to discover the wonder hidden on each page. A journey, ante litteram, into immobility within which there is no lack of philosophical digressions, where grey becomes the dominant colour, losing its dark and negative meaning.
I miei giorni con Giacometti is a unique opportunity to enter the artist's studio, to get to know him through the eyes of the sitter, thanks to descriptions characterised by a lyrical prose of rare beauty that lends support to Giacometti's credo:
The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.