Alberto Giacometti: 1901 – 1966

Born on October 10, 1901 in Borgonovo, Switzerland, Alberto Giacometti was a sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker.   His father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a Post-Impressionist painter. From 1919 – 1920, Giacometti studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and sculpture and drawing at the Ecole des Arts et Métiers in Geneva.  Between 1922 – 1927, he  studied sculpture off and on in Paris under Emile-Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.   In 1927, Giacometti and his brother Diego, his lifelong companion and assistant,  moved into a studio in Montparnasse, returning annually to Switzerland to visit family.

Giacometti made few noteworthy sculptures before 1925 when he turned to Cubism and was influenced by the works of Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens. He was also influenced by African art which resulted in his first important sculptures: Man and Woman and Spoon Woman. “These totemic sculptures consist of radically simplified forms; their rigid frontality and use of male and female nudes as sexual types or symbols were to have long-lasting implications for Giacometti’s later work.”

Giacometti’s first period of significant creativity began in 1927 and over the next seven years, he created sculptures in a wide variety of styles. During this year, he exhibited his sculpture for the first time at the Salon des Tuileries in Paris and in Switzerland at the Galerie Aktuaryus in Zurich. In 1928, Giacometti met André Masson and from 1930 – 1935, he was a participant in the Surrealist circle. His first solo show took place in 1932 at the Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris and in 1934, he had a solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York.

“Giacometti emerged as the Surrealists’ most innovative sculptor, extending the parameters of sculpture both conceptually and stylistically. In addition to modelling in plaster, he made constructed sculptures with varied and fragile materials, for example suspending elements such as plaster or glass in delicate structures of extremely thin wood and string. In nearly all his Surrealist sculptures, empty space plays an active role, both compositionally and psychologically.”

From 1930–36 Giacometti participated in many exhibitions around the world, including Galerie Pierre, Paris, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New Burlington Galleries, London, and others in Brussels, Zurich and Copenhagen. However,  in 1935 he rejected Surrealism to return to representational art based on study from life.

In the early 1940s, Giacometti became friends with Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Paul Sartre. From 1942, Giacometti lived in Geneva, and associated with the publisher Albert Skira. In late 1945, he returned to Paris where he began his second period of intense creativity. His best-known post-war sculptures portray single or grouped figures, all startlingly skeletal in proportions and often mounted on large or heavy bases.

“Giacometti’s figures, with their seeming emaciation, anonymity and isolation in space, immediately struck a responsive chord in critics and collectors. His sculptures were perceived as appropriate metaphors for the human condition of post-war Europe: the horror of the concentration camps, displaced persons, destroyed lives. On a more philosophical level, critics also viewed Giacometti’s art as Existentialist, an interpretation introduced by Sartre in his two essays on Giacometti’s art.”

During this period,  Giacometti drew constantly and painted regularly. “His drawing style consisted of rapidly executed, often continuous lines that swirl around, over, and through his subject, never quite defining it yet conveying a sense of its mass and mystery. The earliest post-war drawings have heavy reworkings, often obscuring facial features in an expressionist vortex of lines. Around 1954, he expanded his drawing scope. His pencil drawings of portraits, nudes, still-lifes and interiors from the mid-1950s display a fusion of power and delicacy, as lines interweave in geometrically structured traceries overlaid with darker smudgings and greyed shadows in a ceaselessly moving realm where nothing appears solid or stable.”

Giacometti’s post-war work brought him international acclaim. Between 1948 – 1958, he exhibited several times at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and at Galerie Maeght in Paris. Museums acquired his work, and the Kunsthalle in Berne held a one-man show in 1954. In 1955, he had separate retrospectives at the Arts Council Gallery in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Public fame took up a great amount of Giacometti’s time in the last years of his life where collectors, dealers, young artists, curators and the media flocked to his studio. He received the Sculpture Prize at the 1961 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 1962 Venice Biennale. In 1965, exhibitions were held at the Tate Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. That same year, he was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government.

On January 11, 1966, Alberto Giacometti died of complication from pericarditis (heart disease)  in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, Swizterland where he was interred close to his parents.

Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA

Jean Paul Riopelle: 1923 – 2002

Born on October 7, 1923 in Montreal, Canada, Jean-Paul Riopelle is one of Canada’s most famous painters. Riopelle studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal in 1942, and then at the École du Meuble, graduating in 1945. He studied with Paul-Émile Borduas under whose direction Riopelle created his first abstract painting.

Riopelle was a member of a group of writers and artists in Quebec called the Automatistes, led by Borduas, and was a signer of the Refus global manifesto. In 1946 he traveled to France, where he returned and settled the following year. Pioneering a style of painting where large quantities of  coloured paints were thickly applied to the canvas with a trowel, Riopelle gained increasing success and immersion in the Parisian cultural scene. From 1949, he had numerous solo exhibitions in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, England, the United States and Sweden. He was represented in New York and participated in the biennials of contemporary art in Venice (1954) and Sao Paulo (1955). He spent his evenings in Paris bistros with friends including playwright Samuel Beckett and artist Alberto Giacometti.

In the 1960s, Riopelle renewed his ties to Canada. Exhibitions were held at the National Gallery of Canada (1963), and the Musée du Quebec held a retrospective in 1967. In the early 1970s, he built a home and studio in the Laurentians in Quebec. From 1974 he divided his time between St. Marguerite in Quebec, and Saint-Cyr-en-Arthies in France. Riopelle participated in his last exhibition in 1996. From 1994 until his death, he maintained homes in both St. Marguerite and Isle-aux-Grues, Quebec.  Jean Paul Riopelle died at his home on Îsle-aux-Grues on March 12, 2002.

Riopelle received numerous awards and honorary degrees in his lifetime including the 1958 Prix International Guggenheim award, the 1962 Unesco prize, the 1973 Philippe Hébert Prize, and in 1975, he was inducted as a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Riopelle’s works are in collections around the globe including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, the Galerie d’art Moderne in Basel, Switzerland, the Museum of Modern Art in Brazil, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ottawa’s National Gallery.

Sources: Gallerie Walter Klinkhoff, National Gallery of Canada, All-Art.org,

Annie Leibovitz: Photography

Born on October 2, 1949,  in Waterbury, Connecticut, Annie Leibovitz has been documenting American popular culture since the 1970′s and is one of the most sought after portrait photographers today.

The Leibovitz family moved frequently with her father’s duty assignments in the US Air Force and Annie took her first photos when they were stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. Leibovitz studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and after a summer trip to Japan with her mother, she began taking night classes in photography and continued developing her skills as a photographer. Early influences include Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In 1970, Leibovitz approached the editor of the recently launched Rolling Stone Magazine for  employment. Her first assignment was a photo shoot with John Lennon and her photo appeared on the January 1971 issue.  Leibovitz  was named chief photographer two years later.

In 1980, Leibovitz was sent to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono and created the now famous Lennon nude curled around a fully clothed Ono.  Several hours after the photo shoot, Lennon was shot and killed. The photograph ran on the cover of Rolling Stone Lennon commemorative issue and in 2005 was named best magazine cover from the past 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

In 1983, Leibovitz became a contributing photographer for Vanity Fair Magazine and became known for her provocative celebrity portraits including Whoopie Goldberg, Demi Moore, Brad Pitt, Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Elizabeth II, and countless others. Her portraits have also been featured in national media including Vogue, The New York Times, The New Yorker, as well as media ads for American Express, the Gap, and the Milk Board.

Leibovitz began a long-term romantic relationship with writer Susan Sontag in 1989. Sontag had a strong influence on her work including her photos documenting the Balkan war in Sarajevo and “Women”, a book they published together in 2000. The couple lived apart but maintained a close relationship until Sontag’s death in 2004.

Leibovitz has received numerous awards including a Commandeur des Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government as well as designation as a living legend by the Library of Congress. In 1991, she had her first museum show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. – a show that toured internationally for six years.

With several book publications under her belt, Leibovitz’s most recent book “A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005″ features her trademark celebrity portraits as well as personal photographs from her own life.

Leibovitz has three children, Sarah Cameron who was born when Leibovitz was 51 years old, and twins Susan and Samuelle who were born to a surrogate mother in May 2005.

To see more of Annie Leibovitz’s photographs visit Contact Press.  If you get the chance, there is a fantastic PBS documentary called “Annie Leibovitz, Life Through a Lens” that features interviews from celebrities and with the photographer about the her work over the last few decades.

Sources: PBS, Wikipedia

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: 1571-1610

the-cardsharps-i-bari-caravaggioBorn in Milan, Italy on September 29, 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is considered one of the first great painters of the Baroque school and a revolutionary figure in European art.

Caravaggio trained in Milan under the Lombard painter Simone Peterzano, a pupil of Titian – the leading painter of the 16th century Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance.

In 1592, Caravaggio fled Milan for Rome after becoming involved in a quarrel that resulted in the wounding of a police officer.  With next to no money to survive, he found work with Giuseppe Cesari – Pope Clement VIII’s favourite painter.  Here, he painted flowers and fruit in a factory-like workshop until 1594.

Carvaggio’s luck changed in 1595 when Cardinal Francesco del Monte became his patron, taking him into his house.  Here Caravaggio received his first public commissions which made him popular in a short period of time.

Carvaggio preferred to paint his subjects with intense realism with all of their flaws and defects in contrast to the typical idealized representations produced by Italian Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo. He also differed in his method of painting, preferring the Venetian practice of painting his subjects directly without any traditional lengthy preparatory drawings.

From 1600-1606, Caravaggio received numerous prestigious commissions for religious works, increasing his fame over this period. But for all his success, Caravaggio led an unruly life.  He was known for brawling and was arrested and imprisoned numerous times. In May of 1606, Caravaggio killed (possibly by accident) a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni.  Wanted for murder, he fled Rome for Naples where he also became well known, receiving several important church commissions.

Caravaggio stayed in Naples for only a few months before traveling to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta where he hoped to gain the patronage of the Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, who could help him obtain a pardon for his murder charge. The Grand Master was so impressed with Caravaggio that he made him a knight.

In August 1608, Carvaggio was in trouble again after a brawl and was arrested and imprisoned. It was not long after that he was expelled from the Knights and Caravaggio was on the move again – this time to Sicily where his friend Mario Minniti was living.

Caravaggio returned to Naples after nine months in Sicily, still hoping to secure a pardon from the Pope and return to Rome. In 1610,  believing his pardon would be granted, he began his journey by boat back to Rome.  With him were his final three paintings which he planned to give to Cardinal Scipione, who had the power to grant or withhold his pardon. Caravaggio never made it home.

Carvaggio’s death is the subject of much debate. No body was found and there were several accounts of his death including a religious assassination and malaria.  A poet friend of the artist gave July 18, 1610 as his date of death.  In 2001, an Italian researcher claims to have found the death certificate which says that he died on that same date in S Maria Ausiliatrice Hospital of illness.

For a full biography and to view Caravaggio’s complete works, visit Caravaggio-Foundation.org.

Sources: Caravaggio Foundation, MET Museum, BBC, Wikipedia

Mark Rothko: 1903-1970

Born on September 25, 1903, Mark Rothko (Marcus Rothkowitz), was a major Abstract Expressionist artist and had an important influence on the development of colour field painting. Latvian by birth, Rothko emigrated with his mother and sister to the United States in 1913, joining his father and 2 brothers who had come a few years before. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Rothko did well in school and upon completion was awarded a scholarship to Yale which he attend from 1921-1923.  He found the Yale community to be elitist and racist and dropped out after two years of study.

Rothko moved to New York in 1923 where he worked in the garment district. He studied sporadically at the Arts Students League but was essentially a self-taught artist, educating himself by visiting exhibitions and the studios of other artists. In 1929, Rothko began teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a position he retained for more than twenty years.

Rothko’s first paintings were typically of Expressionist landscapes, still-lifes, and bathers.  He was also commissioned to illustrate for Rabbi Lewis Browne’s The Graphic Bible (1928) which included maps, sphinxes, lions, serpents, and other symbols and scenes that reflected the book’s content.

Rothko’s paintings of the 1930s had an eerie mood and created a sense of mystery with tragic figures in apartments, on city streets and subway platforms. From 1935-1940 Rothko, along with other artists including Ilya Bolotowsky and Adolph Gottlieb, was a part of an independent group called “The Ten” that held exhibitions in New York and Paris.

In the early 1940s Rothko abandoned Expressionism and, under the influence of Surrealism and Jung’s ideas on the collective unconscious, began to use archaic symbols as archetypal images. The first of these paintings were based on mythic subjects and were composed of humans, animals and plants arranged in a manner similar to archaic friezes. By the mid-1940s Rothko was also painting organic forms that were close to abstraction. During this time, he also developed his technique of applying watercolour, gouache, and tempera to heavy paper. Rothko’s paintings during this time were well received and he exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, the Betty Parsons Gallery, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Between 1947 and 1949, Rothko sought to create an original approach of abstraction by replacing the figure with shapes. His large canvases with bold colour and form were intended to create the impression of constant movement. His goal was to express profound human emotions as directly as possible stating: “The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer”

Beginning in 1958, in conjunction with three major commissions, Rothko darkened his colour palatte painting with maroon, black, and olive green. He believed his view of the tragic human condition would be conveyed more clearly than with his earlier brightly coloured works.

Despite his success, Rothko felt he was misunderstood as an artist and feared that people purchased his paintings out of fashion. He rejected the label of an abstractionist and colourist saying that his interest was “only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.  . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.”

In 1968, as a result of chronic high blood pressure, Rothko suffered an aneurysm of the aorta. Despite his physicians advice, he continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet. He did however focus his efforts on smaller format works that required less physical exertion. On February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko committed suicide. He was 66 years old.

For a more detailed biography,  visit the MoMA site as well as the National Gallery of Art (USA) website which has a large collection of Rothko’s works online.

Sources: Ciudad de la Pintura (images), MoMA, National Gallery of Art, Wikipedia