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,

Jean Arp: 1886 – 1966

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Born on September 16, 1886 in Strasbourg (then part of Germany), Jean (Hans) Arp was a pioneer of abstract art and a founding member of the Dada movement.  After studying at the Kunstschule, Weimar from 1905 to 1907, Arp attended the Académie Julian in Paris.

In 1909, Arp moved to Switzerland where in 1911 he was a founder of and exhibited with the Moderne Bund group. One year later, he began creating collages using paper and fabric and influenced by Cubist and Futurist art. Arp then traveled to Paris and Munich where he became aquainted with Robert and Sonia Delaunay Vasily Kandinsky, Amadeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and others.

In 1915, with the onset of World War I, Arp moved to Zurich, feigning mental instability to avoid military service. It is here where he met and collaborated with Sophie Taeuber, creating tapestries and collages, and whom he married in 1922.

In 1916, Arp became part of the founding group of the Zurich Dada artists. Their aim was to encourage spontaneous and chaotic creation, free from prejudice and the academic conventions that many believed were the root causes of war. For Arp, Dada represented the “reconciliation of man with nature and the integration of art into life.” At the end of the war, Arp continued his involvement with Dada promoting it in Cologne, Berlin, Hannover, and Paris.

Although Arp was committed to Dada, he also aligned himself somewhat with the Surrealists, exhibiting with the group in Paris exhibitions in the mid 1920′s. He shared their notion of unfettered creativity, spontaneity, and anti-rational position.

Arp and his wife also had close ties to Constructivist groups such as De Stijl, Cercle et carré, Art Concret and Abstraction–Création, all of which aimed to create a counterbalance to Surrealism as well as to change society for a better future.

In the early 1930′s, Arp developed the principle of the “constellation,” and used it in both his writings and artworks. While creating his reliefs, Arp would identify a theme, such as five white shapes and two smaller black ones on a white ground, and then reassemble these shapes into different configurations.

In the 1930′s, Arp began creating free-standing sculpture. Just as his reliefs were unframed, Arp’s sculptures were not mounted on a base, enabling them to simply take their place in nature. Instead of the term abstract art, he and other artists, referred to their work as Concrete Art, stating that their aim was not to reproduce, but simply to produce more directly. Arp’s goal was to concentrate on form to increase the sculpture’s domination of space and its impact on the viewer.

From the 1930′s onward, Arp also wrote and published poetry and essays. As well, he was a pioneer of  automatic writing and drawing that were important to the Surrealist movement.

With the fall of Paris in 1942, Arp fled the war for Zurich where he remained, returning to Paris in 1946. In 1949, he traveled to New York where he had a solo show at Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery. In 1950, Harvard University in Cambridge, MA invited him to create a relief for their Graduate Center. In 1954, Arp was awarded the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Retrospectives of his work were held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1958 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1962.

Jean Arp died June 7, 1966, in Basel, Switzerland at the age of 80. His works are in major museums around the world including a large collection at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Strasbourg.

Sources: Guggenheim Museum, MoMA

ART-O-MAT: Pocket Art

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Many art lovers simply don’t have the budget to purchase original works of art.  Enter the Art-O-Mat – re-purposed cigarette vending machines that have been converted to sell pocket size original works of art.

North Carolina artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-O-Mat in 1997 which he showed along side his paintings at a solo show at a local cafe. The machine sold his black & white photographs for $1.00 each. The art show was scheduled to close, however, the owner of the Penny Universitie Gallery, Cynthia Giles, loved the Art-O-Mat and asked that it stay.  It remains in its original location to this day. Following the show, the involvement of other artists was necessary for the project to continue. Giles introduced Whittington to other local artists and the group “Artists in Cellophane” was formed.

“Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-O-Mat is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. A.I.C believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable.”

The Art-O-Mat dispenses original art-works and may include paintings, photographs, sculpture, collage, illustration, handmade jewellery, textile arts, and more. There are 82 machines in at least 28 American States, one in Quebec, Canada, and one in Vienna, Austria. There are around 400 contributing artists from 10 different countries currently involved in the Art-o-mat project.

For more information, to get involved, or to find an Art-O-Mat near you, visit Art-O-Mat.org.

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Henry Moore: 1898 – 1986

Recognized as the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, Henry Spencer Moore was born on July 30, 1898, in Castleford, Yorkshire. Moore had an early interest in sculpting however he began his career as a teacher in Castleford. After serving in the military during World War I, Moore studied at Leeds School of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant. In 1921 he won a Royal Exhibition Scholarship to study sculpture at the Royal Academy of Art in London.  Between 1924 – 1931 Moore was an Instructor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy. His first solo exhibition was held at the Warren Gallery, London, in 1928

“Throughout his life Moore’s appetite for the history of world sculpture was insatiable. Drawings of sculptures in his early sketchbooks indicate that Palaeolithic fertility goddesses, Cycladic and early Greek art, Sumerian, Egyptian and Etruscan sculpture, African, Oceanic, Peruvian and Pre-Columbian sculpture particularly interested him.  Moore believed passionately in direct carving and in ‘truth to materials’, respecting the inherent character of stone or wood. Almost all of his works from the 1920s and 1930s were carved sculptures, initially inspired by Pre-Columbian stone carving.” (MoMa)

Moore married Irina Radetsky in 1929. A student of painting at the Royal College, she would be Moore’s model for a series of life drawings over a six year period.

Moore’s sculpture of the 1930s was influenced by the work of Picasso, Hans Arp and Alberto Giacometti. “The subject-matter of Moore’s work of 1932–6 is, in some cases, no longer readily identifiable, although the human, psychological element informs even the seemingly abstract work of the 1930s.”

In the 1930s Moore was a member of Unit One, a group of artists lead by English landscape painter Paul Nash. From 1932 to 1939 he taught at the Chelsea School of Art. Moore was “an important force in the English Surrealist movement, although he was not entirely committed to its doctrines; Moore participated in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936.”

In 1940 Moore was appointed an official war artist and was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee to execute drawings of life in underground bomb shelters. From 1940 to 1943 he focused almost entirely on drawing. His first retrospective took place at Temple Newsam, Leeds, in 1941 and he was given his first major retrospective in the United States by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1946. Moore won the International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale of 1948.

Moore’s bronze Reclining Figure commissioned by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain in 1951 was key in Moore’s development. “Previously the holes in his sculptures were dominated by the solid forms surrounding them but here ‘the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other’ His work became less frontal and more completely three-dimensional. The reclining figure and the mother and child remained the dominant subjects of his sculpture.”

After the mid-1950s,  many of Moore’s sculptures were made from natural objects including bones, shells, pebbles and flint stones.

Until the mid-1950s Moore made numerous preparatory drawings for his sculptures as well as pictorial studies of interiors and sculptures in landscape settings. He drew little between 1955 and 1970 but during the last 15 years of his life, he devoted more of his time to drawing  for pleasure,  independent of his sculpture. He first made prints in 1931, and he experimented with a process he called collograph. By the end of his life Moore had produced 719 prints.

“Moore executed several important public commissions in the 1950s, among them Reclining Figure, 1956–58, for the UNESCO Building in Paris. In 1963 the artist was awarded the British Order of Merit. In the 1970s there were many major exhibitions of Moore’s work, the finest being at Forte di Belvedere, overlooking Florence (1972). The Henry Moore Sculpture Centre in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, opened in 1974. It comprises the world’s largest public collection of Moore’s work, most of it donated by him between 1971 and 1974. In 1977 the Henry Moore Foundation was established at Much Hadham, and Moore presented 36 sculptures to the Tate Gallery in 1978.”

Henry Moore died in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, on August 31, 1986.

Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA, Wikimedia Commons (images), Tate,  Oval With Points Photo by Maia C