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Giorgio Griffa: OCÉANIE

Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York

By David Rhodes, December 3, 2023

“Each sign of the brush is a new identity on its own, there is no need for it to represent anything other than itself. It is both reality and representation of reality.” 

Last month’s Giorgio Griffa exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery was an example of this artist’s remarkable use of levity. With a lightness of touch, and rigorous use of material, gesture and color, the paintings here consistently evinced contrasting, playful rhythms of line and shape. Each painting is made on unstretched linen, and presented unstretched, the folds in the linen still visible from storing—having been stacked in his studio— and transporting the works: there is no substrate as such for Griffa, every material aspect is present equally, including the folds, emphasizing for the artist the independence of the materials used. “Each sign of the brush is a new identity on its own, there is no need for it to represent anything other than itself. It is both reality and representation of reality.” The paintings are made on the floor of the artists Turin studio. Repetitive gestures and marks of water-based acrylic paint spontaneously applied with a brush are moved on from on completion, without edits or additions. Since 1968 Griffa has followed this approach; concerned with this process: the independent interactions of his materials—brush, paint, linen, canvas— rather than with using them to impose a given expression or realize prescribed compositions. The acceptance of chance and accident recalls John Cage’s approach to musical composition. 

Griffa has spoken about the importance of Arte Povera artists in the 1960s for him, “[Gilberto] Zorio with his chemicals, [Giovanni] Anselmo with leather – in every work, the hand of the artist was no more given to a domination of the material but was in service of the material. I think that, in a way, that comes from the hand of [Jackson] Pollock. Pollock gives his hand at the service of the dripping of colors.” It is interesting to note that Griffa was living in Turin during the 1960s—where he continues to live— then the center for Arte Povera, and that whilst affected deeply by their approach, he never abandoned painting and the desire for visual, aesthetic pleasure. He was seen briefly as affiliated to both Pittura Analitica in Italy and the BMPT group in France, but this didn’t last, Griffa was not inclined to join with any group consensus. In fact, Griffa remained little known outside of Turin until Casey Kaplan gave him his first major New York exhibition in 2012. This latest presentation is the artist’s sixth solo presentation at the gallery and comprises nineteen paintings made between the Fall of 2022 and the Spring of 2023.
 

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Installation view: Giorgio Griffa, OCÉANIE, Casey Kaplan, New York, September 7 – October 28, 2023. Photo: Jason Wyche

In this particular group of works Griffa was reflecting on two works by Henri Matisse – Océanie, La Mer (1946-47), and Océanie, Le Ciel (1946). The connection that can be seen with Matisse’s, pinned paper, room sized works, is clear. The light and spontaneous colored shapes, marine luminosity, and repetition, together with an eschewal of thick paint. Matisse availed himself of papier-collé technique in order to improvise, revise; maintaining both immediacy and spontaneity. Griffa, however, in accepting the limits of working directly, and without revision, finds in effect the co-authoring, with material and hand, to be equally productive. The ease and flow of rhythmic composition is typical, take CAMPO ROSA (2022) for example, the rectangle of raw linen, its selvage edge unaltered, the creases from folding plain to see, is a found material unadorned, an available part of our everyday world just like many fabrics—this linen, because chosen by Griffa, is already a work in progress. Three consecutive right angles, first of blue which is parallel to the linen’s top left outer edges, and then at a descending angle, a green yellow line of similar width, then a blue green line, again of similar width, atop a geometric area of pink. The lines of paint are stained into the linen–there are bleeds and irregularities—at the width of the brush applying the thinned paint. The iteration implies visual movement much like the physical movement of the artist as he paints. The pink area contains a multitude of elongated rectangles and squares of unpainted linen that appear to float and tumble. Of course, ideas of floating, rising, descending, tumbling are in the viewers mind, and this rhythmic sequence of painted shape and color in fabric extend into abstract idea as the viewer experiences the work— the facticity of the work, pinned taught at the top two corners, and loose along the bottom edge, unpinned, folds catching the light, notwithstanding. The paintings are transfers of experience past, contingent memories, open still in their evidently transient passages of rapturous color. The tactility of linen surface stained with optically brilliant, subtle color feels fleeting, like thoughts or physical transience in passages of life itself. 

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Images: Header: Giorgio Griffa
Inserto policromo, 2023
Acrylic on canvas
28 x 27.2” / 71 x 69cm
Framed: 31 x 30.7” / 79 x 78cm
© Giorgio Griffa
Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York Photo: Jason Wyche

Above, left: Giorgio Griffa

Cinque campi azzurri, 2022
Acrylic on canvas
54.7 x 37.8” / 139 x 96cm
© Giorgio Griffa
Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York Photo: Jason Wyche

Above, right: Giorgio Griffa

Acro viola, 2022
Acrylic on canvas
54.7 x 37.8” / 139 x 96cm
© Giorgio Griffa
Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York Photo: Jason Wyche

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