A Continuous Becoming is the first London solo show of Italian artist Giorgio Griffa (b. 1936). The exhibition, at Camden Arts Centre, includes works from the 1960s to the present.
An awareness of the light and of the colours on canvas and an overwhelming sense of serenity are the immediate impressions on entering the gallery. The exhibition is immaculately hung. The presentation is simple, the canvases are pinned directly to the walls. The focus is directed to the works themselves.
The canvas is unprimed and unstretched with torn, rather than frayed, edges. The top edge of each painting though is tautly stretched and the canvas hangs straight and flat against the wall. This is the first intimation of Griffa’s lightness of touch and illustrates his way of working with the physical quality of the materials in allowing them to do their thing. There is an absence of hierarchy between the elements. The artist does not command his materials, but rather works in tandem with them. These are not overtly emotional or gestural paintings. The confidence to allow the materials to simply be is meditative, even zen like. Despite the initial impression of simplicity, the works are evidently the result of a deep and thoughtful practice. The marks are calligraphic, measured, never rushed. Griffa states that the marks he uses are universal, these are marks that could be made by any hand.
The marks of folds held on the cloth gives a subtle structure to the picture plane and is reminiscent of the modernist grid. Splashes and drips of watery paint enhance the celebratory nature of Griffa’s practice.
Echoing the written page, markmaking frequently begins in the top left hand corner of the work. Griffa feels no compulsion to fill the entire surface. The unadorned and untouched material reminds the viewer of the Arte Povera movement which developed in parallel to Griffa’s own practice. In these paintings, the bare surface is not naked but rather filled with the promise of more work to come.
Griffa’s interest in physics and mathematics is reflected in his paintings, which often include numbers. Griffa is in thrall to the Golden Section. There is a parallel here to Griffa’s own practice. The Golden Section is an irrational number whose final digit can never be reached. It is a number which is never complete. This strategy suggests a door left open to the next work. The artist’s practice is a continuous line and can be likened to an arabesque rather than a linear progression.
‘The arabesque’, he says, ‘represents at once linear time and circular time, because it goes backwards while moving further forward.’ (Marks, 2018)
Working with the unpretentious confidence of someone who understands the power of uncomplicated, Griffa describes much through the rhythm of the spare mark marking.
‘I probably realised that a very simple language – and I also realised this through poetry, whether Pound or Eliot or Ginsberg – can encapsulate an immense complexity. It’s fundamental.’
It is an exhibition which cannot fail to raise the spirits.