Since the 1960s, Giorgio Griffa has utilised simple, repetitive gestures to imbue unprimed and unstretched canvases with a rhythmic sense of becoming.Read More
Based in his hometown of Turin, Griffa worked as a civil lawyer while studying painting from local artists. Although he also attended the studio of abstract painter Filippo Scroppo for three years, it was not until the mid-1960s that Griffa made a shift from figuration to abstraction.
In the 1960s, Turin was a centre for the Arte Povera movement, whose members Griffa befriended and exhibited with at the city's Galleria Sperone. Unlike Arte Povera artists, however, who engaged with 'poor' or unconventional materials, Griffa has consistently painted.
Giorgio Griffa's acrylic paintings may appear incomplete, as his characteristic marks of different colours and shapes only partially cover the canvas. Once finished, Griffa stores the canvas by folding it; when exhibiting, the artist presents the painting unstretched, with the creases and imperfections left visible.
Beginnings proliferate in Griffa's oeuvre, though they seldom end. The artist will begin a series of paintings, followed by another, and paintings can belong to more than one body of work.
Ideas of fluidity and seriality can also be found in Griffa's painting, in which a canvas often shows a consistent pattern, be it vertical waves in alternating colours, wide brushstrokes, or angular, mountain-like lines. 'Segni primari', ongoing since 1967, encapsulates the artist's approach to painting in its repetition of one or two gestures. Though repetitive, each mark will be slightly different from one another, having been produced by the hand without attempts at mechanical reproduction.
For Griffa, painting is 'not a natural thing' but humanity's invention to preserve memory, as the artist told curator Martin Clark in 2018. In the process of painting, the medium also becomes a stock of memories, which Griffa explores in his abstract painting series 'Connessioni e Contaminazioni', begun in the mid- to late-1970s, or 'Segno e campo', ongoing since the 1980s, among others.
'Alter Ego', which Griffa started in 1979, engages with the work of historical, modern, and contemporary artists including Tintoretto, Piero della Francesca, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Sonia Delauney, Agnes Martin, and Yves Klein.
In Lavagna Beuys (1982), dedicated to the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, the horizontal canvas shows shades of pink and yellow forming wriggling lines across the width of the canvas at the top, followed by the more straight lines in the middle, and a continuous line of circles encasing blue and purple squares at the bottom.
Signs have been a fixture in Griffa's paintings since the 1980s. Numbers indicate the order in which the five different marks in Numerazioni doppia (1996) were made: from the wide, largely vertical strokes in blue at the top to the angular lines in purple at the bottom of the canvas.
In contrast with the 'light heavy' implied in the title, Leggero Pesante (2019) shows the repetition of Italian and English words for 'large' and 'small' in different colours. Within each work is a concern with the placement of the signs, from their varying colours, shapes, size, and direction.
Griffa also frequently uses mathematical systems in his work, notably the golden ratio, which is evident in the 'Canone aureo' series from the 2000s onwards. Accompanied by the artist's signature marks, the digits making up the ratio can be long or short but never complete, as the ratio is infinite—similar to Griffa's paintings, in a sense, in that they always remain unstretched and fully covered.
In 2016, Griffa founded the Archivio Giorgio Griffa to document and preserve his work.
While Giorgio Griffa has exhibited internationally throughout his career, a greater and renewed attention in his work began with Fragments 1968—2012, a major solo exhibition organised by Casey Kaplan, New York in 2012.
Select solo exhibitions include Tempo infinito e nontempo, Kewenig, Berlin (2022); Marvels of the Unknown, Lille Métropole Musée d'art Moderne, Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France (2021); Giorgio Griffa: The 1990s, Casey Kaplan, New York (2020); A Continuous Becoming, Camden Arts Centre, London (2018); Works on Paper, Fondazione Giuliani, Rome (2016); A Retrospective 1968—2014, Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève, Geneva (2015).
Select group exhibitions include São Paulo Biennial (2021); The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree, Camden Arts Centre, London (2020); Materials and Objects, Tate Modern, London (2019); 57th Venice Biennale (2017); All Means Are Sacred, M WOODS, Beijing (2016); 39greatjones, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich (2013).
The website for the Archivio Giorgio Griffa can be found here.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2022