Qu’est-ce qu’une tête? A good question, always. I came across this French film on Alberto Giacometti today quite by accident, and as it deepened my Sunday, I am sharing it here in its five parts. After the buttery introduction in French, the English subtitles kick in.
Though relatively unknown today in the art school and painters circles, Fausto Pirandello (1899-1975) is one of my most favorite modern artists, and one I dutifully try to find every time I am in Italy. Pirandello’s approach into different layers of reality, while also focusing on the mundane behind closed doors, strikes deep chords in me. I also appreciate immensely his very original motifs and compositions, as well as his ongoing explorations of the figure and bathers. Son of the dramatist Luigi Pirandello, he trained with the sculptor Sigismondo Lipinsky between 1919 and 1920, before turning to painting. His early work was influenced by Armando Spadini and Felice Carena, colleagues of his, as well as by Gauguin, Kokoschka and van Gogh.
After a four year experience in Paris, where he mingled with some of the more important Italian-Parigian artists of the 1920s and 30s, Pirandello returned to Rome in 1931 and was welcomed into the Roman School, distinguishing himself by his originality and solitary research. Pirandello’s painting was oriented towards a realism of daily life, including the grimy and gritty, and expressing himself through dense painting. His intellectual vision translated the naturalistic facts, even those most brutal, in a sort of magical or poetic realism with archaic and metaphysical tones, adding spatial concerns stemming from cubism, tonalism and expressionistic painting, such as in La Scala, depicting a woman ascending and descending a staircase in a brothel, or in Pioggia D’Oro, with a foreshortened female figure falling out of a domestic scene.
During the 1950s, Pirandello develops his style further, reabsorbing cubist suggestions from Braque and Picasso, and living through the difficult phase afflicting Italian painting at that time, the split between realism and neocubism. Through expressionistic deformations, he comes up with new solutions that sit between abstraction and figuration, with paintings that refer strongly towards a cubist synthesis in the tiling of colors and in compositions which slowly lose their narrative.
(La Scala – no better resolution found)
Pirandello exhibited widely during his career, including the Venice Biennale and the Rome Quadriennali, along with solo exhibitions at the Galleria della Cometa, Galleria del Secolo, and Galleria di Roma. After the war, he held a solo exhibition at the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York in 1955, and the solo show “Nuova Pesa” (New Weight) in Rome in 1968.
I came across some additional images of Sophie Jodoin‘s earlier works this past week, and it happened at a time when I really felt like I needed to see something that speaks of blunt honesty. I have been thrown a lot of curve balls during my experience in Israel, so it is consoling and encouraging to look at an artist that attempts to expose the learned truth, straightforward without agenda or masks, focusing on the victims rather than the crazed protagonists.
Jodoin has explored numerous difficult themes over the years, particularly the violences in war, children, relationships, growing up and aging, as well as the feelings of numbness, nostalgia, fear, rejection, and aspirations that accompany these very facts of human existence. Around 2003, and certainly by her Fallen (revisited) series in 2006, Jodoin chose to remove color altogether from her work, to strip “away the sensuality of color often associated with painting,” as she put it. The 2004 series “A Little Red Suite: the World is a Heartbreaker” – oval portraits of grief in red – were thus followed by the black and white documentary type explorations of Drawing Shadows (of her mother) and Diary of K., and since then Jodoin has consistently stuck to the raw, graphic power of black and white.
From A Little Red Suite – the World is a Heartbreaker series
Is she perhaps better skilled in black and white than color? I might say so, but then again it has been hard to find more than a few earlier works in color to compare. Reality has its base in black and white, existing before the cones and rods of the eyeball, and color does impassion our moods unwillingly – just imagine if food were only in black and white. Certainly, the lack of color in her work over the last several years lends more severity, coldness and objectiveness to the analysis, and thus is more suggestive of a documentary approach on the human condition. It also serves to curb any of those who dare classify Jodoin as a political artist; the removal of optical color also takes out any of the cloying color of politics. At any rate, I like pretty much anything she does, in any hue or tone.
Study for Homicide, date unknown
She always knocks the wind out of me, because the images have a violence in contemplation rather than in surface – a jolt of exposure that is needed, in my opinion. It is too easy to go about our day ignoring, neglecting or simply being unaware of other currents and people around us. We are so “busy.” It is only when unfortunate things happen in our own back yard that we stop for a moment and begin to fully question the horrors of being human. Sophie Jodoin paintings function like universal backyards for the viewer. Though artists tend to notice things others may not, in many of her series, Jodoin chooses to make the likeness of a person unrecognizable while focusing instead on the realism of recognizable props, which can sift out an undercurrent of emotions that perhaps we had never considered before. We do not recognize a random soldier, but we recognize the bandages of war. We may not relate to a toddler’s face, but we can relate to a faceless young girl clinging to a bunny.
Jodoin allows us views of people who – by a rare slip of circumstance – are not us, but could be us in a split second. We should not be fooled that we are better or more fortunate than anyone else simply because we are standing on the other side of the glass. Instead, we can absorb these works as exposures of the fragile, haunting truthfulness of life, and we can walk away more equipped to proceed with life, with more knowledge and compassion.