Robert Irwin on Giorgio Morandi
From Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees by Lawrence Weschler
“The Italian painter Giorgio Morandi captivated a lot of us,” Irwin recalls, “ and we eventually even staged a small show of his paintings at Ferus” (in 1961). “Now, here was a painter who’d been repeating the same subject, the same theme, over and over again, for years. In his studio, he had a collection of bottles and jars, and he painted them continuously: small paintings of groups of these bottles on his table, a kind of still life. So in one sense they seemed extremely traditional, extremely formal. They still had a subject matter in the most classical sense, the simplest, most direct kind of subject matter, unloaded in a way. This especially seemed the case when you compared Morandi with some of his bold, gestural contemporaries, say, someone like Pierre Soulages, with his modernist imagery, the strokes and slashes and all that. I mean, someone with a conceptual, literate eye, oriented
toward looking at the imagery, would certainly think of the Soulages as the modern painting and the Morandi as the old-fashioned one. But if you looked at them on the physical level, in terms of how they actually dealt with the time and space relationships within the painting per se, the Soulages was pre-cubist, almost floating in like a seventeenth century space, with its sense of distinct figure and ground;”
(Then this part made me picture paintings by another favorite painter of mine, Alden Mason…)
“Whereas the Morandi was essentially the same as a DeKooning or a Kline, with its intimate interpretation between figure and ground. In Morandi they were never really separate. In fact even with the figurative elements, there were cases where his ground actually got in front of the figures or in many cases couched them in so intimately that there was no separating the two. Physically he carved a space for each one of these elements, where the amount of space left by the so-called ground was exactly that which the object occupied, so that it was as if the air had taken on substance. They were really good paintings.” P. 60-1
Although the paintings by Mason have no recognizable reference to imagery, there is a distinct feeling of viscosity in the air in the negative space. I’d always imagined his painted world as existing encased in a clear jello. It’s the way the ground pushes out and over and through the figure, done with his ample use of turpentine and by painting thin-over-thick.
Devon Midori Hale