The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti is most often remembered for his famously thin, elongated sculptures of the human form. But Giacometti was a similarly brilliant and original draughtsman who maintained that drawing was the central skill of an artist. “One must stick exclusively to drawing,” he once said. “If one dominates drawing even a little bit then everything else becomes possible.”
Giacometti the draughtsman had a distinctive way of reworking a line, of going over it again and again as if he were sculpting in plaster. “When I make my drawings,” Giacometti said, “the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extent, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness.” The resulting tangle of lines give his drawings a special vibrancy, a sense of motion and depth on the two-dimensional plane.
In this excerpt from the 1966 film Alberto Giacometti by the Swiss photographer Ernst Scheidegger, we watch as Giacometti paints the foundational lines of a portrait at his studio in Montparnasse. The footage was probably shot in 1965, the last year of Giacometti’s life. The artist reportedly saw the film not long before his death on January 11, 1966. Watching the film, we get a sense of Giacometti’s care for geometry as he draws organizational lines to work out the proportions. Giacometti would often leave these intersecting vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines–which would emerge organically as he went along–in his finished works.
In the German narration, the speaker describes Giacometti’s almost mystical sense of the process: A face appears on the canvas which is his own face but also that of another, distant person who will appear out of the depth if only you reach out for him. But as you do reach out the person recedes, remaining just beyond your grasp. “The apparition,” Giacometti once said: “Sometimes I think I can trap it, but then I lose it again and must begin once more.”
Special thanks to Matthias Rascher for his linguistic help.