A visit to an artist’s studio can shed light on his or her work.
The British Arts Council’s short film above affords an intimate glimpse into Alberto Giacometti’s studio in Montparnasse circa 1965, the year when he was the subject of major retrospectives at both the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The artist passed most of his working life in cramped space at 46 rue Hippolyte. Early on, he entertained plans to relocate “because it was too small – just a hole.”
Others visitors to the studio described the artist’s environs in more literary terms:
In a charming little forgotten garden he has a studio, submerged in plaster, and he lives next to this in a kind of hangar, vast and cold, with neither furniture nor food. He works very hard for fifteen hours at a stretch, above all at night: the cold, his frozen hands – he takes no notice, he works. – Simone de Beauvoir
This ground floor studio… is going to cave in at any moment now. It is made of worm-eaten wood and grey powder…. Everything is stained and ready for the bin, everything is precarious and about to collapse, everything is about to dissolve, everything is floating…. And yet it all appears to be captured in an absolute reality. When I leave the studio, when I am outside on the street, then nothing that surrounds me is true. – Playwright Jean Genet
The whole place looking as if it had been thrown together with a few old sticks and a lot of chewing gum…. In short, a dump. Anyway he said come in when I knocked…. He turned and glanced at me, holding out his hand which was covered in clay, so I shook his wrist…. He immediately resumed work, running his fingers up and down the clay so fiercely that lumps fell onto the floor – Essayist James Lord
These impressions paint a portrait of a driven, and disciplined artist, who logged untold hours modeling his formes elongee in clay, unceremoniously crumpling and rebuilding in the pursuit of excellence.
The camera documents this intensity, though his untranslated remarks suggest a man capable of taking himself lightly, certainly more so than the accompanying narration does.
Like the narration, Roger Smalley‘s dissonant score lays it on thick, the sonic equivalent of heads like blades and “limbs bound as though bandaged for the grave.” Perhaps we should conceive of the studio as a scary place?
In actuality, it proved a hospitable work environment and the impulse to relocate eventually waned, with the artist observing that “the longer I stayed, the bigger it became. I could fit anything I wanted into it.”
Explore the recent Tate Modern Giacometti retrospective here and take a closer look at the studio via Ernst Scheidegger’s photos.
“Giacometti” will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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