Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming review

Art, Contemporary art Free
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Poverty can be enriching, at least when you’re talking about the Italian povera movement of the late ’60s and ’70s  that Giorgio Griffa emerged from. Arte povera was an avant-garde movement that aimed to build a kind of poetry out of scrappy, everyday materials. For Griffa, this meant taking canvas off the frames, dismantling its parts, and developing a kind of stripped-back visual lyricism out of the very building blocks of painting.

A vocabulary of brightly coloured marks runs riot across his largely abstract paintings in this retrospective: rows of squiggles, doodle-like curlicues, swarms of tapering lines. There’s a weird, arbitrary quality to much of them, as if they’re merely there to stake some claim to the picture plane. In the way some lurk at the edges, you’re half-reminded of that way kids draw a band of blue at the top of a page to illustrate sky.

Not that Griffa is interested in illustrating sky, or illustrating anything at all for that matter: these are entirely abstract works that refer to nothing but their own making. The effect of this is that every last incident in each piece – a hanging frond of fabric, a missing chunk of paper – becomes an aesthetic consideration. This really starts to get interesting in Griffa’s use of numbers. In some works, they label an adjacent line of colour; in others, they take on a wayward life of their own.

The use of numerals – and the odd piece of text – ties Griffa to American conceptualists like Mel Bochner and Bruce Nauman. But Griffa remains a European at heart – unlike the linguistic games of those on the other side of the pond, he’s never entirely renounced a kind of Old World pictorial beauty. Light, airy and silently captivating in rooms at the Camden Arts Centre, his work is all the better for it. 

By: Matt Breen

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