Still Life 7: Brushstrokes, Morandi inspired photographs

Still Life Chapter 7   Brushstrokes Transformations  
Studies IV    February  2014 
Photographs Inspired by Giorgio Morandi

  Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 7, "Brushstrokes"  image #1

For an Introduction to the Still Life project and the links to all of its chapters visitStill Life
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"The important thing is to touch the core, 
the essence of things."
Giorgio Morandi

Introduction: Transformations 
This collection of Morandi inspired photographs entitled Brushstrokes consists of transformations of selected flower and plant images presented in Chapter 6.  The idea for this project came to me while I was studying close-up photographs of Morandi's paintings, drawings and etchings.

Much has been written about the quality of silence that pervades Morandi's art, but when I look closely at his works, and in a sense get inside the images where I can study the individual brushstrokes and the networks of lines with which he constructed his images, I often find there a tremendous amount of visual energy, movement, creative aliveness.  Paying this degree of intimate, detailed attention to Morandi's creative process has rewarded me with yet another kind of experience and understanding of his work, and inspiration for this project.  

Morandi of course touched the surfaces of his canvas, paper or etching plate with his uniquely personal sensibility and masterful knowledge of his chosen media; but there is more: through what I would call his extraordinary intuitive-imaginative powers I believe he succeeded at what was for him the most important thing: touching "the core, the essence of things."   

Morandi always claimed he painted what he saw, and yet his works often approached and sometimes nearly achieved (in his late works) total visual abstraction.  Still, no matter how abstract his images would become, there is almost always in each work at least an essential feeling tone, memory trace or ghostly presence of the things that served as the point of departure for a particular work.

Parallel Worlds
What, then did Morandi see when he was creating a work of art?  I would attempt to answer the question this way: Morandi's images are an intense and deeply felt (though often under-stated) revelation of two parallel worlds which coexisted simultaneously in his vision: the objective world of things, and an imaginal world made up of intuitively perceived archetypal forms and their subtle ineffable presences.  This trans-world, trans-formative way he saw things required a less literal and more abstract-formal visual language, thus when he famously commented  "there is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality" I think he was trying to talk about the dual, parallel realities he experienced through and perhaps because of his creative process.


straw, feathers, dust -- 
little things 

but if they all go one way,
that's the way the wind goes.

William Stafford 

The Creative Process
The Brushstroke transformation photographs presented here function for me as open ended symbols.  As such each viewer must discover for themselves, through their own experiences, the meanings of the works.  For me, these photographs are at least in part about the interior life of things, the movement of unknowable life forces that create, sustain and transform the things of the world (for example flowers and plants).  

The parallel lines in these photographs remind me of the movement of wind and how things are moved and changed by the wind.  I have had intense encounters with this invisible but palpable transformative force of nature which poets and saints often associate with divine breath and creation, spirit and inspiration.  I have seen how wind can create and destroy; whatever it touches is surly moved, changed or transformed in some way.    

Morandi's art has touched and moved me in wonderful, ineffable ways.  I offer my transformations in celebration and in honor of Morandi, his vision and his lifelong practice of picture making.  And I offer this work in acknowledgement of its true source, the mystery that I call The Creative Process, which endlessly enlivens and transforms all the things of the world, including each and every one of us.  

*          *          *

Below are some Morandi images and some excerpted texts by Morandi scholars regarding themes close to the heart of this project.  I encourage you to click on the images to enlarge them, and study them up close.  With the exception of the etching, all works were completed in Morandi's late period, 1956 through 1964, the year of his passing. 

Morandi Oil painting 1960

The Ghosts of Unknowable Things
Siri Hustvedt begins her essay, The Drama of Perception: Looking at Morandi with the famous 1960 quote by Morandi in which he says: "I believe that nothing is more abstract, more unreal than what we actually see.  We know all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it."  Hustvedt points out that this is a restatement of an earlier more cryptic 1957 interview comment: "I believe there is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality."

After Hustvedt explores some of the philosophical underpinnings of these two juxtaposed quotes, she writes: "My thought is that Morandi is saying that beneath our myriad experiences of the world, under our perceptual images, our language and emotions, is something out there, matter, which is like abstraction in art, a fundamentally unrecognizable reality . . .   I feel [in Morandi's work] a desire, at least partially, to unhinge the thing from its name, a desire that closely related to Cezanne.  Cezanne wanted to strip perception of conventional expectations, to see anew."

Hustvedt goes on to explore how we perceive Morandi's paintings in terms of memory, and then she writes:  ". . . the sense of the immaterial and the disembodied has led me to speculate about transcendent meanings.  The experience of looking for a long time at one of his paintings can begin to feel as if one is looking at the representations of ghosts of things, not of things themselves, but then it is also true that the objects may reappear again as representations of matter.  Those fluctuations are also vital to the curious emotional world of the pictures . . ."

Hustvedt concludes her essay:  "He knew he wanted to paint the unknowable -  that abstract objective reality -  which we have parsed and articulated for ourselves as cups and trees [flowers and plants]."  Note:  all the above essay quotes are from 2013 Silvana Editoriale publication Giorgio Morandi: A Retrospective.  The bracketed addition at the end are my words.


Morandi Watercolor 1963

Ineffable Tonal Ranges & Poetic Parallels 
Maria Cristina Bandera writes:  "Morandi's was a type of painting that tended to sublimate itself in increasingly ineffable tonal ranges, with color conveyed by combinations, separations, or smooth brushstrokes that begin to dematerialize starting in the 1950s, leading to the light of his last paintings--especially the watercolors where the forms of objects are no longer recognizable, contained as they are in shadow and light and delicate evanescence.  These are works that speak of extreme simplification and progressive dissolution of form, and cannot be compared with either natural or artistic phenomena.  Because each is unique, they defy synthetic or rigid definitions, and since it was hard to compare them with works by other painters, they were occasionally read as poems, so that the finest interpreters of Morandi (Roberto Longhi, Fransceso Arcangeli . . .) might choose a parallel such as the slow narration of Proust . . .   Morandi's works, especially those of his last decade, attest to his singular capacity of being in step with his own time and yet incomparably independent."  The quote is from the 2008 Skira  publication.  


Morandi oil painting 1963

A Long Process of Inner Delving
Flavio Fergonzi writes:  "The most influential interpretation of Morandi, written by Roberto Longhi in 1945, rested on the conviction that 'only by delving into and through the form, and stratifying its tonal "remembrances," is it possible to arrive successfully to the light of the fullest and purest feeling.'  Longhi's text concluded with the famous parallel between Morandi's poetics and those of Marcel Proust: in a passage of Time Regained the narrator declares himself convinced that the reality which had to be expressed 'resides . . . not in the appearance of the subject but in the degree of penetration of that intuition to a depth where that appearance matters little.'  If Morandi's painting is interpreted as a long process of inner delving, then the visual source has inevitabley to be relegated to an incidental position."  The quote is from the 2008 Skira publication. 


Morandi Drawing 1963

Morandi's Late Drawings: Dissolution and Reconstruction of Form
Frans Armin Morat writes about Morandi's drawings: "In no other medium did Morandi attain such a high degree of abstraction.  His declared intent was to represent the structure of the reciprocal process of dissolution of the object . . . and reconstruction of its form.  The viewer experiences this interlocking, this flowing of one into the other, as one simultaneous process.  Establishing the connection between the 'object as such' and the way of viewing it, goes beyond or overcomes it, is decisive."     ~     "Oil painting provided Morandi with means and possibilities that drawing does not possess: objects evaporate in an aura of light and color; they dematerialize, when the background shines through them, such that not the form but the object itself is dissolved."  The quote is from the 1999 Prestel publication. 

The Opening up of the Invisible
Simona Tosini Pizzetti writes:  "Some of the drawings are real masterpieces of synthesis and essentiality that seem to represent the quintessence of the whole of Morandi's works;  the artist, playing openly with the values of perception, masterfully creates an ambiguity between figure and ground that always renders his objects phantasms of themselves, impalpable and fleeting spirits, the extreme and insurmountable point of every human certainty.  . . . [The drawings are] carriers of an exquisitely mental and spiritual vision that touches us on a profound level.  In the late drawings without hatching, and often without a horizon line, Morandi represented the place of nostalgia, and therefore of memory, more than that of the gaze, in a kind of slowed-down temporality, and he reached that imaginary confine where things both are and are not: the wane and in the progressive farewell the opening up of the invisible."  The quote is from the 2012  Silvana Editoriale publication


Morandi Etching 1930

Morandi's Etchings: Anonymous Networks of Parallel Lines   
Wolfgang Holler's essay Morandi as an Etcher provides some valuable insight into many aspects of Morandi's work as it focuses on the nearly fifty year involvement Morandi had with the difficult medium of etching.   Morandi began learning the process on his own in 1911, and by 1930 he was considered one of the greatest painter-engravers of European art. His international reputation earned him the offer of a professorship in etching in his home town at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts.  The income from teaching provided Morandi the financial stability that allowed him to make art as he pleased.  (Many writers agree that his greatest period of creative output was the "late period," which began with his retirement from the Academy in 1956 and lasted until his death in 1964.)  

Morandi's etchings, writes Holler: "virtually capture a facet of constantly changing reality and are released from the progress of time.  This convincing power intrinsic to his 
pictures is based essentially on the interaction of abstract pictorial means. . . . the etched line.  The charm of the etched line lies on the one hand in a mixture of spontaneity and subjectivity, on the other in exactitude, mechanical uniformity and anonymity. . ."

"It is revealing that from the start Morandi builds up his entire system of strokes on the most abstract form of line: the straight line, short or long . . .  They retreat completely behind an anonymous system of parallel strokes and cross hatching . . .  It is easy to understand why, according to Morandi, there is 'nothing more abstract than the world around us' when you take the time to look closely at each etching one by one: sky, earth, stones, flowers, shells, houses -  Morandi's entire pictorial world - materialize through an abstract ordering, regular-looking network of lines. . ." 

"Of course many nuances and variations can be found in the quality of the individual linear strokes, yet the 'amplitude' of each plate is strictly defined.  This produces an impression of clarity, calm and balance, and evokes the element of timelessness mentioned earlier.  Each etching has its own carefully weighed rhythm, unmistakable 'timbre,' characteristic play of light and dark, 'color,' sense of space, and texture.  This comes about essentially through the network of lines, disciplined and subjected to an ordering creative will. "  The quotes are from the 1999 Prestel publication


The Photographs
Chapter 7

Click on the images to enlarge

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Two Postludes

Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 7, "Brushstrokes" Postlude, image #19

Morandi inspired Still Life photographs, Chapter 7, "Brushstrokes"  Postlude, image #20

This project was announced on the Welcome Page of my website February 1, 20014

Still Life ~ Photographs Inspired by Giorgio Morandi  

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.

Other Related Links:

Morandi's Dust  DVD documentary, English subtitles.  Highly recommended