Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901 in the Italian speaking town Borgonova,
Switzerland. Being the son of Giovanni Giacometti, an impressionist painter, he was encouraged in art at an early age. Giacometti had great confidence in his drafting ability at the age of 10, and at 14 he began sculpting. When he turned twenty, he moved to Paris to continue his studies but shortly returned home.
Back home, Alberto Giacometti studied with the famous sculpture Bourdelle. With him he drew and sculpted with models. Though, in 1925 he gave up working with live models and in a few years he had begun to achieved a measure of fame.
In the late 20s, Giacometti was invited by Andre Breton to join the Surrealists. Surrealism is an artistic and literary movement that explored and celebrated the realm of dreams and the unconscious mind through the creation of motion pictures, poetry, and in this case, visual art.
Many surrealists rejected the artistic conventions of the past, while seeking to preserve their best traditions. They sought to demonstrate, as Breton said, “that no limits can be set to human imagination.”
Like the most of the surrealists of his time, Giacometti’s art was guided by the aim of revolutionizing art and perception. He used surrealist techniques that tapped into his unconscious mind. Giacometti began using objects as representations of more abstract concepts. Many of his works involve a figure or dismembered appendage trapped or precariously hanging.
In 1932, Alberto Giacometti left the surrealist group for a brief period of time because of his interests in the mysteries of the human figure. This act put him at odds with the surrealists and he became wary of any kind of socially organizing principles in politics or art. The years that followed, between 1930 and 1940, are considered to be his years of crisis.
In 1933, Giacometti’s random way of putting together volumes and his equally unnecissary distortion of the human body took him somewhere. The sculpture, “Walking Woman” was constructed.
The life size, bronze sculpture was headless and armless. It’s slenderly stylized and is noticeably a woman’s figure. The left leg and foot are placed slightly in front of the other and barely seems to be moving forward. The mysterious aura of its presence and unusual sense of forward motion are characteristics in “Walking Woman” that were quite visible in the last twenty years of Giacometti’s works.
When the statue was exhibited in 1933, it was fitted with wooden arms and the scroll of a cello as a head and other devices to serve as hands. Though, as time passed, Giacometti dropped these surrealist pieces. This headless, armless figure seemed as a revelation for the artist.
In 1936 Pierre Matisse, an art dealer, purchased “Walking Woman”. This was a significant choice do to the fact that the statue was the beginning of the distinguishing works of the last twenty years of Giacometti’s life. To Matisse’s eyes, none of Giacometti’s future works were worth buying.
In 1934 Giacometti began working from models again. Because of this, the surrealist group expelled him for his diversion and regarded it as “retrograde”. The years that followed,
Giacometti alternated between life and memory. Oddly enough, the typical characteristics of his works, elongated distortions and two-dimention characteristics, were much more pronounced when a live model was used.
Following the German invasion of W.W.II, Giacometti left Paris and stayed in Switzerland until 1945. While in Switzerland, Giacometti met Annette Arn, whom he married in 1949. He was kept from the military service because of a disability he acquired after being struck by a car prior to the war. During the time of the war, Alberto Giacometti suffered from anxiety and his sculptures seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. According to Giacometti, he could not explain why his statues became so small. “I could not understand it. All my statues ended up one centimeter high. One more touch and hop! the statue vanishes.” Though, some inferred that his sensitivity to the nature of human existence was intensified by the horror of the war.
Toward the end of his life, Giacometti had come to the conclusion that he did not need to leave his studio to find the world. For the majority of his future life, Giacometti concentrated on depicting three themes: a portrait of a head, a woman standing, and a man walking.
Each of his sculptures was the result of a frenzy of repeated creations and destruction, but he acknowledged that the final version is in no way an improvement over the first. His reason for repeating the process was to deepen his own understanding of the problem posed before he could leave it. Giacometti demanded that he found truth in his work. Alberto Giacometti’s artwork seemed so intimate and personal, and his subjects were loved ones. Though, the surfaces have all been described as decaying or exploding flesh, and the forms are always hauntingly distorted. The figures even look as to be isolated from an environment or other individuals.
His paintings and drawings reveal the same kind of intensity as his sculptures. Typically they are simple frontal poses and though the face is entirely sketched, it’s always densely reworked, redrawn or painted or rubbed out innumerable times on the same canvas. Using hues of black, gray and brown, the resulting effect is oddly haunting; the gaze of the subject is impossibly heavy. The somber hues of black, brown and gray fill his drawing and paintings. It is striking that
Giacometti was able to focus his attention so acutely on a few simple subjects in his effort to comprehend the world. Through this work he revealed such complexity and depth.
Picasso considered Giacometti to be one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century.
His artwork depicted the brutality of life, but showed a yearning for another kind of existence.