Tucked away in North London, far away from the maddening crowds of other blockbuster shows is a little oasis of tranquility and calm. Giorgio Morandi Lines of Poetry is the perfect title for this beautiful and quiet exhibition of Morandi’s works on paper. This exhibition brings together works from both the Estorick Collection of Italian Modern Art situated in Islington, and the Galleria d’Arte Maggiore G.A.M in the artist’s hometown of Bologna.
The still lifes of Morandi have always been a favourite and I was so pleased that the exhibition was extended for a few weeks longer to enable a second visit. The beautifully lit and tranquil gallery spaces of the Estorick make it the perfect setting for these Morandi works and adds to the calm intensity and meditative qualities of his wonderful compositions.
The act of careful and considered looking, being able to have any form of dialogue with an art work is becoming harder and harder in many of today’s popular shows but in this peaceful atmosphere it was possible to closely study each work, without the jostle of trying to claim a space to look, as has become common practice in many a busy exhibition.
Morandi began to etch during 1912 and during the following years worked on many still life arrangements and landscapes, themes that were re-visited continuously. The same bottles, vases and jars are recognizable in his revised and re-worked compositions. In some etchings we see objects tightly packed on a shallow shelf and appear to be jostling for space. Morandi’s compositions in themselves are meditations, never tiring of the same collection of objects, changing position slightly from one plate to another.
The still life etchings take on many forms, allowing Morandi to experiment with the many techniques and approaches that etching offers. There seem to be few curved lines, as curved edges are created by small straight connecting lines. Dense cross-hatching sits next to lighter, more delicate areas of tone and dark tones are built-up using cross-hatching more densely. Slowly and patiently space and depth are created with a repetitive short diagonal line, side by side, reminiscent of Cezanne’s short diagonal brushstrokes. Layering upon layering of line over line is used to create the architectural forms and structures of bottles, jars and vases, monumental in their presence. In drawing these forms Morandi is concerned with reducing the elements, sometimes reducing so much that the objects appear with few lines, or even becoming the negative shape while the background is heavily worked.
Morandi was interested in shape, volume and light and often his objects were painted a colour or tone for a certain painting. His painted bottles and vases as if people, taking on a particular presence and character within a print or painting. Each object has a distinct personality.
The space around each group is of great importance, sometimes the space given is airy allowing the composition to breathe whilst in others the objects are crammed in and feels claustrophobic as they fill their pictorial space. In some of the later etchings from 1933 onwards, lines are as tightly packed as the objects in the space. During 1942/3 Morandi removes the edges of the rectangular format and uses the tondo to create an even greater tension.
Accompanying the exhibition is the beautifully filmed Giorgio Morandi’s Dust. In the film we see the artist’s inspirations: the objects and places he painted so regularly.