Giacometti – Shape Motifs, Spatial Planes and Integration

Alberto Giacometti - The Artist's Mother - 1937 - 24 x 20 in - oil on canvas

Giacometti was a master of composition.  In this painting he demonstrates this with how he merged his mother with her surroundings.  I will do my best to explain some of his superb considerations.

One of the best ways to convey a sense of space is to frame the subject, which Giacometti does beautifully.  We are looking through a large rectangle which seems to be suspended in front of the figure.  Can you feel the space?  We then engage with the arrangement of rectangles which make up the structural elements of the wall behind.

A good entry point to how Giacometti uses these supporting rectangles is with the horizontal black line running across her chest forming the tops of a series of vertical rectangles.  These rectangles relate to another series of verticals on the wall behind.  If you look closely you will also see how they connect or integrate with the figure, especially with the vertical rectangle integrating with the light ones on her shoulder and below.  If you blur your eyes the integration is very strong.

Note how the lines of the wall support the figure, especially at the shoulders and that wonderful angle at the top of her head.  The lines extending from her shoulders, stabilizing her, is magnificent integration.

There are some wonderfully subtle rectangles which are actually spatial planes.  We have the feel of one in front her upper left arm with its top being the line extending from her shoulder (see detail)  It is not initially apparent, but becomes strong when you become aware of it.  There is another just below.  I should also point out the dark vertical rectangle just above and how it provides a very sensitive support for the figure.  Remember the intention is they are meant to be felt more than seen.

                  Her face is very complex with some wonderful cubist planes. (see detail)   The most noticeable are the white shapes in her hair above her forehead with the sensitive lines connecting and extending the planes onto her forehead.  I love the vertical one in front of her neck and mouth leading up to her nostrils, connecting to a thin line leading to the left forming the top of another plane.  The vertical also continues upward connecting to the vertical above, solidifying the figure with the background.  At the risk of over explaining this wonderful integration, reverse the direction from the top.  Your eye will connect to the light vertical leading down to her hands.

I marvel at the quality of the horizontal forming the bottom of her hair behind, then, at the right connecting to vertical shapes which create the feel of planes in front.

I mustn’t neglect how he relieved the strong vertical and horizontal structure with a very sensitive oblique rhythm of parallels.  Let’s return to the white plane in her hair pointing up towards the right. Just below to the right is another small plane paralleling the direction.  When you go to the left of her head you will find other markings echoing the movement.  And a most important light one below her collar.  We may not notice the oblique movement but we will certainly feel it.

Once you train your eye to notice the complexity you come to appreciate the sophistication of his considerations.

Giacometti – Composition (Integration)

Giacometti – Self Portrait – 1921 – 32 x 28 in – oil on canvas

Giacometti’s command of composition is absolutely marvellous in this superb painting.
I will focus on his wonderful integration of the figure with the other elements in the composition.  Let’s begin with how your eye is taken across the painting from the seat of the chair, along the bottom of his jacket, to the bottom of his right leg, then you are guided up to the verticals behind.  Another beautiful integration is how the curve at the bottom of his pant leg rhythmically connects to the curved element to the left, which in turn, guides you up to his hand. I love it!  Also take note how the bottom of his trousers connects to the lower edge of his other leg and how the bottom of his pant leg then integrates with the chair leg.  I was and still am taken with how he integrated the other chair leg (between his legs) with his pant leg.  Can you feel how the angle in the chair runs into his pants creating a small blue triangle?  (see detail)


This very impressive small dark blue triangle provides a sense of overlapping. The top edge of this gorgeous little triangle also parallels a dark line above which in turn integrates with the edge of his palette.  Can you feel the movement and shapes?  There is also another sense of an angle at the bottom of the dark line (creating another plane) which parallels the angle in the chair leg.  There is more.  That dark line also connects to a subtle purple line which carries downward into his leg, creating another wonderfully subtle triangle.

Note the line just to the left of his pocket and how this guides you up to the front of his neck and how his chin and his collar connect to the horizontals behind.  Just one more, it’s how he leads you upwards through his arm from the opening in his jacket.

There is more for you to engage with, and I hope you enjoy this wonderful early composition by this twentieth century master.  I am impressed with how Giacometti permitted to show Cézanne’s influence.


Influences (Giacometti)

Don Farrell - Direction III - 2007 - 53 x 73 cm - 21 x 29 in - mixed media on paper

I was working on a series based on the origins of architecture when another interesting consideration came to me.

As those who actually work on the structures, we all have a deeply felt need to leave our mark, no matter how slight.

That is the reason for the “organic” feel of the structural element in this painting.

When I introduced direction into the opening, Giacometti’s sculpture, (Woman Walking between Two Houses)  came to mind.

This is a good thing, because the more we study, the greater the chances of recognizing the considerations of notable artists in our work.

Alberto Giacometti - Woman Walking between Two Houses - 1950 - 30 x 54 x 10 cm - 12 x 21 x 4 in




Giacometti (Creating Space with Planes)


Alberto Giacomatti - Self Portrait - 1923 - 55 x 32 cm - 22 x 13 in - oil on canvas

This wonderful painting is a superb example of creating the feeling of depth or space with a plane.

In this painting Giacometti provided a plane, or shape, appearing in front of the face.  This is an consideration coming directly from the influence of Cezanne.

Now carefully peruse the right side (his right) of his head.  Do you see a straight line at the edge of his hair, running down through his ear to the edge of his neck down to the collar?  It then takes a right angle turn to the bottom to his chin, creating the bottom edge of the plane.  Now go back the where we began in his hair and note the angle which defines the top of the plane.  It’s subtle until we notice that wonderful vertical line in his hair on the other side of his face.

Keeping in mind that the shape is meant to be felt, rather than seen, do you see the plane in front of his face?

You may feel his face projecting through the plane, which is fine, as it is meant to be open for interpretation, as there is no right or wrong way of seeing these considerations.





Influences (Giacometti)


Don Farrell - Creases - 27 x 31 cm - 10 1/2 x 12 1/4 in - mixed water soluble media on paper

I feel Giacometti was a master of composition. The more I peruse his work the more I have come to appreciate the thoroughness of his considerations. My painting “Creases” is an example of permitting Giacometti to influence my work.

By permitting myself to be influenced has nothing to do with emulating. It is appreciating, as in his painting “Still Life with an Apple”, the level of his compositional sophistication and trying to reach his thoroughness.

I will limit comparisons to a couple areas – integration and parallels.

In my painting note how the seam in the pot is in line with a line in the drawer below. Giacometti did a similar integration with lines which run from the bottom of the painting up through the apple to dark horizontals which will eventually return you back to the bottom and back to the apple. I used the creases in the white cloth and stronger values to bring you to the pot. I also used the drawer handle as a visual pull for the pot as Giacometti did for a pull from the apple.

Giacometti masterfully limited his use of perspective, in fact he disrupted perspective with a masterful use of cubism, I could go on and on. I decided to provide the illusion of depth by using the parallels of the creases and the shadows of the pot and two parallel cast shadows with no vanishing point.

I could write at length on this wonderful painting by Giacometti, I think I may one day…

Alberto Giacometti - Still Life with an Apple - 1937 - 72 x 75 cm - 28 x 29 in - oil on canvas