Giorgio Griffa, Canone aureo 203 (Golden Ratio 203), 2016, acrylic on canvas, 54 3/4 × 37 3/8".

Giorgio Griffa, Canone aureo 203 (Golden Ratio 203), 2016, acrylic on canvas, 54 3/4 × 37 3/8".

Giorgio Griffa

Galleria Lorcan O'Neill

Giorgio Griffa, Canone aureo 203 (Golden Ratio 203), 2016, acrylic on canvas, 54 3/4 × 37 3/8".

Through a radical formal reduction, Giorgio Griffa unites rule and poetry. Since his early days, working within the context of Arte Povera and Minimalist painting, he has maintained with his concise vocabulary an exemplary consistency and freshness. His painting, always focused on the rhythm and sequence of marks, is simultaneously rational and lyrical. And this show, which revisits his work from the late 1960s to the present, creates a dialogue through assonances among works from different decades.

Griffa works on raw, unstretched canvas hung on the wall with small nails; he applies diluted acrylic paint, tempera, or watercolor to this extremely vulnerable support. The creases that form on the canvases when they are folded for storage are an integral part of the work, contributing to the delicate and imponderable appearance of his paintings, to their quality of being events in process. After deciding on the length, width, and direction of the signs, Griffa marks the canvas, spread on the floor, with regular horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines. These develop and then are interrupted unexpectedly, without ever covering the entire surface, in a cadenced rhythm that brings to mind the verses of a poem or lyrics to a song. 

But his unfinished picture plane is a metaphor for a potentially infinitely expandable space, and each repeated brushstroke is situated within a temporal continuum that alludes to the infinite. In the vast, empty fields of his canvases, the painted line insinuates itself as a variable in the boundless fabric of time. What occurs on the surface is the simple and direct epiphany of the painting itself: the painting that does not represent but bears witness to the trace of the artist’s gesture in that precise moment in space-time, thus becoming the index of an event that is both human and pictorial. Griffa redeems the rational aspect of his creative process by welcoming the element of chance, remaining consciously willing to register all the variations that occur in the rhythmic repetition of one gesture after another. Thus, he allows his and our glance to confront the mystery of the void. He doesn’t wonder about the specific components of the pictorial medium, as analytical painters in the 1970s did, but he instead allows the sequence of signs to manifest the transient nature of events. This stance, which indicates the impossibility of dominating the elusive nature of external reality, derives from his interest in Zen Buddhism and other Asian doctrines and is supported by a rigor similar to that of Agnes Martin, yet with a tempo lightened by a playfulness that recalls the work of Alighiero Boetti.

Since the 1980s, Griffa’s pictorial gesture has moved more freely over the surface of his works, delineating sinuous and undulating lines, arabesques and semicircles. Within his rigorous and elementary grammar, Griffa gradually enters the freedom of more innocent and expressive gestures, exploring the narrative and even decorative potential of his signs. In the 1990s he introduced a new formal element into his linear layouts, the Greek letter, which represents the golden ratio, an “unassailable” number (1.618033988 . . . ) that can extend infinitely. Measure of a self-contained perfection and at the same time the unknowable, the golden number alludes to the multiple complexity of reality without attempting to give it an explanation. In Griffa’s most recent works the golden number becomes increasingly frequent, whether accompanying the lively pattern of the painted lines, as in Canone aureo 203 (Golden Ratio 203), 2016, or creating autonomous zones of chromatic resonance, as in Canone aureo 203 (Golden Ratio 203), 2017. 

I have always perceived an internal musicality in Griffa’s work. While in the 1970s it resembled the repetitive and hypnotic cadences of Philip Glass or Brian Eno, his current work sounds more polyphonic and is modulated according to a broader range. And the golden number seems to participate in this melody, sometimes with the pounding rhythm of a drum, other times with the delicacy of a heartbeat. 

Ida Panicelli

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.