art by Arlene Kim Suda

pay attention...

pay attention…

week 5: the art of the past rises up before me

Posted on February 6, 2012 by aks

All the art of the past rises up before me,
the art of all ages and all civilizations,
everything becomes simultaneous,
as if space had replaced time.
Memories of works of art blend
with affective memories,
with my work,
with my whole life.

– Alberto Giacometti

I’m switching gears a bit this week and focusing on a quote instead of a poem.  I came across a set of photographs of Giacometti in his studio that caught my eye and reminded me how much I admire his work. I have always related to the lines and markings in his paintings…like they are constantly being reworked in search of something that is just out of reach.

The quote captures how I feel about being connected to other artists and their time through their work. Thinking about Giacometti in his studio reminds me that the constant reworking that I do on my own paintings isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Alberto Giacometti, pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches


Giacometti’s Studio (sketch), pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches


Giacometti’s Studio, oil on board (in progress), 11 x 14 inches


Rises (after Perpetua), acrylic on paper, 7 x 10-1/4 inches

And here is a excerpt from a book about Giacometti that I was referred to by a painting teacher…I miss those days of being surrounded by people who care about art so much!


English critic James Lord kept a diary while his portrait was painted
by the international Swiss master painter and sculptor, Alberto
Giacometti. Here is an excerpt of Lord’s story…

* * * * * *

After working for an hour and a half we decided to take a break. He said,
“I stopped five minutes too late. A little while ago it was good.”

It was, in any case, better that it had been at the end of the previous
day’s sitting. The face was crisscrossed with black lines, but it had a
fresh precision and solidity.

When we started to work again, he kept insisting that my head was too far
to the right or to the left, too high or too low. No matter how I moved
it, it seemed to be wrong. Finally, we looked at the legs of the chair and
found that they were about half an inch off the red marks painted on the
floor. But that made all the difference, he said. From that time on, he
himself always carefully checked the position of the chair before he began
to work.

Presently he started gasping aloud, with his mouth open, and stamping his
foot. “Your head’s going away!” he exclaimed. “It’s going away

“It will come back,” I said.

He shook his head. “Not necessarily. Maybe the canvas will become
completely empty. And then what will become of me? I’ll die of it!”

There was nothing I could say or do. To be present but helpless, to be
involved but removed, made me uneasy.

He reached into his pocket, pulled out his handkerchief, stared at it for
a moment, as though he didn’t know what it was, then with a moan threw it
onto the floor. Suddenly he shouted, “I shriek! I scream!”

Startled and embarrassed, I laughed awkwardly.

“It’s not very nice to laugh at the misery of others,” he said grimly.

“That’s true,” I said. “Excuse me.”

He worked on for a time in silence. Then abruptly he asked, “Have you ever
killed anyone?”

“No,” I replied. “Why do you ask me that?”

“Because I think you’re capable of anything,” he said smiling, “That’s a

“Thanks, and you? Have you ever killed anyone?”


After some time, he announced “The painting is going worse and worse. It’s
impossible to do it. Maybe I’d better give up painting forever. But the
trouble is that if I can’t do a painting, I can’t do a sculpture, either.
It’s the same thing. Well, it’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s close
to being same thing.”

“Why don’t you work on the body or the background,” I asked, “if you’re
having trouble with the head?”

“No, no,” he said. “Everything has to come in its own time. If I paint in
the body or the background just to be doing something to fill in space,
that would be obvious. It would be false, and I’d have to abandon the
picture completely. No. Tomorrow it will come. I’ve reached the worst now.
Tomorrow is Sunday. Tomorrow will be better.”

Toward the end of the sitting, as it began to get dark, he took off his
glasses several times and stared away toward the other side of the studio
as at nothing. I suggested that we stop for the day. “No,” he said, “I’m
just resting my eyes.”

Finally it had grown so dark that we had to stop and turn on the lights.
The portrait had progressed notably. Or so it seemed. To be certain from
day to day of exactly what had happened, and to decide whether or not it
really represented progress, was sometimes difficult to see.

But Giacometti was pleased. He said, “It did advance in spite of
everything today, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, “it did.”.

Giacometti then left to meet a journalist at a cafe, so I stayed behind to
talk to his wife Annette. As she stepped into the studio, she said she
felt the portrait was progressing well. “How do you like posing?” she

“Very much,” I said. “But sometimes Alberto almost scares me, the way he
yells when things aren’t going well.” She laughed at that. “But,” I added,
“What really disturbs me is the way the painting seems to come and go, as
though Alberto himself had no control over it, and sometimes it
disappears altogether.”

She laughed again. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve become so used to that so I
simply don’t notice it any more.”

“But it could go on for months.”

“Sometimes it does.”

“And there’s nothing anyone can do.”


“Not even Alberto himself, I suppose.”

“No,” she said, “not even Alberto.”

“It’s strange, this feeling of fate.”

She shrugged. “You’ll get used to it.”

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