7 April 2013

Georgio Morandi

In 2010 I took a break from my usual painting practise to make a series of very small still-lives.  My yoga teacher had been talking about the nature of 'practise' - not getting too attached to good and bad, just practising, modestly and consistently and every day.  Non-attachment was an idea I was familiar with but I guess hadn't really heard in a way that applied to my life until that moment.  So I started getting up every morning and just painting the first thing that appealed to me that day.  The rules were simple; a very limited palette, a tiny scale, just one day to work on them, no fiddling, no fudging it and a mantra of 'what can I actually see?'

Japanese Tea Cup 6" X 6" Oil on Linen
©Sarah Gillespie 2010

On first showing these tiny canvases to a few friends, more than one of them commented that they were 'like Morandi'.  This is nothing new.  People often mention another artist when looking at work and I've come to realise that this referencing is one way people find to gain some purchase on what's in front of them.  What was new,  rather embarrassingly, was this name Morandi.  Not many weeks later I was walking up Castle street in Totnes and spotted a large monograph of his work right in the window of the second-hand bookshop.  Too much of a coincidence.  I bought it without even asking the price.

Morandi's work is stillness itself.  A patient, life-time's  endeavour.  My own efforts came nowhere near.

A few weeks ago, in that same strange way that things seem to come to one sometimes,  I was bought first a catalogue and then a postcard from an exhibition, currently at the Estorick Collection in London, of Morandi's etchings.  Estorick? Etchings? I had no idea.  Morandi calling again.  

The little exhibition turned out to be quite, quite wonderful.  For a start the museum is tiny.  Simple white rooms filled with Morandi's patient, singular vision.  To walk slowly from etching to etching, accompanied only by a few other entranced souls, is to enter this modest but determined man's world.  Everyday objects and corners of landscapes somehow made sublime by dint of his eye and hand.  The experience was one of absorption and delight. 

Then, rounding a corner in one of the rooms was this:

"Today, the confusion which oppresses the arts is enormous; and the poor quality of painting that floods the continents with greasy,  oily colour is difficult to define. There is an abundance of foolishness, much lack of understanding, a great deal of banality and cheap sensuality - and as for spirit, one would search for it in vain."

From Georgio de Chirico's essay on Morandi written in 1922

Georgio Morandi 1890 - 1964
Still Life with Five Objects

Georgio Morandi - Lines of Poetry runs at the Estorick Collection in north London until 28th April.


  1. your description of the exhibition is perfect. I have been twice so far as I have always loved his etchings more than his paintings. They often look as though he has laid a fine fabric on the paper until you look some more and closely - no, it's ink in his beautiful lines. heaven. I can't really put into words the emotions his work arouse in me but often feel tears coming into my eyes

  2. for you Sarah,

  3. Thank you Maureen and Nona.
    Maureen, I felt exactly the same.
    Nona, the link doesn't work - can you try again as would love to read?


  4. H'mm I wonder if you really needed to say "My own humble efforts came nowhere near"?


  5. I've though about his Peter. I said it in the context of the fact that people had been comparing this specific body of work - a body of work that was only a few months old - with the life's work of Morandi. What I meant was that when I got to see Morandi's work it was clear to me that the comparison was superficial and that I had in fact achieved nothing of his distillation and of his ability to endow the most humble objects with some kind of spiritual presence.
    On reflection I've taken out the word 'humble' . I did feel pretty humbled at the time but it perhaps reads wrongly in that sentence.
    Thank you for the feedback, I appreciate it.


  6. I did a long series of still life, and eventually, I came to Morandi, I was also humbled. http://Somethingsithinkabout-annell-annell.blogspot.com

  7. I like what you've written and the way you've written it very much. And I like your painting of the Japanese tea cup very much too. It's strange for me: the vast mystery (as it seems to me at least) of time and change. Such enormous change. I never imagined it would be like this. Not a million miles like this. I worked for David and Ann from 1968 to 1971, though my real love, as it were, was for Morandi, whom I discovered as a painting student at Camberwell some years before. Here we are, after half a century of life's strange journey, and I find myself reading a sensitively written article by David and Ann's daughter about Morandi, which I only came across because of the miraculous internet, searching for reproductions of Morandi's no less miraculous landscapes (which fascinate me just as much as the pots). And if it is true that you were born on 27 June 1963, then you, like Morandi, were born with Sun in Cancer and Moon in Virgo, which shows a beautiful natural affinity between you. Postcards from the studio is a brilliant idea - and you do it so well.


Your comments and feed back are appreciated