- Biography of Painting -
[...] Griffa's paintings have the process they obey as their sole identity; it is a process that doesn't speak only of painting, but is a cognitive process that, totally reflected in the execution and with an absolute pertinence of actions/fundamental structures of pictorial activity, is simultaneously apprenticeship, creation, communication. From its first showing (at the Galleria Martano in Turin, in April 1968), Griffa's painting already had this way of presenting its own biography - it is the registration of the spreading of paint by brush on the canvas, which is raw but still stretched on a frame. Beginning in 1967, during the years in which he refused to show his work, the surfaces have tended to become full and compact; using a palette knife or brush, frequently with the choice of monochrome surfaces, or achromatic through the use of white, the action of painting invariably begins at the upper left and breaks off before completing the entire surface of the canvas. The visible interruption of the brush stroke signals the desire to not offer a finite model, but instead a continuous and open process. These were the years when Griffa's canvases were dialectically closest to the work of Paolini, Pistoletto, Anselmo, Zorio, in other words to the extra-pictorial and critical operations of his contemporaries (and not only in Turin), rather than to the work of Morris Louis, Ryman or Newman, or even Malévitch, as one might think. The fact that the canvas is raw, without ground, puts his work on a par with Paolini's reflections (from 1960-61) on the operations he was carrying out on the back of the canvas, and with Pistoletto's reflective surfaces. Nothing can be superimposed on the bare presence of the painting, and nothing can violate the canvas.
The colored stripes, sometimes starting from the bottom, were followed by works with white pigment and synthetic glue applied with strokes of a palette knife onto a very thick, coarse canvas. The choice and the dimensions of the canvas are arbitrary, often determined by the dimensions of the galleries where his work was shown. However great care and importance were given to the preparation of the colors. He never used pure colors, which would imply an a-priori condition, a violent constraint on the painting. The liquidity of two or three basic colors mixed in bowls and the choice of panels in relationship to the type of canvas used are as important as the subjective psychological relationship that guides the choice of chromatic values. Thus painting means allowing the color to penetrate the canvas, to follow its weave, its capacity for absorption, the folds, the attention (and the psycho-physical tension) of the brush stroke. The mark, the breadth, the undulation of the line of color is nothing more than the passive registration of these fundamental choices. Instead of an autobiographical projection of the painter, one finds at most the nimbus of the absorption of the color. The only possibly analogy for these paintings is an electro-encephalogram, the active registration of the impulses of the brain placed under conditions of passivity and deconcentration.
In 1969, the decision to eliminate the stretcher frame stemmed from the fact that Griffa happened to begin painting on the canvas before mounting it on the frame. By this time all his canvases were free, but it scarcely mattered to him if others later chose to stretch them on frames. It was a practical,. not an ideological choice, "to show my paintings in the way closest to the conditions in which I have painted them." Thus it is a small practical need that doesn't affect the substance of the work but that can help the viewer to become more fully aware that "only traces of mywork are offered up for the spectator's view."
While Griffa does not like to theorize, and even less to make ideological statements, in recent years he has increasingly been obliged to verbally clarify the meaning of his work. One phrase frequently recurs: "I don't represent anything, I paint." Elsewhere he explains: "If there is no definite ideological alternative, one cannot represent nothing. Representational painting is always painting of an ideal finite world. On the contrary, ours is a painting of a world that is created bit by bit as one goes along." Instead of placing the accent on a noun, "painting," a category that exists in terms of external projections, Griffa draws attention to a verb, "to paint," where the action serves as a backdrop for a condition. No tension toward extreme positions characterizes it, as for abstract expressionism, no utopian desire to balance an act of transgression, as often occurs with the fathers of abstraction. One might say that, after the first generation of modernists (Mondrian, Malevitch, etc.) and after the second generation of extremists (after World War II), what I would call the "third generation of painting," according to the developing classification of the organizer, is projected, to overturn the meaning of communication, which will no longer move from inside to out, ftom memory to information, but rather from outside inward, from information codes to processes of apprenticeship and memorization. The ílow of information is now forced to improve, and this is where Griffa's characteristic touch comes in: the art of pertinence. This isn't about just pictorial activity, and nothing else, and it isn't about just the specificity of the means employed, and nothing else. The precise pertinence that Griffa practices, through painting and discourse, is to know what is transmitted, to learn from painting what it is that painting has to teach.
Griffa has historically defined the artistic moment in which he became part of the present: "The `Sixties introduced a fact that I consider fundamental: the affirmation of the necessity of working within certain situations, not just opposing one idea to another in idealistic fashion, but that authentic unreality that must extend the margin of reality that the artist can enjoy."The most current neo-pictorial academic terms- to reduce, to analyze, to conceptualize -remove him from today's scene and place him in a recent past that no longer has anything to do with him. "Is this conquering of a mountain, this historic perspective, relevant today or is it something that pertains to the early `Sixties?" he asked his interlocutors. Griffa rarely alludes to the masters who have preceded him and among his contemporaries he prefers the conceptual or Arte Povera artists, but not in reductive terms. To those who repeat the minimalist arguments, he answers: "Does this need to remove concern us?... I wonder if it isn't rather the moment to begin adding once more." He specifies that result; the lines of color are destined to be nothing but simple traces of the operation, "the viewer will only have traces of my work." Griffa works with openness, passivity, without any violence. He explains: "After the initial choice, my work is simply executed. No investigation exists while I am working. The work is not executed except by the brush, the canvas, my effort etc., these are the elements that execute it, I am but one tool among others. My active intervention stops first, at the moment of choice." Griffa sets forth a discipline at an extreme limit: "To realize an operation with the most suitable means, in the simplest way possible, placing the accent precisely on the minimal moments of this work, on all the physical components and also the spiritual ones that derive from it and are closely tied to this genre of operation." It is a discipline that he recently summarized as follows: "At this moment mywork has nothing to do with canvases, nor with tracing lines on canvas, but rather with taking the brush and bringing this color onto this canvas, following with extreme care what in effect is happening."
His conversation is strewn with precise information (and this is also why we report it with tiresome reiteration), but this doesn't drain it of feeling. On the contrary, "constructing reality" is Griffa's true leit-motif. He opposes it to the utopia of the historic avant-gardes, to their models, to their hypotheses that explicate like followers of the Enlightenment: "At the moment the utopian hypothesis falls, the task is to construct reality." By reality Griffa seems to mean the reality of the world and not the specific reality of pictorial culture. And moreover it also seems that Griffa is completely presenting the construction of reality in the world of the "reality of the canvas, which is not only the reality of color, but which also concerns the reality of illusion, of myth, of dream, etc., a physiological reality in which it is possible to act in the present, outside utopia."
From Art Press, no. 15, Paris, December 1974 - January 1975