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Giorgio Morandi, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, 6 January 2023 – 28 May 2023

On my way to the Capital to see an exhibition of Giorgio Morandi, I thought it would interesting to note down what I expect today and then write down what I see and learn. I know he seems to cast a metaphorical shadow, in a positive sense, over the ideas of Modern and Contemporary Artists particularly as well as occupying a seat in the first class carriage on the journey of Western Art.

Giorgio Morandi, an Italian painter who instills or invests the stuff of life into a collection of objects such as bottles, jars and cups, vessels or containers of space. With Cezanne in mind, another Artist who wants to conjure up the extraordinary within the ordinary, I see an Artist who explores the theme of Vanitas as he charts the fleeting moments of reality during his, clearly, intense sittings. Reminding us to invest in our own lottery win.. life. And doing this with quiet and misty atmospheres veiled over his favourite pots. I look forward to looking closely at his paintings from a practical point of view. There is one painting (perhaps just a bad photograph)  illustrated on the Estorick website that is like nails on a black board to me. It looks like an oil on board made in an English village hall in preparation for the flower show painting competition.  I shouldn’t be too mean on that front because it was Kurt Schwitters who used to sell his flower paintings at the Village fete Up North somewhere. But KS was also exploring an approach to making that would be equally as influential as Morandi’s, again, particularly to Artists’ new thinking. I know nothing of Morandi’s life but imagine he was like Bonnard and rarely left the parameters of his domestic environment. I suspect that Morandi was not that involved within the Art world because of this rather subdued but highly original and very personal practice. I once visited Bologna, passing through briefly, the towers of the city are too like the wobbly pots and bottles to be a coincidence.. but perhaps that is my hope.
I was wrong about Morandi in terms of imagining that he was isolated from modern discourse. He was very much in the conversation within the ‘movements’ of Futurism and the other isms. Respected amongst his peers, he lived with his three sisters (can you imagine) and so perhaps was a little unusual. I would like to know more. A lovely little exhibition despite the odd interruption. Whilst you concentrate on absorbing Art of such spiritual status… I mean why share so loudly the extortionate price of Venice water taxis to your friend?  Sorry, re focus. These quiet little paintings, the paintings particularly, have presence well beyond their size. The drawings and prints are remarkably skilful and his self taught print making abilities are flawless. However these are like the workings behind the scenes of the real theatre.. the paintings.  They are radically modern, even now but especially in the context of their making. The bunched objects sitting in air and light filled compositions that have, in my view, so much to do with modern sculpture too. They shout a command of space, light, magical illusion, painting making and quickly promote a meditative state within. What you see is a highly personal universe, almost in line with Alfred Wallis’ journey (not comparing the Artists aesthetically at all)!  They both wandered off from the mode of their era to somewhere timeless. And of course both were hugely influential. Morandi’s  paintings are stripped of trivial detail and focus on highly observed subtleties of light, neutral colours and form. In a symphony of silence Morandi opens a large room in your mind where the beauty of a particular Art becomes crystal clear. A kind of religious experience but more human? Hard to explain but the ambiguity is all so clever. To me these feel serious paintings about serious times when a dark philosophy enveloped Europe and threatened free thinking. Perhaps that these works so obviously represent freedom and truth that they hold a renewed weight and  meaning in our now?! Well, this couldn’t be a better ’two fingers’ to all the frightening lies. The 1940’s It must have been a highly stressful time for the Artist. He was arrested by the Nazis (1943 I believe) for acts of resistance and then ordered to keep out of sight. And that he did! He got down to hard graft in his Bologna Studio. Post war Morandi was given exhibitions, running simultaneously, at The Galeria dei Fiore (Florence) and The Galleria La Palma in Rome. Morandi was held up as an Art National hero as his paintings slotted neatly into a much needed iconography of liberty. This new vision from a deeply Italian national represented strength and renewal. Morandi represents gritty independence, self belief within the darkness. The main thread of ’story’ in this exhibition at the Estorick Collection, that is well displayed, is, dare I say not as thrilling as the story that radiates from the works exhibited. A grateful Artist writing letters to a very rich patron, Magnani-Rocca is only a part of this colossus in Art.
This exhibition is an opportunity to indulge and enter a human mind that observes the beauty of Quiet. And I can reassure myself about one pre-conceived idea and that of  his affirmation for the appreciation of life. The Art is definitely a form of Vanitas, with objects not skulls and burning candles.. although you are sure to find a candle stick! The only other thing I could not be changed on was that the painting Estorick display on their website is indeed, for me, the only slip up. I’d have it but it just is way behind the other paintings (…humble opinion)! But only a tiny and cheeky criticism amongst a fabulous reminder of Morandi as a giant of Modern Art.  A contemporary Artist such as Sean Scully, his tightly knitted compositions that repeat in endless but equally engaging painterliness are clearly and openly in debt to the Morandi approach. Repetition can sometimes reap rewards, think Warhol and Lisa Milroy, it is a powerful tool in Modern and Contemporary Art if handled with respect. Formulaic these Artists are not!  Too many can fall into auto pilot once they have found their way as an Artist. To borrow the minimalist manifesto, Less is certainly a lot more here.


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