The Mature Style
The large sculptures entitled ‘Standing Woman’ mark the emergence of Giacometti’s new style. Here, the impression of sudden appearance is conveyed not by the minuteness of the figures, but rather by their extreme slenderness. Beginning with its sturdy feet rooted in the ground, the body extends upwards until it reaches a head lost in reverie, the dynamic, living surface offering no detail to arrest the eye. Each figure stands before us like a human being, a unity of fascinating presence and unfathomable openness. The hieratic frontality of the women is countered by the ‘Walking Man’, striding endlessly forwards in search of something – Giacometti’s very conception of himself as a creative artist. Closer to the constrained steps of Egyptian tomb statues than to the dramatic stride of Rodin’s athletic ‘Walking Man’, it depicts a tentative forward movement, as of someone hesitantly essaying a first step – or indeed trying to walk for the first time.
In these figures, Giacometti finds a stylistic form that corresponds to the experience of seeing, eschewing both the artificial randomness of Surrealist figurations and the irretrievably defunct bulk of traditional statues. By taking the amorphous, the shapeless a step further, he elevates to the status of an artistic principle something that he had discovered to his horror during his academic studies: “The form disintegrated, it was as if all that was left were grains moving in front of a deep, black emptiness.” The counterpoint to amorphous materiality is the poise of the figures as a whole, their vital energy causing them to grow steeply upwards. The tension between the high stance, the fragile, attenuated form, and the meagre materiality corresponds to the condition of the human being, an uneasy alliance of dignity, vulnerability and ultimate decrepitude. Through this extreme reduction, Giacometti succeeded in creating an image of humanity in which the generation traumatized by the inhumanity of dictatorships and global war could recognize itself.