If You Only Painted One Thing In Your Life...

This week, I went to the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea for Giorgio Morandi's exhibition. This is his first major show in the US since his retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008. Simultaneously, another Morandi exhibition is on view at the Center for Italian Modern Art in SoHo through next year in June. Who is Giorgio Morandi? He was an Italian painter who was active from the 1910s to 1960s. Although he was well known in the art world, compared to those high profile artists like Jackson Pollock or Amedeo Modigliani, Morandi was relatively low key as his subjects were humble everyday objects from the kitchen. 

David Zwirner gallery, New York

David Zwirner gallery, New York

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)

There was not so much drama in Morandi's life. He lived his whole life in Bologna and died in the same apartment where he was born and lived. The only place he worked at was his studio and the only things he painted were vases, bottles, flowers and some landscapes. He repeatedly arranged the same objects under various lighting. His works sometimes seems a little boring but if you look at them a bit longer, you may see a whole other world. 

Still Life, 1916

Still Life, 1916

Cactus, 1917

Cactus, 1917

Most of Morandi's paintings used a muted pastel color palette. I sensed if Morandi lived his whole life in a northern Italian city called Bologna, there were probably some connections between his art and the city. Bologna was one of the most prosperous cities in the country and home to many prestigious cultural, economic and political institutions. It wouldn't be difficult for Morandi to immerse himself in art. The city itself was beautiful too. Some said Morandi's palette had a nostalgic quality. To me, he didn't create this nostalgia on purpose but recorded what he saw everyday in an honest way. His control of color tones revealed his exception skills on depicting lighting and atmosphere of the environment at that moment. 

Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Italy

Morandi's studio in Bologna

Morandi's studio in Bologna

Still Life, 1946

Still Life, 1946

Still Life, 1949

Still Life, 1949

Morandi once said, "nothing is more abstract than reality." Just take a few minutes to stare at your vase. You will notice the curve of its neck, the hue of color or even some scratches on the surface. Did it matter if you were going to put lilies or roses in the vase? The story behind that particular vase overpowered what it was originally for.  Imagine yourself spending a lifetime painting the same bottles. Would those objects still be bottles to you? I assume the answer is no, because when you examine one thing over and over again, the lines and planes that compose the object become more and more visible while the function becomes less important. Abstract forms taken away from their context become the subject. That is the beauty of Morandi's bottles. They were not just bottles to him but the forms that shaped his life. 

Still Life with Very Fine Hatching, 1933

Still Life with Very Fine Hatching, 1933

A good artist is an artist who can be true to oneself. In my opinion, it doesn't matter if an artist drips a few paints to compose an abstract painting or uses delicate brush strokes to make a realist portrait. The important thing is whether the artist finds one's own artistic language to express him/herself and stands his/her ground strongly. Morandi did this. His consistent motif and artistic style tell everyone what his life was about. He created a whole universe of his own with vases, bottles and jars. 

Roses, 1917

Roses, 1917

Still Life, Giorgio Morandi, 1938

Still Life, Giorgio Morandi, 1938

Still Life, 1947

Still Life, 1947

Still Life, 1960

Still Life, 1960

Still Life, 1961

Still Life, 1961

Still Life, 1962

Still Life, 1962

Author: Michele Xiaoyun Fan