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A Story of Acceptance - Giacometti & Street Art

“He looked like an imprisoned lion, with his lionesque head and an enormous shock of hair. His conversation and behaviour were extremely Surrealist and whimsical, like a divertimento of Mozart.”

Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century

Great poets are individuals both in personality and in expression. Poetic style consists - apart from the content - largely of individual rhythms, and more particularly of an individual use of myths, symbols, and images.

(from "Understanding Shakespeare")

Glamorous Outcasts

My personal journey into art started with the history of Bohemians in Paris 1920s-30s. The Bohemians, or Glamorous Outcasts, as Elisabeth Wilson refers to them:

  • break the rules,

  • set the trends,

  • knit the knits,

  • destroy the art

  • and reinvent the art that everyone wants, or will want.

  • Bohemians start movements.

  • Bohemians change thinking.

  • Bohemians tenderly and violently create new work and change paradigms.

  • Bohemians change the world.

1920 Surrealists

When 21 years old Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922 to study sculpture, he became part of the movement, the sub-culture of that time - the Bohemians, where everyone was experimenting with breaking the norm through surrealism (Miró, Max Ernst, Picasso, Dali) and came to be regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors.

"One felt a little different with Giacometti, because total rigor dominated his work, and one could sense that everything else played second fiddle. Of course, he could have afforded a normal studio, not such a shabby sort of place, but he wanted to work amid such simplicity and unpretentiousness, indeed positively cultivated it as a style. That was legendary - that was the kind of life he wanted to lead.”

(Ernst Beyeler)

The collectors, who embraced this innovative art movement and supported the artists, were not welcomed for almost 40 years in the world of High Brow Art. The artists and their art were considered to be degenerate, low-brow and not worthy of investment.

”You will soon find you are propagating mediocrity, if not thrash.”

(Big Guggenheim on Kandinsky, Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century)

“To my dismay, the Louvre decided the pictures were too modern and not worth saving. What they considered not worth saving were a Lege, … a De Stijl Mondrian, Miro, Max Ernst, Chirico, Tanguy, Dali, Magritte … Laurens … Giacometti, Moore and Arp”

(Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century)

“Giacometti was extremely excited, which surprised me because I thought he had lost interest in these early abstractions, which he had long since renounced in order to carve little Greek heads, which he carried in his pocket. He had refused the exhibition in my modern sculpture show because I would not exhibit one of these. He said all art was alike.

(Peggy Guggenheim, Out of this Century)

2020 Crypto graffiti

DADAISM observes all forms and is acclaimed to be a father of surrealism, cubism, formalism, interventionism, to the point on a horizon where ‘everyone is an artist’, and as it is today in graffiti and street art. Anyone can go out and start making their first piece: preparing it inside and adding to the matrix outside or going spontaneously outside and later communicating it via the web to your personal screens; bring it inside, into the gallery space.

I see the Graffiti crews from NYC to Paris in the mid-80s to contemporary networks of Street Artists around the world, as Glamorous Outcasts too. Keith Haring’s and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s international success of breaching the boarders between train graffiti and high-brow art, to me, is equally insurgent to breakthroughs of Duchamp and Warhol, Giacometti and Arp.

Could the Graffiti explosion be the 3rd belch of Dadaism over the last 100 years? And where the technology will bring it to: bio-art, virtual reality, cyber-space? Is this the end of analogue art?

Process, ethics and aesthetics

At first sight, connecting graffiti movement to highly accoladed Giacometti might seem far fetched.

Nonetheless, my own unique view on reality brought me back to Beyeler Collection in Basel, Switzerland, five years into research on the evolution of Graffiti into Street Art.

I had to see and study the group of Thin, Razor Knife like, powerful and peaceful Figures in the hall of Beyeler’s museum AGAIN. Now they made so much sense, especially how the space was made just for them.

I compared how in the graffiti and street world, the artist has to work with the space and create the art just for it.

Giacometti has never finished his NYC project because the sculptures he created were not in proportion to a space he has not seen before. That's why it is imminent for those commissioning street art to understand that providing a full artwork prior to being, feeling, interacting onsite is simply impossible. Or that shall be static or boring. It takes at least 3 days to 'bond with the space' in my 7 years of observation.

I was curious how the Revolutionary artists, each in his own demise - sculptor and graffiti writer, arrive to the same level of purity from opposite direction. This makes the whole experience of comparison surreal. Yet at the same time it makes total sense. From process to final result - the infinity of innovation.

People and space

In the stormy December of 2015, over the period of 5 days, WE, Street Art Museum Amsterdam, SUSO33 from Madrid and local residents on request of municipality, together had produced a monumental mural in Amsterdam West, connecting the ILLEGAL graffiti throw-up by JUICE dating back to 1997 with the LEGAL street art piece chosen in collaboration with all.

Twenty years difference and evolution of style: from interplay of simple up to 4 colour splashes and clean lines, to a thin, motionless black figure and its shadow. If you stand aside, you begin to appreciate artist’s understanding of the relationship between figure and the space surrounding it, as well as ability to turn the movement of the figures, the skinny lines, which by surreally moving towards one point generate a head, representative of a portrait of Eduard Douwes Dekker (Max Havelaar).

“One of the principle themes of Giacometti’s art is how to position figures in space, and this involved depicting not only the figures three-dimensionally but also the space around them.”

Alberto Giacometti is best known and admired for his tall, thin human figures in bronze. In this series of sculptures from the years 1945-1960, by his own account Giacometti is influenced by the impressions he takes from the people hurrying in the big city. He is fascinated by people in motion, which he sees as ‘a succession of moments of stillness’.


“I always begin normally and not gray and thin, but they simply become grey and thin, so that’s how it has to be.”

Giacometti conversation with his Mother, as per Ernst Beyeler.

Although, the extraordinarily difficult and lengthy process of casting and painting the piece by Giocometti

—“He worked on his objects and models with enormous presistence, drawing for hours and working on the sculptures. It was most impressive to watch him every now and then.” Ernst Beyeler —

at face value is in direct contrast with the fast approach of painting a graffiti piece, which thrives on speed of execution.

A Graffiti Artist, in order to achieve such agility, the quality of lines and ability to fill spaces, must practice for many years few hours per day, just like sport, thus reaching the equal amount of sweat, tears and blood invested into the skill and style. And it is equally impressive to watch him work.

SUSO33 started with splashes of colours and arrived to the thin lines and motion, the twilight zone of the imagination of the viewer.


“As in the late work of Matisse and Picasso, there is a perceptible striving for a symbiosis of drawing, painting and sculpture. [Giacometti’s] portraits tend to consist of lines rather than colour values; one might describe his painting style as extraordinarily dense drawings. … He focused … on establishing eye contact … giving his sitters an existential presence that conventional portraiture lacks entirely.”

Ernst Beyeler

Giacometti PIONEERED a DIALOGUE between the artwork and the viewer.

Suso33 USES art as his means to create doors of contact with the surrounding world.

I would be curious to ask Alberto what he thinks about Graffiti and Street Art movement and SUSO33’s skinny dudes.

What do you think he would answer?

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