Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss painter and Sculptor of the 20th century, whose striking, skinny figures are instantly recognisable. His career was characterised by obsession - He worked from the same studio for over 40 years, and could never be satisfied that a work was finished.
‘L’Homme qui marche I’ is one of Giacometti’s typical spindly figures who looks like he’s stepped straight out of a Tim Burton film. But there is a logic behind this extreme body shape. Giacometti was interested in the idea that it is impossible to view an object independently from the space that separates you from it. He aimed to accurately depict the impression of a body at a distance, disintegrating into the space that surrounds it, and reduced to its core like a tree that has lost its leaves. This tension between mass and space was a continuous subject of exploration in his work.
Many artists struggled to depict the subject of the human figure after the war. Giacometti had found an alternative to the anatomical or representational. His skeletal figures became associated with existentialist ideas and a sense of post-war trauma, as they seemed to epitomise the feelings of human exhaustion and guilt - easily understood when looking at works such as the monochromatic painting ‘Homme Debout’. The same spatial principles can be seen in this painting as his sculptural work.
Giacometti did not exclusively work with the distant, skinny figure. He made many portraits too - whether from far away, or sitting close to his subject. He preferred to use models who he knew personally, which meant that his brother Diego was a recurring subject. Fascinated by the idea that life lies within the eyes, he concentrated on the sitter’s gaze, working all the other brushstrokes around this central point with a continuous scrutiny of his model. The results may not be flattering but there’s no denying their intensity.