In the LA Times Leah Ollman asks Robert Irwin, Veja Celmins, Dan McCleary and Uta Barth how Morandi’s paintings have influenced their work.
Robert Irwin: We put on a Morandi show at Ferus. We were trying to explain to some people what a so-called abstract painting was about, and what Abstract Expressionism was all about. The best example in the world was Giorgio Morandi. Morandi, in my opinion, was the only genuine European Abstract Expressionist. When you look at the work, you think he’s painting bottles, little still-life paintings, but they weren’t. Morandi came in the back door. It was almost a Zen activity. He painted the same bottles over and over and over, so it wasn’t really about bottles anymore. If he was a still-life painter, he wouldn’t have painted the same bottles over and over. They’re about painting — the figure-ground relationship, structure and organization. Morandi’s were paintings in the purest sense of the word. They were like a mantra, repeated over and over until it was divorced from words and became pure sounds.
Vija Celmins: I tried not to mimic him, but I did a series of paintings of objects then. He helped me drop the color I was into and helped me explore light. I think he was an influence in a broader way, saying let’s just go back to looking and letting your hand make decisions. That’s basically what I did. I went back to painting without trying to project so much, to express so many opinions, my ideas about what great painting was. [Morandi’s is] not really humble work, either. It’s really ambitious work. It’s about painting a world. The thing that amazed me most in his studio was how big the bottles were, and they were painted. He painted the bottles in various shades of gray, which catches all the light. The paintings were about a world that came from his interior, and he painted the reality to go with what he was already looking for and feeling and wanting to see. Later, when I learned to look at painting in a more complex way, I began to see how strange and controlled the still lifes were, how strange the space was, how alive the paint was. There was this exquisite balance between the extreme stillness and the movement in his paintings. My work is quite restrained. Maybe I recognized that holding back in Morandi’s work and it helped me. It gave me the courage to try, to go in that direction instead of trying to be someone else, someone more exciting maybe.
Dan McCleary: The shyness and humbleness of his work is so attractive. He’s so equivocal. He just stayed in his little world and made magnificent work. He turned his back on the world, the violence of the world. He was clearly influenced by Modernism, but [the works] feel outside of time. I find the monk-ness of him fascinating, the smallness of his life. I feel I aspire toward that. His work gives me license to repeat the same Styrofoam cup over and over, the same napkin holder. It’s always challenging, never boring and never easy. There are times I look at Morandi’s work and think, ‘Another . . . bottle?’ but when you get into it, they all have their own essence. Each operates in its own universe and has its own thing to say.
Uta Barth: The history of Western art teaches us to interpret images, to search out and decipher symbolism, to find the narrative of what is being told. Morandi gives us none of that. He gives us silence, observation and a deep love of vision itself, vision divorced from interpretation. He invites us to see, rather than read. This is not an easy task; I know all too well, since it is what I strive for in each body of work I have made throughout the years. I want my viewer to engage and submerge themselves in the act of looking and not in thoughts about what they are looking at. Repetition, redundancy are a path to this end. Look at one chipped and clumsy group of bottles and odd vases and one may think about what they mean; look at countless repetition of the same objects and it becomes clear that something else must be at play.