On the tenth of October, 1901, Alberto Giacometti was born in Stampa, Switzerland, the son of Giovanni Giacometti, one of the foremost Swiss impressionist painters. Stampa is a very small place surrounded by high mountains. In such a landscape the diminutiveness of man in relation to nature becomes emphatic in the extreme. A human figure appears precarious and incomprehensible. At a very early age Giacometti began to draw and paint under the guidance of his father. When he was 18, be went to the School of Fine Arts where he remained only three days before transferring to the School of Arts and Crafts.
After passing two years in Italy, Giacometti arrived in Paris in the early twenties and studied sculpture at Bourdelle's studio and the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére. Of his work then, he has said:
"It became impossible to grasp the totality of a figure. We were much too near the model and if one started from any detail, from a heel or a nose, there was no hope of achieving the ensemble. But if, on the other hand, one began by analyzing the detail, the end of the nose for example, one was lost. One might have spent an entire lifetime without achieving any result. The form decomposed itself, became like specks in motion across a black deep emptiness. The distance between one side of the nose and the other became like the Sahara, limitless, without any fixed point, everything escaping".
It was in 1930 that Giacometti became associated with the surrealist movement. He left a few years later when be began to work once more with a model. This was the beginning of more than 15 years of stubborn and solitary research which have led to his present style.
For nearly thirty years Giacometti has occupied the same bare studio in the Montrouge quarter of Paris. In a small work-room which is lighted by one powerful naked electric bulb, he moves abruptly back and forth working late into the night. The floor is strewn with dust, fragments of sculpture he has destroyed, and discarded sketches. His identity with his work is so complete that his material needs hardly surpass his physical necessities. He is a stocky man; the power of his body is immediately perceptible beneath the nondescript clothes which, to him, are plainly no more than coverings. His head is large, set down close to heavy shoulders. He works in a state of intimate excitement with his materials, his long strong functional bands never still, never quite clean of contact with his work. They alone seem able to effect the transformation of lifeless matter to a condition of perceptible vitality.
However fashionable the art of Giacometti may now have become, it owes nothing to fashion. His creative effort is an obsessive attempt to resolve the classic problems of representation. Each of his drawings exists autonomously, obeying its own rigorous laws of relativity, bound up in the sensation of space which is as essential to Giacometti as it was to Cézanne. No willful mannerism or calligraphic caprice, no sentimentality, self-indulgence or pastiche is permitted to inhibit a sincere or explicit representation. The figures and objects are seen by the artist not as pretexts but as ends in themselves and are to be seen similarly by us.