*** DEBUG END ***

Art review: the abstract painter Giorgio Griffa

29 March 2018

The infinite fascinates this abstract artist, says Jonathan Evens

Mark Blower

Installation view of “Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming”, at Camden Arts Centre, London

Installation view of “Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming”, at Camden Arts Centre, London

MINIMALIST unfinished marks on parts of unframed canvases hung from tacks on white walls; this is the “poor art” of Giorgio Griffa, which is rich in meaning and beauty.

An abstract painter, Griffa first became known in the 1960s as part of the Italian generation of Arte Povera artists, who sought to radically redefine painting. Arte Povera literally means “poor art”, a reference to the movement’s use of throwaway materials such as soil, rags, and twigs. In using such everyday materials, these artists aimed to challenge the confines of traditional artistic practices to disrupt the values of the commercialised gallery system.

“A Continuous Becoming” spans the breadth of Griffa’s practice, incorporating works from the 1960s through to today. His are the colours of the Mediterranean; light, airy, precise, pastel. Marks that give the appearance of doodles are, as his sketchbooks demonstrate, meticulously planned and executed. The rhythms and harmonies of his mark-making in space fashion the dynam­ism of his diagonals, curves, and rectangles.

The marks on his unfolded pinned canvases never extend across the whole — a decision that signs the unfinished nature of our under­standing and comprehension. Griffa notes that: “The unfinished painting addresses the temporary nature of knowledge. It is not a metaphor; the painting itself is provisional knowledge. When man had a completed world-view, it was normal that its representation be equally complete, whether figurative or abstract, symbolic or naturalistic. The wondrous discovery that everything varies, everything moves, that what appears to be still simply obeys different schedules of becoming, and the equally marvellous discovery of complexity, shift the focus to becoming itself.”

Mark BlowerInstallation view of “Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming”, at Camden Arts Centre, London

This is the source of the exhibition’s title, as these unfinished works, these objects not completed, are, therefore, not definitive. The artist’s work is never done, as his organic evolving practice always leads on to the next canvas. His practice is “a continuous becoming, from one canvas to the next”. Time won’t let him finish his works.

The series of paintings Canone aurea uses infinite means to sign this reality. Canone aurea translates as the “golden number” or “golden ratio”. The golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, appears frequently in many areas of architecture, art, music, nature, and science. It is inherent in the Fibonacci numbers, the octave, and the Platonic solids, and its expression in works of art, since the Renaissance, has been in the form of golden rectangles, pentagrams, spirals, and triangles.

In the modern period, as one example, artists such as Paul Sérusier and Albert Gleizes were inspired by the Beuron Art School of Fr Desiderius Lenz to make use of the golden ratio to achieve harmony and balance in their works.

Euclid defined the golden ratio by dividing a segment according to the extreme and mean ratio, where, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the lesser. The result is an interminable number, which has never ceased to arouse awe and wonder over the centuries.

Griffa states: “The irrational number without end, which resolves the equation of the golden section (1,618003398 . . . ), symbolizes the area of knowledge that has been devoted to art since the time of Orpheus — that is, knowledge of the unknowable. It is an important aspect of Greek knowledge. Rather than proceeding towards a larger number, this number spirals into the unknown: 1.6 will never become 1.7 or / 1,61 will never become 1,62/ 1,618 will never become 1,619/ and so on, and yet the numbering continues without an end.”

Griffa has said that “art and poetry are instruments for knowing that unknown that cannot be exorcised with words or translated into science.” Painting, he says, is silence, is knowledge of the inexplicable with the unknown being “a basic part of life which we carry within ourselves.” We see this, he writes, even in modern science, where “there are theorems about uncertainty (Heisenberg): ‘L’incom­pletezza’.”

Mark BlowerInstallation view of “Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming”, at Camden Arts Centre, London

Much critical writing about Griffa’s work focuses on physics and mathematics in exploring his approaches to the infinite, and yet, he writes, even within scientific theorems, “there is a place for the unknown which belongs to the world of art and religion, and is not at all a part of other scientific disciplines.”

This is the unacknowledged, hidden spring of Griffa’s infinitely beautiful and infinitely humble mark-making. Knowledge of the infinite, the inexplicable, belongs primarily to art and religion. “Let’s not forget,” he says, “that religion is humanity’s ‘reality’. I witness that it exists, although it is accepted or rejected by each individual.”


Giorgio Griffa: A Continuous Becoming” is at Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London NW3, until 8 April. Phone 020 7472 5500.


Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)