Monday, 16 December 2013

Emilio Greco: Sacred and Profane

The Estorick Collection has chosen this year to exhibit Emilio Greco's work to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 1913. This is the first exhibition at the Estorick Collection to be devoted to sculpture but my attention was drawn straight away to his life drawings. They were very confident and full of life and I felt that they might have been produced just last week. His obvious enjoyment of voluptuous female nudes sets the tone in the first gallery and the accompanying sculptures develop in three dimensions the forms and curves Greco depicts in two dimensions in his drawings.

I was visiting this exhibition along with members from the Islington Art Society and a number of us were very taken with some of the very fine details in his sculptures in particular the eyelashes on one male nude. They appear to be real, fine eyelashes until you look really closely and see they have been made with scratches into the clay before the piece was cast in bronze. This attention to detail along with Greco's awareness of, and artistry in creating solid but alive forms of the human body runs like a thread through the entire exhibition.
Emilio Greco (1913-1995) was born in Catania, Sicily and he began to learn the craft of making sculpture when he was apprenticed as a young teenager to a stone mason and sculptor of funerary monuments. He taught sculpture in Rome, Carrara and Naples and he began receiving recognition for his own work from the 1950s. One of the pieces of work that enhanced his reputation was his design for the Monument to Pinocchio (1953) which is located in Collodi's Pinocchio Park. The design is unlike anything else in this exhibition and was my least favourite exhibit.

Greco was contemporary with Pablo Picasso and you can see Picasso's influence in at least one of his drawings. I really liked this piece and it helped show me that Greco was part of a vibrant European artistic movement where any artist can influence any other. However Greco was also his own man and distinct from other artists and you can see this clearly in the second gallery where there are examples of his sacred work. There are studies for a major project for a set of monumental doors for Orvieto Cathedral which include bas-relief modelling. This project took years to be completed and may well have caused Greco untold anxiety but this sacred work does reveal a depth to this artist which is only hinted at in his smaller nude studies.

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