“I don’t represent anything, I paint,” Giorgio Griffa commented significantly in 1972. His work first gained attention in the late 1960s, with its pictorial language reduced to the essential components of canvas, sign, and color, used in non-representational fashion.
Griffa works on untreated paper and canvas, choosing materials such as cotton, linen, or hemp, whose different qualities of density, weave, and original coloration remain clearly exposed. In 1969 he decided to eliminate the stretcher as well, maintaining conditions as close as possible to those in which the work was painted in the studio.
Griffa’s signs stand out in their extreme formal simplicity, in keeping with the artist’s desire to use a language that potentially has a universal reference. His work is characterized by vertical, horizontal, or diagonal lines and bars and stains of various sizes. His early work was executed in oil color, later replaced by tempera and then by acrylic.
Critics have often grouped Griffa within the so-called Analytical line of painters, an Italian movement that, since the 1970s, has made the very language of painting the subject of its investigations. However, he has never completely agreed with this label, insisting that he is “a painter and nothing else.”
As stated programmatically in the title, Sette segni (Seven Signs), 1976, is a canvas marked by seven slightly leaning vertical bands that, in the direction that one reads text in Western culture, begin from the upper left margin of the canvas. The signs, painted in the muted colors typical of Griffa’s work from the mid-1970s, appear to be of equal width and length. However, the specific uniqueness of each sign emerges, defined differently at the edges by its contact with the raw canvas, which has been impregnated by the thinly applied paint. The elementary layout of signs organized in sequence seems to be arrested toward the center of the canvas, almost like a halt in the rhythmic progression.
Griffa’s awareness of the inexorable unfolding of time has led him to state that he cannot apply the paint as far as the edge of the canvas, and that he does not wish to grant a sense of completeness to his paintings, which he considers pure traces of the pictorial operation.