Saturday, 1 September 2012

Young Giotto's pigs

" 'Nothing like pigs for significant form, Bob, '  interrupted a small man who had banged the door of an ancient car and come from the road to join us.  Though I did not recognise him at first, there was something familiar about the untidy twist of his necktie and the eager eyes that looked out from under two unkempt shocks of hair.  'Haven't seen you in twenty years,'  he said to me. 'Only heard last week that you were hereabouts.'

'Near fifty years since  the Slade,'  I said at a guess.
'More than forty, anyway,'  he said.

I knew who he was then -- Giotto Junior, as we used to call him because of his obsession with the early Florentine artists and because of the intensity of his own religious paintings.

'Pigs, I could draw them all day long,' he said, 'but they're awkward in a studio.'

Though I had followed his work through the years, I had never known him put pencil to pig.  Saints and angels and humans in mystic communion: allegories, they were his line, at times difficult to comprehend but always combining  a richness of form with minute and loving detail.

As he walked ahead of me towards the cottage I noticed that his shiny blue serge trousers had a slit across their seat, and through it was hanging a wide flap of linen shirt immaculately white.  I said nothing, but when two days later he paid his return visit I saw that the rent had been mended by a rectangular patch of mustard red tweed which spread from side to side of his behind.

'Why, Giotto,' I said, 'What's happened to you? You're all poshed up.'
'Oh yes, I know,'  he said wearily.  'But I'm going to a reception.'

Giotto was the master draughtsman among the students of our generation at the Slade.  Form and its interpretation obsessed him:...  Clean, cold, unrelenting drawing with a hard pencil was the order [at the Slade]:  no 'sketching,' none of the charcoal don't-give-yourself-away school: and Giotto, though physically the smallest student in the class, was with pencil in hand the biggest man among us."

Till I end my Song  Robert Gibbings

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