“When I am painting, driven by lively tensions, I want to express what’s going on in me. When that tension has ceased, when the life in me became visible, then something happened which had to happen. Over and over again you experience a work which is created in this way. What happened? It is hard to say, because it was not my mind that led but the inner desire that revealed its inner life. […] Life and mind are continuously in conflict with each other. I want happiness, security. I won’t reach that by considerations of my mind; on the contrary they will lead to a certain despair of the inner person. Not what he thinks engages the artist, but what he feels.”
— Bram van Velde, letter to H.P. Bremmer, 17 November 1930
Judith Wilkinson has written an interesting account of Samuel Beckett‘s friendship with the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. In a recent piece published on the Tate website, she describes how they came to know one another:
“At the time of Giacometti and Beckett’s first meeting, Beckett was living at a modest artists’ hotel in Paris called Hôtel Libéria. Located down a narrow alleyway, Giacometti’s studio (and home) was a mere twenty-minute walk from Beckett’s accommodation. The two would meet late at night, when they had finished work, in one of the Parisian cafés, such as Café Flore, Le Dôme or La Coupole, to drink and socialise. The cafés were the central hub of French cultural and intellectual life during the period, and other notable artists and thinkers, such as philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, as well as painters Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joan Mitchell and Bram van Velde also visited these establishments.
The pair would often leave the cafés in the early hours of the morning to embark on long walks around the city together. During their nocturnal rambles they frequently discussed each other’s work, although Giacometti is believed to have dominated these conversations with his anxieties concerning his artworks. Beckett and Giacometti’s nights routinely concluded with a visit to a brothel – the favourite being the legendary Sphinx located behind Montparnasse train station.”
Wilkinson will be giving a Tate Modern Tour that explores the links between Beckett and Giacometti on 24 July and 31 July 2017, respectively. For more information, take a look at the event page on the Tate website.
David Lloyd talks about Beckett’s friendships with twentieth-century painters and his enduring interest in the visual arts
What draws you to the work of Samuel Beckett?
I’ve been reading Beckett’s work since I was a teenager and writing on him since my undergraduate days at Cambridge in the 70s. I dare say part of my initial attraction to Beckett lay in the kinds of philosophical conundra his work posed, in its hilarious comedy and in its ascetic reductionism. In a letter to Georges Duthuit, in which he comments on his desire for “a theatre reduced to its own means”, he goes on: “That is Protestantism if you like, we are what we are.” It may be that there was also something about the South Dublin Protestant background that I shared with Beckett that felt like grounds for affinity: certainly there was something familiar as much in the ethos as in the local landscapes secreted in the works. But above all, it was the uncompromising aesthetic ethic, the commitment to a work determined to “reduce itself to its own means”, that corresponded to the refusal of extraneous resources like the resonances of identity or signifiers of cultural belonging. That offered a quite different set of possibilities, intellectually and aesthetically, than Irish culture at the time generally made available. (more…)
Calling for submissions to a new collection of essays, edited by Rob Reginio, David Houston Jones, and Katherine Weiss
We are seeking contributions for a volume on Samuel Beckett and contemporary art to be published by Ibidem Press, distributed by Columbia University Press, as part of their new Beckett in Company Series. We aim to collect essays on the intersection of contemporary art and the drama, poetry, and prose of Samuel Beckett as well as interviews with and new documentation by working artists who draw upon or are inspired by Beckett’s work. We are not seeking essays that cover Beckett’s study of painting, his art criticism, nor his connection to modern artists of the first half of the twentieth century. We hope this collection will open new ground in Beckett studies and in the study of contemporary art by tracing Beckett’s influence in the work of artists post-1945 until the present day.
Since his first novels, like Watt, where an abstract painting has a prominent role, up to his last works, written directly for television, Beckett’s oeuvre created spaces that opened beyond the purely literary unto the plastic and musical. At the same time, artists have always been attracted to his work, from his friends Avigdor Arikha, Bram and Geer Van Velde, up to Damien Hirst and other contemporaries. Is Beckett’s art intrinsically multidisciplinary? Is there something about its questions and form that cannot appear only as text, but that always calls forth the image, the visual or the musical? This panel welcomes proposals that address any aspect, work or works of Beckett in relation to other arts or artists.