”Piles of chestnuts and rooms filled with mushrooms, transported in enormous bags by donkeys” feature in the childhood memories of Giuseppe Penone (Garessio, 1947). After studying accounting, Guiseppe entered Art School, where he came to understand the need to create his own personal identity. In his own words ”I had friends at the school who had a little more training, who sculpted in the style of Giacometti. But something didn’t sit right with me. How can you sculpt like Giacommeti if you haven’t been through the war, if you’ve grown up with a completely different background?” The resulting search for a context of his own led Guiseppe back to his origins, back to the small village in Piedmont where he was born, and to the piles of chestnuts and mushrooms of his memories.
In that simple setting, Penone undertook a systematic observation of the natural environment, analysing and unveiling the relationship between humans and their surroundings.
For a time, he joined the Arte Povera movement, only to later distance himself from their school of thought in search of a more sensual understanding of art, and of a symbiotic relationship between the different elements of the encompassing natural world.
The search for his own identity saw him carrying out initial experiments in the forests of his childhood, altering tree-growth through pressure and incisions, and imposing human will on the natural course of their development.
Alpi Marittime. L’albero ricorderá il contatto, 1968
Penone’s relentless research into the evolution of trees, and the possibility that humans could influence this, led him to create works of art such as ‘Ho intrecciato tre alberi’ in which three trees intertwine until they fuse into one.
Ho intrecciato tre alberi
For his piece ‘The Tree of Vertebra’ (1996) he took moulds of the branches and trunks of various trees and recreated them in glass.
The sensory basis which Penone applies to his work led him to create his 2004 installment ‘Repeating the Forest’, in which he stripped back layers of growth from tree trunks to reveal their inner core – the primordial identity of the tree.
Ripetere il bosco
The bond between man and nature, united in time, drove Guiseppe to seek affinities between the anatomy of humans and that of trees, with a high appreciation for both. Thus, in Spazio di Luce, the log is treated as a jewel, with its interior coated in gold. The viewer’s perception comes into play upon peering inside the tree, to find a circular figure in gold right at the heart of the wood.
Spazio di Luce
Spazio di Luce
Penone dedicates himself to the organic world throughout his work: transforming the trees of his infancy, rediscovering the majesty hidden within forests, imbuing the simplest and purest wood with meaning and value.
Spiral Tree (1988)