Discussing the sculptures executed during this period, Yves Bonnefoy wrote: "These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person, meeting his eyes and thereby understanding better the compression, the narrowing that Giacometti imposed on the chin or the nose or the general shape of the skull. This was the period when Giacometti was most strongly conscious of the fact that the inside of the plaster or clay mass which he modeled was something inert, undifferentiated, nocturnal, that it betrays the life he sought to represent, and that he must therefore strive to eliminate this purely spatial dimension by constricting the material to fit the most prominent characteristics of the face. This is exactly what he achieves with amazing vigor when, occasionally, he gave Diego's face a blade-like narrowness—drawing seems to have eliminated the plaster, the head has escaped from space—and demands therefore that the spectator stand in front of the sculpture as he did himself, disregarding the back and sides of his model and as bound to a face-to-face relationship. As Giacometti once said, 'There is no difference between painting and sculpture.' Since 1945, he added, 'I have been practicing them both indifferently, each helping me to do the other. In fact, both of them are drawing, and drawing has helped me to see" (Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, pp. 432-36).
As in many of the painted portraits of his brother which Giacometti executed at this time, Diego (Buste au grand nez) demonstrates the artist's fascination with the emotive power of the sitter's face. The artist executed these works with the matière pétrie, or kneaded method, that heightened the expressiveness of the figure. As with the present work, Giacometti enhances the realism of the face by precisely incising the features with a knife. But his restless hands, constantly pinching, smoothing and remodeling the surface, are his primary tools. Viewed from different vantage points, the present work can be seen as two distinct heads: the side profile is much more articulated and full-bodied than the elongated, almost receding frontal view.
The title of the present work, Diego (Buste au grand nez), alludes to the particular emphasis on the subject's nose. Giacometti had previously taken exaggeration of this feature to its limit in his famed Le Nez of 1949 (see fig. 2). While Le Nez hangs suspended in a cage, mouth open in anguish, neck and bust shaped like a handle providing a strong visual correlation to the shape of a hand gun, Diego (Buste au grand nez) moves towards a quieter and more meditative form, though both still speak to Alberto Giacometti’s fascination with the difference in the front and side of a person. Patrick Elliot wrote about the memorable visual effect of Giacometti's works such as Diego (Buste au grand nez): "In conversations, Giacometti observed enormous differences between a side view and a frontal view of an object, as if the two were completely separate things that could not possibly be rendered in a single sculpture. Giacometti normally represented figures as very frontal forms, and is reported to have said that: 'when a person appeals to us or fascinates us we don't walk all around him. What impresses us about his appearance requires a certain distance'" (Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh & Kunsthalle, Vienna, 1996, p. 172).
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