Gribouillage – Scarabocchio
From Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly
Fine Arts of Paris (1)
What do a head engraved by Giacometti on a wall in his studio, the infamous cuckold horns plastered in 17th century Rome, a study of Madonna by the divine Raphael and a child’s drawing by the future Louis XIII have in common? All appear in the astonishing exhibition that the Beaux-Arts de Paris devotes to “Doodles”.
“For a long time these spontaneous sketches were confined to the margins, then they moved to the center, in contemporary art. By bringing together works from different periods, we wanted to understand the role in the creation of these drawings without purpose,” explains Diane H. Bodart, associate professor of art history at Columbia University. With Francesca Alberti, director of the art history department at the Villa Medici, she conducted four years of research in preparation for this exhibition, already presented in Rome last year.
First surprise, even in ancient art scribbles are everywhere, sometimes carefully preserved by collectors. Some were discovered on the coatings hidden under frescoes, such as those of Benozzo Gozzoli in Pisa, a section of the wall of which made the trip to Paris. Others are lodged on the back of paintings or copper stamping matrices, like these attempts at hatching with two sketchy heads traced on the reverse of a Virgin breastfeeding the Child of Annibale Carracci.
From the 17th century, Stefano della Bella did not hesitate to publish a collection of his “doodles”. The drawings of the greatest masters themselves are not exempt from such stylistic shifts, like this Head of a Woman by Andrea del Sarto, with a caricatural profile on its back. At the time, paper being a rare commodity, one frequently finds figures of different natures accumulated on the same sheet, such as this beautiful study of legs by Michelangelo, punctuated with summary sketches of combatants…
Exercise to practice, doodling also offers a space of freedom, a recreation in the middle of the orders. In front of a profile of an unsightly old man sketched by Leonardo, Francesca Alberti underlines how much “his grotesque figures have left a lasting imprint in the imagination of artists”. After him, the Carracci will integrate the practice of the “portrait charge” in the learning of their students, as shown by one of their sheets, covered with funny profiles. While chiselling two marble busts of Cardinal Scipio Borghese, Bernini did not hesitate to caricature his model in ink, with his potato nose and drooping jowls. In 1947, it was his own friends that Dubuffet sketched with childish features and exhibited at the Drouin gallery.
Because scribbling is sometimes voluntary regression. Through him, the emeritus draftsman seeks to strip himself of academic knowledge to rediscover his spontaneous inventiveness. Hence the interest of many artists in children’s drawings and popular graffiti. Giacomo Balla claims to have seen thus, in a door of a bankrupt store decorated with figures and spirals in chalk, “the painting which made (him) become futuristic”. As for Henri Michaux, he devotes himself to drawings under mescaline to explore the intricacies of his unconscious.
Others seem to let go of their hand, in a kind of exhilaration. See this Study of a Young Man Seized by Death drawn by Stefano della Bella in a furious interlacing of lines, like a trap! Or these red lines woven as if mechanically by Louise Bourgeois, in moments of anguish, which recall the tapestries of her childhood restored by her parents.
In these drive discharges, scribbling can be linked with eroticism, violence, defilement. Contrary to beautiful design, it becomes the privileged vector of the repressed, of everything that society does not want to see. Cy Twombly thus evokes his homosexual love with doodles of heart-shaped buttocks, graffiti enamelled with mythological allusions and ejaculatory spots. Jean-Michel Basquiat, on his canvas, invites all the urban poetry and all the rage of African-American graffiti artists, excluded from galleries and museums dominated by whites. Never does scribbling seem sharper than when it moves the lines like this.