Giuseppe Penone is born in 1947 in Garessio, Italy. He studies at the Accademia Albertina di Bella Arti in Turin and in 1968 appears in public with first exhibitions.His works of the late 1960s and early 1970s focus on phenomena of nature and culture and their underlying principles and structures. Above all, they refer to haptic sense perceptions: contact, mold, and touch are starting points of his metaphorical-corporeal communication with phenomena of natural, vegetative surroundings.
The artist’s studies of natural changes and material transformations evolve into his first work groups that concentrate on the growth of trees. The temporal dimension of natural processes and the experience-based human consciousness of time – independent of the natural processes – interact in his works: In the InstallationCrescendo innalzerà la rete (1968) that is documented through photographs, Penone builds an iron cage around a tree. In the process of growing, the cage is lifted by the tree, it is moved and changed. In the peeled Trees that are created after 1969, Penone tries to undo the work process undergone by a wooden beam by cutting out knotholes from the industrially produced planks. Having a bronze cast of a hand grow into a tree, he confronts human touch perception with the slow vegetative growth process: »If I touch a tree, if I approach it, the tree has a different life-time than I do. It has a much slower rhythm, and therefore it can appear like a solid element. Actually, one should conceive of a tree as a liquid element, because if one confronts it with an object, it encloses the object, grows around it, and reactsexactly like a stream that washes and flows around a stone in the river bed.« (Penone, in: Kunstforum International, 1998).
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Penone does comparative experiments with mimetic processes in art and nature: In Potatoes (1977), for example, he lets potatoes grow into face-like hollow metal forms. The evolving shapes are recognizable as reproductions of human physiognomies, the potatoes thus reproduce human organs of perception. In his work series Being a River, created in the early 1980s, the artist exhibits a natural stone shaped by the water of a river together with stone material worked into exactly the same shape by the artist.
The body as a boundary between subject and outside world is of special importance in Penone’s work. In Turning around One’s Own Eyes (1970) he makes this explicit in a self-portrait with contact lenses with reflective coating: Seeing turns out to be blindness, and the priority of perception through touching and of the inner face, of communication based on feeling and sensing through touch is evoked. In the late 1970s, an important work group thematizes breathing whose visualization Penone concentrates on as a major form of corporeal expression, next to feeling. He captures the flow of breath in glass, in stone, as well as in clay (Soffio di creta, 1979).
In his series Vegetative Gestures which he starts in 1982, Penone integrates bronze works of different sizes in bushes and trees. He understands these works to be figural interpretations of plants and their energies of growth. With these works Penone draws on the literary model of the myth of Apollo and Daphne that thematizes the transformation of a human into a vegetative being. Finally, there is his work group entitled Fingernails, whose casts, turned into huge glass objects, again derive aesthetic pathos from the everyday (Fingernail and Marble, 1988). Giuseppe Penone’s work lends itself to be situated within the context of Arte Povera. With his conceptual seeking for corresponding, norm-creating phenomena of nature and culture he develops a remarkable and highly unique feeling for the variability of human perceptive capacities and of ways to represent it.
Giuseppe Penone’s work has been exhibited several times at the Documenta and the Venice Biennale and is being shown in numerous international solo and group exhibitions. Penone lives and works in Turin.
Giuseppe Penone: Ausst.-Kat. Centre Pompidou Paris, hg. v. Catherine Grenier, Paris 2004
Giuseppe Penone. Die Adern des Steins: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Bonn, u.a., hg. v. Christoph Schreier. Ostfildern-Ruit 1997
Giuseppe Penone: Ausst.-Kat. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris 1984
Giuseppe Penone:Ausst.-Kat. Städtisches Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach, hg. v. Sabine Kimpel-Fehlemann, Köln 1982