Quite calm

IN a long dialogue with things, the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi developed a personal style with a special vocabulary, grammar, and system, high-lighted by a particular feeling for form. His pictures, widely recognized as masterpieces, are poetry, gentle songs in muted pastels. Many are arrangements of carefully selected, quite ordinary vases and jars recently off his mother's pantry shelf. Empty and without reference to prior contents, no longer castoffs, they have become objets d'art.

This ``Still Life'' of 1920 is typical. The few components, each on a different plane, have been geometrically simplified to essentials. Transparent, glistening containers were painted a flat white on the inside to make them opaque and to obtain the characteristic, uniting, overall milky grayness. They sit on a round tilt-top table before a heavy wall deliberately, knowingly, zoned. The light is steady and of a strange clear brilliance.

Rapports are so attentively calibrated there is a discernible soft flow linking the contours. Have a try - start anywhere and let the eyes follow around one shape and then another, always taking slow swinging loops in a counterclockwise direction. The pleasure that comes from the rhythm will be enhanced by your having also experienced sensations of weight and volume.

Early, Morandi was counted among the psychological artists. Although his work took a different road from the others, it retained an enigmatic quality, the suggestions of profound signification, and a sense of time's having been arrested for all eternity.

With a visual intuition gradually acquired and earnestly meditated, Morandi trusted his eyes in the selection and placing of individual items in a picture. A lifetime of thus putting aggregations into order had left him with a distinctive stare, cool, weighing, shrewd, and critical. Callers found this at times rather disconcerting though he was invariably kind and considerate.

Giorgio Morandi spent all his life in or near Bologna, Italy, one of the largest cities of Europe and among the most ancient. The arcaded streets and sidewalks testify to prominence in the Middle Ages; its famous university, the oldest on that continent, dates back to AD 425.

A graduate of the Art Academy of Bologna and later a professor there, Morandi remarked that he was glad of the classes in etching for ``it at least is a technique, something tangible to teach; Art, itself, cannot be taught.''

Personally, he had the same extraordinary simplicity as his painting, though he was by no means provincial. Major artists and writers were his friends and came often to visit, and he participated in almost all national and international shows in Europe and the Americas.

Giorgio Morandi invites us to contemplate the charm that can be derived from a synthesis of shapes and luminosity.

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