The healing in the relational and creative space, Giacometti


Never has an art exhibition blown me away like last year’s Retrospective on Giacometti at the Tate Modern in London.

I knew very little about his work. His visions and explorations of the male and female body for example and his completely unique perception of reality totally fascinated, overwhelmed and mesmerised me. I stared at many pieces of his work for what seemed a very long time.

Staring at these abyss-like eyes I could feel the screams, the exhaustion, the bewilderment, the pain, the trauma so vividly and intensely captured. I read then that for him the eyes were essential: “When you look at the human face, you always look at the eyes. An eye has something special about it, it’s made of a different matter than the rest of the face, ” he said (from The Exhibition Guide, Tate Modern)

So many times I repressed tears and had to look away for fear of a complete meltdown. His depiction and sculptures of our post war world are so unbelievably powerful at conveying and congealing the trauma, the alienation, the disconnection and dissociation of a meaningless world and its absence of humanity, its ‘désincarnation’(disembodiment) following the 2nd World War atrocities.

His friend, the French father of Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre called his elongated, tree-like figures “moving outlines” (…) “always mediating between nothingness and being”: what a great description of dissociation; when we numb our bodies after a deep trauma and literally ‘leave the building’ that is our physical and emotional body in order to protect it, in order to survive.

A powerful and beautiful film I have just watched: The Final Portrait by Stanley Tucci, brought me back to that exhibition and got me thinking about the similarities between the client/therapist and the painter/model relationships.

It is set in 1964 and narrates the painting by Giacometti of James Lord's portrait (see painting below), an American businessman and friend as he posed for the artist.

The whole study of the relational space between the painter and his model is intriguing and inspiring. It reminded me of what happens between a therapist and a client at a craniosacral session as a spatial rapport and connection is first established through the mouth (words), the eyes(perception), the nose(smell) and the ears(listening) before touch, contact is made.

The film skilfully shows how during the posing process unconscious projections and mirroring take place and the model somehow takes on aspects of the personality of the painter as if there was, and of course there is, an energetic relationship between the two.

Giacometti is like a Sisyphus in his creative process. He says it is when he is at his most hopeful that he feels like giving up. He cultivates dissatisfaction as a mode of creating. He paints for hours then erases all with greys. He dies, he kills, he destroys and then creates again. Diego, his brother and assistant, says he is a perfectionist when it comes to dissatisfaction. The film ends and the portrait is de facto finished when the model himself finally stops this Sisyphus-like struggle, this striving for an illusory perfection and this regular undoing, dying.

James Lord gets up as the artist is about to take up the brush to 'grey' and invites Diego to comment. He explains he has to leave, to go back to New York, introducing time in this never-ending cycle.

In my view this is how Giacometti enters the 'field' and makes manifest a sense of infinity and timelessness as he creates. He engages in a never-ending cycle and like the tides of the sea on the sand, he incessantly and regularly affects and wipes out his original canvass.

The artist is never satisfied with what is because nothing ever is unchanged, nothing remains forever the same. He also says that he thinks about death every day. He says he would love to die immolated.

As his friend Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Worstward Ho, 1983)

Giacometti explains in Lord’s own account of his experience posing: “To make a head really lifelike is impossible, and the more you struggle to make it lifelike the less like life it becomes. But since a work of art is an illusion anyway, if you heighten the illusory quality, then you come closer to the effect of life.” (A Giacometti portrait by James Lord)

Of course the fact that James Lord is constantly postponing his return to New York enhances this notion of endured timelessness, this tacit fight against space and time, duties, the every day must dos of living in a society, and ultimately against death.

I knew when I saw his work at the Tate that Giacometti could delve into his models’ souls, that he was absolutely unafraid of confronting darkness but that he was also, in this process, conveying, maybe unbeknownst to himself his own dark side, that he was looking into his own soul. I would even argue that the creative process was also a healing modality for Giacometti.

The model becomes the painter and the painter is his own model. The client becomes the healer and the healer is his own client.

As therapists we take on aspects of our client and it is essential that we remain aware of this process and as detached as possible from it too.

As I give a session I find that I dive into someone else’s universe, energy, varying densities. The breath of life, the tides, the clearing and balancing. It is a profoundly spiritual and creative experience. I feel sometimes within myself what the person is feeling too.

It even stays a little with me after the session is over.

Mirroring, listening, following and holding. Time stops too, stillness settles in and then the cycle unfolds again. It is never the same, yet there is an essential and unique manifest there. Mirroring. Even when I feel slightly unwell, I reach this unique imprint in someone else’s system. I can listen and go into the fluids, the tissues, following patterns and seeking with the Seeker, holding the space while there is settling and balancing. It is so beautiful, so infinitely sublime.

This travelling into these unspoken worlds reminds me of that exchange between the painter and the model. It is the same ineffable perception of a timeless and spaceless Intelligence that creates and transforms, that has the power to change all the time and that is ever present. All the time.


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