In the wintertime 1967-1968, at the beginning of his career, Giuseppe Penone performs a series of actions outdoors in the forested landscape of the Piedmont region, around his birthplace, Garessio. These actions, photographed and collected under the title of Alpi Marittime (Maritime Alps), clear tribute to those places on the border between Italy and France, already carry the deepest insights in terms of form and content that would have been developed in the years ahead.
Absolutely central to Giuseppe Penone's research, the tree is the theme around which the series of the same name (Alberi / Trees), undertaken since the beginning of his career and still in progress today, is developed. In these works the natural material, changing over time and through the artist's action, takes on the appearance of an autonomous and lasting sculpture, capable of revealing a truth that is not metaphysical, but objective and indisputable.
Reversing One’s Eyes
Rovesciare i propri occhi (Reversing One’s Eyes) is the title of a series of early pieces in which the artist reveals something that actually exists, but the viewer is not able to fully perceive voluntarily. Penone deals here with a different theme from the one developed in parallel in his Trees, pursuing as his primary objectives the redefinition of the practice of sculpture and reflection on the identity of the artist.
To Unroll One’s Skin
The works of this series, as the ones of Reversing One's Eyes, convey reflections on identity. The focus is about what is traced in the skin, something that simultaneously delimits and separates. The skin as a sensitive surface, capable of relating with the world. In these works the primary source of knowledge is not the sight, but the action of contact, that is also identified as what the sculpture springs from. Contact is a knowledge that keeps on occurring spontaneously, and imprint is the result of the primary function of touch and a sign of identity.
Under the title Soffi (Breaths) various artworks made from 1977 onwards, through different materials and processes, are collected. All of them bring together experiences gained through previous works, especially those centered on the word and contact, and are based on a sort of transitive property, always linked to physical contact, in which facts, information and objective forms are transmitted from one element to another as part of the creation process, in their being part of nature.
To Be a River
In the series Essere fiume (To Be a River), the act of sculpting does not consists in revealing a hidden aspect of nature, but in retracing the stages of natural processes and in repeating them by means of traditional sculptural techniques and materials. The first work of this kind is exhibited in a homonym solo show at Konrad Fischer’s gallery in Düsseldorf, in 1981.
In the 1980s Giuseppe Penone dedicates himself completely to sculpture, using traditional materials (wax, wood, plaster, earth, bronze, stone, marble). The awareness of the "extreme precariousness of the concept of solid, fluid, hard, soft, positive, negative" guides the artist’s investigation in intercepting forms and making revelations about the state of matter or its dynamics of transformation.
For Giuseppe Penone the logic of analogy, disregarded by Western scientific thought, retains real value in interpreting the affinities between the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms. In 1990s the artist intensifies his instinctive propensity to interweave different levels of reality and creates the series Anatomie (Anatomies).
From the mid-1990s Giuseppe Penone undertakes a series of works that requires an intensive manual labour and where drawing acquires a new centrality. In addition to the sculptures entitled Anatomie (Anatomies), he creates the Propagazioni (Propagations), in which the encounter between the natural factor of growth and the cultural factor of work allows the materialization of the time period that endows them with substance.
Ideas of Stone
In Idee di pietra (Ideas of Stone) and other works realized in the 2000’s, natural, psychic and cultural phenomena are connected in an identical landscape dominated by the morphology of the bifurcation. Ideas of Stone are bronze trees that host river stones in those bifurcations.
Less interested in confronting so-called unspoilt nature or creating works that most people would only see through photographic reproductions, Giuseppe Penone has installed many works in public and private gardens and has so far produced two complete garden projects.