‘The clarity of the well-marked path is sterile. To find the path, to follow it, to examine it, and to clear away the tangled undergrowth: that is sculpture.’
This statement, written in 1983 by Giuseppe Penone (born 1947, Garessio, Cuneo), reflects his close relationship with nature. Perhaps because he grew up in an agricultural community, he was the only Arte Povera artist to work extensively in the natural landscape.
His earliest piece was a series of interventions called Maritime Alps, 1968, made in the woods near his home. Recorded in photographs, these actions included the weaving together of three trees, or grasping a young tree trunk and marking the position of his hand with nails, so that it would always retain the traces of this action. In all his works, Penone acts less as the ‘high’ artist elaborately toiling with rare materials and techniques, and more as a carpenter or artisan, using simple gestures and everyday materials.
His interest in revealing natural processes led to a series of tree sculptures, made from 1969 on, in which he took huge beams of roughly processed timber and chiselled away the wood, following the growth rings to expose the younger tree inside. To Turn One’s Eyes Inside Out, 1970, a photograph of Penone wearing mirrored contact lenses, continues this notion of reversal. Instead of receiving images from outside for later transformation into art, the artist’s eyes become screens on which to display an immediate picture of the world.