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For 18 days back in the early Sixties, writer James Lord sat for a portrait in the Paris studio of his friend, sculptor-painter Alberto Giacometti (19011966). And this seductive little book--privately published in 1965, now revised--is the record of those frustrating, intense, chain-smoking sessions, during which the artist entertainingly (though with genuine torture underneath) rails against himself, his model, the world, and especially the much-despised Pablo Picasso. He laments the impossibility and meaninglessness of portraits in a photo-era (""Ingres could do it. He could finish a portrait""). He laughs over Lord's brutish face: ""Full face you go to jail and in profile you go to the asylum."" He yearns for a visitation by his great inspiration: ""If only CÉzanne were here, he would set everything right with two brush strokes."" Whenever the work is going well he announces, ""Just wait. . . I'm going to wreck it now."" Whenever the work is going badly, he cries in panic: ""Your head's going away!"" or ""It's lopsided again!"" And, always, he bemoans the hopelessness of his whole career, his quest to just paint what he sees: ""If only someone else could paint what I see. . . it would be marvelous, because then I could stop painting for good."" Finally, Lord must go to America, and the work must stop (""It's only beginning. . . and you're leaving. That's a bore""), so, perforce, the portrait is finished: ""We've made progress together,"" says Giacometti, grudgingly. . . . With visits from the artist's family, a few insights into the actual brushwork that's constantly going on, and photos of the portrait at various stages--a diverting bijou of an art-book, lifted above dilettante-ism by the great, awful, eloquent Giacometti humor.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1980
ISBN: 0374515735
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux