In Sasha Grishin’s 2014 book, Australian art: a history, he begins his discussion of printmaker-sculptor George Baldessin (1939-1978) with a statement about the artist’s migration to Australia. While this is appropriate, as Baldessin’s art is intimately involved with his relationship to ‘place’, extensive biographical interpretations have meant that the consequences of Baldessin’s life have long overshadowed the consequences of his art. After travelling to Milan in 1962 to study with the internationally renowned Marino Marini, Baldessin found himself under the tutelage of Marini’s lesser-known studio assistant, Alik Cavaliere (1926-1998). Cavaliere’s phenomenological philosophy, which informed his approach to sculpture, formed a foundational basis for Baldessin’s later work in Australia. After his return from Milan, the young artist created works that were derivative of Cavaliere. This was contemporary Milanese art, Melbourne style. Over time this influence became less obvious, and Baldessin slowly transformed Cavaliere’s approach into something idiosyncratic and deeply personal. Yet the basic tenets of Cavaliere’s philosophy remain traceable in Baldessin’s most admired work, the installation produced for the 1975 São Paulo Biennial – the sculpture Occasional screens with seating arrangement with the print suite Occasional images from a city chamber. Cavaliere’s advocacy for works which simulated ‘place’ and being-in-the-world struck a chord with Baldessin. Not least because Baldessin was raised relatively close to Milan, a truth he often obscured.
VICTORIA PERIN | George Baldessin’s first view of the city: The formative influence of the Italian sculptor Alik Cavaliere on George Baldessin