I am definitely not shy of words – if I was I wouldn’t have this blog. I am a painter and I write about painting, art and aesthetics, and this holds a special fascination for me, but the first affirmation (I am a painter) is by far the most important. What is important is the seeing and this is wholly different than thinking or reading. The handwriting of the painter is not a text with a narrative, it has an immediate aim beyond writing. The pursuit is to try to see the writing in its presence. This is different than merely looking at something. It is a seeing that puts the viewer back into the body. Painting ought not to appeal to the brain, as Deleuze remarked via Bacon: it should hit you in the nervous system. The silence of the painter is an aim of leaving the discursive behind in order to arrive at an immediate sensation.
This is really the dream of Abstraction – to leave text behind and arrive into a felt-presence of experience. This kind of painting is writing undoing narrative, which is to say undoing the effort to make art tell a story about something. It is through an emphasis on the materials of painting that Abstraction can arrive at painting’s matter-of-factness, or of its deadpan presence. The painting is a thing that has its own properties and such properties are of central importance to its reception: the materials are arranged on a surface in order to bring about an instantaneous image, which in turn produces a sort of ‘now-time’ (jetztzeit) in the consciousness of the recipient.
I notice that a lot of people who go to see works of art in museums do so in a kind of tourist mode, which is to say they attempt to see as many things as possible. They walk through a room and glance at the paintings like switching channels on their television. They come to look but they don’t see. They don’t give the work enough time. After all, you must first give time to the thing to paradoxically arrive into a presence of a work of art that suspends time.
The painter who painted a work stood in front of the object for quite some time in order to make it. The lookers don’t spend any time with the thing so they miss the window – they don’t allow the work to open up to them. If they are interested at all in the works on the wall, then it is with the celebrity objects: those works that make it to print as the ‘must look’ on the museum pamphlet or a good background to a selfie. Meanwhile, there are objects next to these just screaming in their silence. To get a sense of the experience of the painting one would have to do the same as the painter who painted it: allow it to absorb you. Painting is still and silent, which means that in order for it to work the viewer needs to also be still and silent. This is how one arrives at the immediate sense of painting.
Paintings have this appeal about them: they are material things that the painter has invested a certain amount of energy. They attempt a reconciliation of relations between consciousness and matter. It is at the level of intuition that something comes out of this arrangement in a way that stirs the corporeal-psyche-body.
My own work explores the geology of painting. Speaking after the act or the event of the work, I trace back the steps to interpret and say that it is the material that has unique expressive capacities. Attention to sensation is how the charm of this emergence is discovered. If painting is to signify, then it shall signify the immanence of matter. After the event I can speak about it and I can say something of what it may ‘mean,’ but what of the matter? We may find geological formations beautiful, awe-inspiring, sublime even – but do we ask what geological formations ‘mean?’ They don’t mean anything, and it is because of this that they are so striking. Do we ask what the liquid dynamics of a river delta mean or are we instead immediately enthralled in a beautiful field? The emergent aesthetic is a relation of forces and what matters is the resonance of forces upon sense.