Rosenberg’s contribution revolves around his assertions about Abstract Expressionism as a breakthrough in the history of painting: it was no longer painting pictures, instead the surface became a field for recording an event. It is the event or the ‘action’ of the expressionistic capacities of the painter themselves involved with a direct use of materials. The resulting work was an encountering with the canvas.
Rosenberg’s association of the canvas as an arena in which to act, coining the term Action Painting, emphasizes the creative act of painting above other aspects of painting like depicting or representing scenes, or as a concrete arrangement. This emphasis on gestural abstraction linked up with existential ideas and the mythical, subjective aspect of the work. The action in Action Painting is an event of the personality declaring its existence.
Action Painting is rupture. What is painting? It is matter’s ability to act.
Caught in the frenzy of attention and then achieving dynamic rest, each mark is a performance. Each mark retains the entire weight of a life. It is not designed or constructed by the imagination as much as it is the imagination right at the edge of death, confronting infinity in every mark.
It is not a picture. It is the ability of painting itself to be an expressive medium: an arena in which to act where that action is heading towards the disappearance of the painter’s own expressions to the potentiality of the medium’s agency. The expression is a diffusing of the object’s tendencies, the object having its own expressions.
It is not painting entombed into its own formalized sarcophagus; it is a new lease on process, dynamics, emergence and affective materializations.
The existentialism in Rosenberg has it that the individual is an extension of the canvas, bringing the canvas into the qualities of the personality: “the act on the canvas springs from an attempt to resurrect the saving moment in his ‘story’ when the painter first felt himself released from Value—myth of the past self-recognition.”
Every painter is an egoist caught in their self-same mirror, even still they have chosen to create their work – preferable compared to the personalization-combines of consumer reification. At least we make our own mirrors.
The act on the canvas ought to be of a personality freeing itself.