In the history of art, the Accident was made subservient to an essentialist organization – for centuries, the Classical was the route towards beauty. But the varying and the irregular are more fundamental than any idealist or unchanging form: an asymmetrical multiplication, a passionate movement where there is no rest, instead there is vitality and tumult constantly diverted into fresh compositions of expression.
Christianity subjected the form to deformation: God is incarnated, crucified, and ascends to heaven, etc. Thus the history of painting, overturning Classical ideals, subjected the work of art to the opposite of essence: to the changeable, or the event. As Deleuze mentions in his text on the painter Francis Bacon,
“Christianity contains a germ of tranquil atheism that will nurture painting; the painter can easily be indifferent to the religious subject he is asked to represent. Nothing prevents him from realizing that, because of its now-essential relation with the accident, the form can become, not a God on the cross, but more simply a ‘napkin or a rug on the point of unrolling, the handle of a knife ready to become detached, a little loaf of bread falling into slices as if of its own volition, an overturned cup, all sorts of vases or fruits, tumbled into a heap, and overhanging plates. All of this can be put on Christ himself, or close by him: Christ is besieged, and even replaced, by accidents. Modern painting begins when man no longer experiences himself as an essence, but as an accident.” [Francis Bacon: Logic of Sense, p101]
This quote resonates with my own approach to painting as an intersection between mark-making and landscape, where matter performs by itself upon the surface as catastrophic impacts. It chimes with the historical turn that painting is not only undergoing, but that also I am undergoing: the emergence of the anthropos as a geophysical agent.
It would seem that through the idiom of ‘Abstract Geology’ (or some other label) what one discovers is the full breath of the Accident – the Accident at every step of the way, just like there is a catastrophe in every single mark.
But something ‘beautiful’ still emerges. To be sure, this is not the idealized beauty of the Classical. Maybe it is because of this reservation that to some the description of beauty seems inadequate? It is a Gothic beauty; that is, it is a beauty that somehow exists outside of us. It is beauty that exists in the impossibilities of the (ideal) body.
It is a shame that painters conceived of the Accident as somehow, well, accidental – in the lowly sense of the word. That is the modern sentiment towards accidents: you yourself are not only besieged by accidents, you are an accident, and the world accident, meaningless. But I cannot take this nihilism seriously – (when all of this modernist sentiment was sketched out, quantum physics wasn’t really off the ground, we knew nothing of morphological resonance, and still less about ecology, etc.). In my work, I have seen all too often an arrangement of accidents that produces the marvelous for me to assume everything just panders off into the negligible. It may not have a meaning (for example, the geologic doesn’t mean anything) but that doesn’t negate it from having its own convictions.
As you have probably noticed, I have been capitalizing the Accident. That is because I take it in all of its profundity. The “little loaf of bread falling into slices as if of its own volition, an overturned cup, all sorts of vases or fruits, tumbled into a heap, and overhanging plates” – none of this is simply inconsequential. It conveys the sense deep enough: everything is constantly dynamic: falling, overturned, tumbled, overhanging, etc. Not only is the anthropos besieged by the Accident, everything is besieged by the Accident. To equate this with atheism is not sufficient. It may be closer to a subscendent, inverted theology. There is nothing more foolhardy than believing that God exists as an ideal, unchanging essence, but there is nothing more impetuous than assuming that the Accident isn’t God itself.