Whereas abstraction in painting had surpassed the depiction of the exterior world and turned towards the embodied thing of painting as an evocative force, allowing the medium to take on a more personal character, deposition in painting – defined as the geologic deposition of the materiality of painting – usurps the modern theme of painting as screen for the painter’s agency. Geologic processes in painting may not only displace identity but surpass the modern project whose aim had been the formal arrangement and control of a passive material nature.
In the world of painting, “nature” had been about the conquest of the exterior world. That is what was achieved in painting by the artists of the Renaissance onward, achieving illusionistic and illustrative qualities – amplifying the Florentine masters who set conquest to reality: these painters had found the embodied thing (the embodied thing being the central character of painting), but they sought to relate it imaginatively and intellectually to the exterior world.
Something happened in modernism. It was no longer the concern to conquer the exterior world in terms of art (the moderns had technology for that). This shift has elsewhere been described and observed with the invention of photography and the usurpation of painting’s old role of depicting the exterior world. With the advent of the modern in painting the result was that the embodied thing was given an evocative force. The approach to what is an object could take on a personal character. The prevailing attitude was to penetrate the inner processes of such a representation of reality and pursue methods and purposes for describing them. The moderns discovered what they considered to be the ‘fantastic’ in reality (the “fantastic in the hardest matter” (Kadinsky). Painting became a material thing charged with existential power.
Abstraction in painting attempted to cancel “nature” by wanting to end its relation to the exterior world of things. From its inception abstraction was out to dispense with the pictorial window dressing of painting. As the painters erased depth from the painting they could place their faith in the sign and in the medium. Painting could become its own script – its own writing. It could be pursued in itself as a self-contained, ‘autonomous’ thing.
Painting could be the expression of inner experience unhinged from depiction by the pregnant component of imagined reality.
It could be evocative as poetical mediation (Klee). It could be the playfulness of nature as combined with the memory to form pictorial metaphors and strange landscapes (Ernst). It could continue towards its 0 in confrontation with the Nothing (Malevich). It could pursue harmonic figurations based in proportion and number (Mondrian). It could become a field of movement, dispersing upon the surface as a field on which to register spontaneous human reactions and impulses (Pollock). All of what painting could become in the modern phase of abstraction came down to a basic principle, which intimately linked the modern’s explored world of images regardless of the particular avenue: basis in Cubism that had shown how responsive impulses of the psyche could be given pictorial expression.
I want to emphasize this point further: the responsive impulses of the psyche upon the embodied thing of painting was central to modern abstraction.
It was because the moderns considered the exterior of nature to already be conquered that they could pursue the aim of trying to map the interior world. But in trying to map the interior world, with its magic of reality and disturbing density and presence, it revealed an underlying modern ideology towards what is an object and just how the exterior world was presupposed. As the object was a device for the evocative image – a thing for writing – it was there to be written upon. A glaring blind spot developed, since pretty much no painter at the time had questioned the basic principle that the object was there as a passive feature. Painting became a surface for writing. Only by being written-upon could the modern achieve their interaction with the imagination – staging it as a ground of their reality. But in order to create the picture emanating from their imagination there was prior an alienation from the world of objects, creating the distance needed (creating the experience of the object thought of as something independent, as something other, strange). The object came on the scene as disquieting thing that ruptured “nature.” It was thus conceived that the embodied object was given presence only by the writing of the imagination, which is to say that this object became a mere device or means to an end for the painter’s agency.
The materiality of painting in the modern was as mere resource for the recording of the painter’s experience of the world. This basic insight seems to circumscribe the entirety of the modern project of painting. The object was viewed as passive or as a thing to be shaped by the ego’s torment, joy, reason, etc. Just as the modern abstract object was a device for personalizing, accentuating, and revealing a new psychology of things, it could also be observed as accenting the primary condition of the modern sense of the object as a thing to be shaped, ironically or analytically, into a screen for the personality. The artist’s experience could therefore be projected as a formal event.
But the field of writing is ruptured by painting’s discovery that anti-nature is not achievable with the means it has. Painting, out of all the arts, is perhaps closest to geologic deposition. Indeed, painting has earth in its bones: it is mineral, clod, pigment, materiality.
A crack appears within the abstract project whose implied goal was once formal enclosure. It implicitly suggests a space outside the approach of the object as a screen for the projection of the painter’s agency. By allowing the painting to take itself to its own conclusions the terrain opens up.
Painting is Earth. The truth of the materiality of painting is discovered in its geological emanation. There can never be, at least in this particular medium, a ‘breaking free of the Earth.’ Painting is earthbound.
The emanation of the geologic in painting turns painting into Earth script. This script is nature’s writing, as the expressionism of nature-naturing. It overturns the notion that the embodied object is a matter of the inner world of the painter, intensified with imagined figures, as a matter of the personality’s concern.
The geologic in painting does not place Man at the center of artistic expression, since the medium as geologic materialization consists of the morphological tendencies of matter as a geologic body. This sets identity up against an earthquake.
Earth script discovers the embodied object in the substratum of the medium. The material of painting is not passive – it is not an inert stuff to be shaped by the agency of the painter, as if what is an object consists of a nature conquered by the triumphant personality. The material of painting has its own agency and this agency exists beyond the ego’s examination of pictorial means and formal processes. Earth script ruptures the modern world of painting. It overturns the idea of painting as consisting of a material to be mediated upon, shifting the attitude towards what is an object by displacing the view of nature as container or backdrop for the imaginative agency.
Earth script is not about “nature” inasmuch as it is not about depicting the exterior world as traditionally understood in painting since the Renaissance. Moreover, it is not about pursuing the interior, as if a device for expressing the hermetic experience of identity; and it is not about finding ‘hidden’ in the life of nature the geometric organizations. The field of writing is thus subject to a rupture – a mineralized convulsion of sedimentation, erosion, instant impacts, fluvial explosions and landslides, and this is catastrophic to the world of the inscapes.
The geologic object becoming in itself its own lyrical exaltation: depositionism, not abstractionism, as the embodied object pursues its aims.