Images evoked out of material by the painter’s activities could be terms ‘evocation’ – as an activity of painting, introduced in the modern era, where the imagination takes center stage in the pursuit of the expression of the painted object.
Within the modern era of ‘isms’ the aim of evocation irradiated in several different directions, but the point of origin is essentially the same, since what is fundamental is the underlining principle of the painter’s agency.
The tendency of concrete painting, or purist painting, is a strong correlation of the evocative principle: as an ideal scheme, where the intellect reduces picturing to an elementary language, the active agency of the painter leads painting into ‘independent harmonies’ parrallel to nature, as produced by the human mind. The result is concrete painting or Concretism.
I explored Concretism in my previous post Earth Script, where using the term ‘evocation’ insinuates that the painter’s intention is to transform the natural image into formal relationships and rhythms on the surface; i.e. to evoke a transcendent order or arrangement out of the raw nature.
There is a distinction to be made between concrete painting and geologic painting. The latter seeks out speculative materiality and therefore goes beyond the reorganization of the object of painting to merely render its formal structure.
The geologic in painting, or what I have called ‘deposition’, has its opening already in the modern tendency of Expressionism. Apart from Concretism, modern painting also explored the restless, irrational and prismatic spaces. Enter Expressionism that derived in part from the moods of the heathland and the moor, coupled with the symptoms of unrest within the personality or subjectivity and having origins of growth out of the German ‘Naturlyrismus.’ (Redon, Ensor, Uhde, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, and onward, Munch, Nolde, Rohlfs, Kirchner, Heckel, Kadinsky, etc. are all great examples of the basic tendency of painting where the medium ought to explore the regions of the human mind).
What the Expressionists discovered was that painting is a realm where myths reside and therefore the painters instinctively turned towards the most primitive of methods of image-making: the result was a barbaric power found in non-realistic, rhythmical and colorful approaches, as the representations of a calm existence were stripped away, and so with it sentimentality in favor of a primitive idiom that is said to increase the power of expression.
The central feature of evocation in this expressionist phase of painting is psychological unrest. But this unrest could lead the expressionism to break with naturalism by mobilizing the pictorial categories hitherto used for purposes of reproduction – form, color, line, space were turned towards ‘expression intime.’
This chimes to a particular relationship to reality: visible reality just touched the surface as only one manifestation of reality, and the inner world and its relation to the exterior was how the exterior came to be defined, and therefore the tendency was towards pictures of the inner world and the belief that they possessed a concrete actuality and reality all their own. The expressionists, and later the surrealists, favored images that kindled the inner imagination of the human in response to experiencing visible nature, finally becoming concerned only with the reflections and images of the inner world in order to attempt to give them concrete form.
In order to speculate about the object of painting unfettered from the sense of ordering that uniquely belongs to the agency of the painter, however, it would be necessary to try to get beyond the approach to painting as a domain of expression. And its expressionism that already points a way out.
Expressionism points to a door beyond the agency of the painter as a controller or engineer of form, and therefore beyond the metaphor of the artist as privy to a totality of the aesthetic field.
This is because there is a deep unrest between Cubism (and the lineage of the object as a concrete formal thing parallel to nature) and what became Expressionism. Cubism is the style of modernity in painting more than any other style. You can see this unrest towards the foundations of modernity in painting from the outset: it is the unrest existing between Cubist insistence that the structure of the picture be fully articulated versus the more expressionist drive towards unrestrained tendencies.
The tendency towards the unfettered or unrestrained, which differed considerably from the concrete and De Stilj inventions that would take Cubism into its logical and idealistic conclusions, is connected with a kind of heathenry in painting. I characterize this heathenry as open to contingency and therefore not entirely accountable in the formal arrangement of those structures where everything is said to have its right place.
This is a political distinction, no doubt.
In expression the concern is with the hallucinatory spark. The question becomes the location of this hallucination. Evocative painting could persist in its belief that this expression stems solely from the agency of the painter, who activates ‘inert’ or ‘dead’ matter. However, Expressionism’s ambitions go further in relevance to speculative theories of matter. The hallucination is not only occurring in the imagination of the artist but also matter. It is not apt to simply conclude that expression belongs only to the domain of the painter’s personality. Matter itself hallucinates.
When matter is discovered to have its own agency, we can witness in the act of painting matter’s ability to form its own expressions.
This is what is meant by the line – known to painting for quite some time but perhaps now only coming into its own – that painting itself suggests what is to be done with it. Expressionism already gave us the opening, since it was concerned with the tendencies of matter’s unrestrained potencies.
 What can be observed in the insistence that the picture be fully articulated is a utopian dream of totality that was coaxed out politically. I observe an absolute totalitarianism in modernism’s ordering of space. Whereas the expressionist dream of liberating arrangements is in discordance to an aesthetic where everything is given a place, accounted for, arranged to the grid.