I am currently working on two series of paintings: a new one (based on the Splendor Solis illuminations) Echo and a continuation of the Osiris Fragments. Working on these images confronts me again with the old question, when is it ‘finished’, when does the process of painting comes to a halt? Do I want to reveal and ‘finish’ figures/objects, make it ‘easy’ for the beholder or stick even more to the joy that comes with breaking figures/objects up, leaving them in a state of becoming, partially manifested and partially virtual? I catch myself sometimes thinking ‘nobody will recognise that …’, reminding myself of the joy of doing ‘precise’ life drawing – although what I want to achieve is to leave the beholder space for associations and feelings. Altogether different registers, I guess.
The last year had been a sometimes difficult time of gestation, waiting for a new work phase to start (perhaps the most uncomfortable state of being for me), of reorientation and finding new avenues. I looked back onto the results of my completed PhD research and those of the Abbey fellowship at the British School at Rome – where had the enthusiasm and feeling of success gone suddenly? – , and then the loss of one of my brothers in 2013 that actualised and condensed what I had worked on before: the complexity of time, memory, presence and absence of a body, otherness and relationships with all their surprises, unknown corners and ruptures.
As if I couldn’t find a way of resolving it, the permanent friction of a deep ambivalence remains with me whenever thinking to or dealing with the word ‘spiritual’ – I reject it for its denial of embodiment yet I know it lurks, undeniably, somewhere in the topics just listed which sum up in a nutshell what I aim for in art. Keywords in my artist statements have long since been ‘becoming, transformation, alchemy’ and circumscribe simply, for me, the non-static miracle of life/force in time, this hybrid of the visible and invisible. Even writing these words down is difficult as if I needed to make sure not to loose my way in the wrong box and get trapped; and there are mostly wrong boxes … What ‘miracle’ could hint at seems imprisoned below thick sediments of righteousness, advertising and sentimentality; the word with its dusty splendour seems to narrow in most of the sensations/affects/knowing that come with ‘to wonder at’, ‘to be astonished’; that kind of questioning that – while perceiving, sensing – separates me from what has already started to question and break my framework. – And who thinks to the etymological connection to ‘smiling’ when thinking to ‘miracle’, that it is not too serious? Perhaps, at least for me, the fragmentation of fullness can leave/create space for such shifts of time, of invisible forces to be sensed in the visible painting.
Francois Jullien, the French sinologist, recalls in his The Great Image has no Form or On the Non-Object in Art (The University of Chicago Press, 2009) how he experienced walking through Saint Peter’s in Rome (I felt very similar about this during my residency at the BSR):
As the antidote Jullien proposes:
Jullien refers here to Chinese (classic) art where this perception and practice of hollowing out is part of an outlook on life and creates the space for an other fullness, a passage of time and communication of becoming (thus exactly not transparent like communication when it achieves advertising sealed-off commodities).
Yes, all this reminds me of and supports my goals (although in my case with a much greater emphasis on affect/saturation), puts my doubts that regard transparency into perspective. However, neither here I won’t subscribe, I prefer the unknown unfolding, even if it seems frustrating and quite lonely at times.
Could it be that the tentativeness towards a ‘hermetic’ quality and practice (at the end of the day it’s a very old-fashioned practice) reflects a doubtful yet respectful glance to current demands in the art world, which prescribe transparency and designed communication as passwords to the art market? Yes – however, more importantly, it emphasises a strange necessity to justify a ‘presence’ (even if quickly ticked off) among thousands of competing/complementing images that populate the net and the streams of the ‘new’ and forces me to question (perhaps more than to answer) again the field around this fissure between visibility and invisibility, which persistently escapes transparency.