Notes on Style & Environment 2: Evocative Images

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In keeping with the theme of Notes on Style & Environment 1: Critique of Concrete Painting, in light of Rosenberg’s insight on style as a choice of method and as a mark of judgment upon the artist’s environment, I would like to move from a critique of the reductivist method of painting towards a more evocative, expressionist condition.

One of the central factors of modern art has been a fundamental change in the relationship of the human to the world. Modern Painting went through several phases and avenues: the mythical imago; the personalization of objects; the concrete austerity; unified stylistic patterns; poetical dimensions connecting universal allegory; the terrifying euphoria of the object world; the activation of the unconscious of reality and the dislocation of things; etc. At bottom it has been a mission to express the radical change by creating a new image of the world. To give pictorial references to the changing relationship: this is what all the various ‘ismsof modern painting undertook in one way or another. The different stylistic choices in modern painting embody multiple ideological grounds, personalizing and accentuating the object along the way, but one central feature can be observed throughout: painting as an evocative thing. The evocative ground of the surface on which the emblems or marks of the painter’s experience of the world are rendered is a continuing thread running throughout the varying approaches.

The expressionist vein of painting has been a stylistic choice, unlike evocation that runs throughout: expression is a method traced to painting as a medium of personalization. (It has been countered by the likes of concrete approaches that devalued ‘particulars’, ’emotionalism’ and ‘individualism’ in painting.) A central feature of expression has been the method of allowing images to rise from the pool of the unconscious, as a imago on the edge of active consciousness, evoking appearances on the picture surface by the play of fantastical meditations. The most famous example is probably Surrealism, which arose out of modern psychology. It is an image of an inner, perhaps disquieting experience of the world.

With the evocative expressionist sentiment of painting the object itself becomes a site where images are found, assuming visual form only out of the meditative approach of the artist whose experience is linked to what arises on its surface.

Expressing an emotional experience of the world necessitates that it no longer becomes possible to illustrate experiences of reality by means of ‘objective’ images, even though images could still be transcribed metaphorically in pictorial script. Further, this tendency also offers the possibility of dispensing with representation entirely by taking up abstract-expressionist methods of mark making.

In expressive painting’s experience of reality the main feature on show is the artist’s psyche. It is subject whose shocked sensibility responds to the world of objects, sometimes rendering them into the plane of myth or endowing them with magical power, sometimes rendering them in a distressing remoteness, and sometimes inscribing onto the world of objects a kind of triumph of the subject’s will-to-power. In short, expression offers the possibility of expressing in pictorial terms what is occurring within the personality. It is a means of rendering visible the suggestions and associations of the subjective inner experience.

A few points can be drawn out so far:

[1] Evocation is about a speculative creative work where what appears as a painting is not only the images, signs or marks ‘evoked’ on its surface, but equally the emergence of psychic movement of the painter. This reality is found during the creation of the work and not ‘outside’ or before it.

[2] Expression in modern painting is a particular kind of evocative painting that insists on the value of the individual, isolated mind. This kind of work could take on lyrical and hermetic experiences where the creative artist sought to integrate their personality and individual sense of existence with the object of art.

[3] The evocative image has often been associated with expressionism, coming out in the melancholy poetry of the object or lyrical metaphors of lament, or alienation between humans and nature. However, one would be diminishing expression if one considered it purely from the standpoint of expressing a subject in the face of an object world.

On this last point I would like to continue by connecting the evocative painting to a mode of expression that does not have roots in psychic or hallucinated automatism, but rather in the distinguishing marks of nature itself. Put differently, I am concerned with the formation of painting via what the object can do for itself without the territory being completely filled up with the human imagination’s inventions. Evocative images may not only be expressions by the painter: the things of the world of nature also have their myriad of expressions that are just as adequate as painting.

It  is not that the subject ought to be disregarded. What it describes in pictorial script of the visible world is a rich and textured landscape. It is only that modern painting seems to have considered the subject to be the only expressive mediation worthy of painting: it seems to have failed to notice that there is an entire field ‘out there’ that is just as striking and that does not have to derive from the encountering imagination. Painting is not just as medium of personalization because the field is just as evocative. To be sure, glimpses of this ground can be traced in various modern paintings – it is present there in the veracious marks and instant impacts of the material upon the surface. Decalcomania is one such method. Action Painting can be another. The subject’s expressions is embedded in a larger ground of geologic intensities.

My first text was a critique of concrete painting’s reductivism on the basis not only of its failure to take into account that the Idea does not hover-over the world but is embedded in it; also it is on the basis that it failed to consider the intimate connection of style and environment that renders the ‘autonomy’ of abstraction impossible, insinuating that the ecological-reality of the image trumps the counter-reality of the image.

The present text on the evocative image is an attempt to parcel out expressionism from a purely subjective approach, hinting at that wider landscape of nature and its own ability to express in a manner worthy of painting. The intimate connection between style and environment renders this palpable by way of a re-inscribing into a new (but old) territory of what is action and what is process in painting. In this way the painter allows the materials themselves to speak, having come across the revelation that they knew this all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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