Notes On Style & Environment 3: Expressions of the Field


In the second text I briefly explored evocative images. I placed it in connection to expressionism. The approach for this mode of expressionism has been for the subjectivity of the artist.  But a glaring ommission exists in narrowing expression only to the subject of the painter. In the second text I tried to draw out that ‘expression’ is not isolated to the subject of the artist and instead extends into a larger field. The point of the second text is to therefore illustrate that ‘evocative’ painting extends beyond the expressionism of the painter as the processes of nature itself have a myriad of evocative expressions. In addition, this overturns the narrow-minded vision of Concrete style that presupposed “nature” in art to stem from ‘imitation of nature,’ since what is of moment in the evocative image is not representation at all but an emergent quality of nature.

In the third text I want to explore this latter claim – that processes of nature itself can be evocative and can ‘express’ themselves, and further that these expressions render immediate to sensation the existence of an emergent beauty. In this light I am reminded of Paul Eluard’s Invention,

“All transformations are possible…
The description of the landscape is of little importance.”

The emergent quality of the work of art does not describe. It is not a representation. Instead, it is a presentation of the creative element that emanates from both the subject and the object. Pollock’s notion of “contact” may be of some use, where the reciprocal flow of energy between the painter and the surface insures ‘rightness’ in the painting, bur also his willingness to swim in the ‘oceanic.’ At this level the descriptive function of painting is of no consequence: it does not describe a world that already exists, as if re-presenting a scene, and instead it becomes a world that is linked up to wider processes. The (non)space of painting resounds with emergent quality: the plane is a creative element that is animated with varying intensities as one places the imagination under the guidance of the materials of painting. In the field, all transformations are possible. This is a far cry from the austere and totalitarian ambitions of Neo-Plastic vision.

What exactly is at work in this kind of evocative expression? Put differently, what is it that sets the image-forming activity into motion? It is not sufficient to describe it as merely the strokes of the unconscious, least of all a conscious staging of formalized composition, because it is a dynamic field where materials actively mark-out their own expression. The painting is an active field that stimulates the imagination to invent, but exists entirely within its own reverberations – moreover, these supersede any notion of a compositional structure. The field (of action) as dynamic plane is not a structure of a traditional plot, but is instead an expanding phenomena: it does not move towards resolution and instead remains open. Marks or impacts in painting vibrate and settle into wherever they may have emerged. It is a type of automatism. In this regard, the discipline in painting amounts to nothing more than finding an equilibrium to the spontaneous position of forms. Moreover, this sense of placement is intuitively grasped and does not inscribe itself towards a totally rationalist order, as if Idea lurked there a priori to what unfolds on the plane. Instead, Idea consists of a movement within the making of the work, existing nowhere elsewhere ‘outside’ of what is occurring, and is instead bound up with the continuous dynamism of the field.


 “By “field” I don’t mean merely what appears in our field of vision, though visual context is certainly relevant, but a far more basic and far more complex ecological field.” [Radical Empiricism: Speculative Field Notes ]

The “field” is an evocative plane. It is not that expression is on the side of an expressionist subject: instead it is a motion encompassing both the artist and the thing. The solution for the painter is to take what is available to them, including the wonder. It accounts for the face that panting is not an intellectual reduction: it does not surface from the Idea appropriating and assimilating nature to its program. The wonderment of painting consists of being open to the field, itself remaining open as an expanding phenomena.

Now that I have marked out the importance of the field in painting, I’d like to explore the space in between the subject and the object. I think it is the space between that could be described as the ‘creative’ zone. Creativity is not something coming from the subject towards the object, as if the artist-object relation is a one-way street. (As I mentioned in the first text, this one-way street is the orientation of Concrete Painting and the approach of modern art inheriting this style).  I critique this approach by inserting the evocative function of the work of art and specifically the expression mode, because in expression the distinctions or clear-cut categories of relation are rendered undecidable. With the evocative expression it is not a matter of a one-way street expression where the subjectivity of the painter is expressing their emotional content. No doubt that expressionism is an invention of the moderns but the moderns boxed it in, failing to see that not only is the subject an expressive motion but equally, and crucial to the creativity of the space in between, the object is an expressive agent.

The painter is not the only active agent in the making of a painting. The object is an active agency. What is painting is the existence of both simultaneously.

By saying this I don’t mean that the subject is superfluous. One could use the cliché “tap into creativity” because what one taps into in the creative process is the interface: the action that occurs during the process of painting is tapped into and this action is a motion occurring in both domains. When one is active in the event there is no distinguishing categories as a subject over there ‘expressing’ and an object over there, as if ‘passive.’ Instead, there is only the action of expression. The field is expressive motion. It is a phase-space in between the person who sees and the thing that sees you back.

I would like to extend Rosenberg’s coinage of Action Painting onto this motion. I think that this phrase does justice to the territory, provided one move it out of the original modernism that may have been its association.While art does not live past its day, it can be resurrected to serve other interests – this also goes for criticism. Action Painting is a fitting term for approaching the “field” in a way that gives maximum expressive potentiality to the ecology of things, because what is at stake with Action Painting is at bottom the veracity of the material as it undergoes instant impacts, distillation, absorption, drips, gravitational marks, flows and fleeting traces – all sorts of events occurring in the material of art that is directly linked to the emergent qualities of nature.

The mistake of the moderns was to consider this Action Painting as about a subject undertook with passive materials: that the subject is acting upon the surface and managing it. The materials are not passive: the matter of action is alive and pulsating.

It is not static. It changes constantly. It is a process that is unfolding, immanent in its disclosure. It is a kind of radiance or shining-through of beauty out of the interface.The reality has no formal goal. The artist works for the sake of working-out expressions that may be arising in the field, as emergent qualities. These may produce a rubble of sensations, perceptions, feelings.  The reality appears but consistently slips away, encircling the conscious stage of the painter into the ubiquity of nature. The painter attests to the following: what appears is beautiful and what is beautiful has value. It is consistently unstable. It exists in the impossibilities of the body.

This consistently unstable motion is a bit like the relation of subject and object: both the narrative of our imaginations and the context are always in flux. There is no such thing as statics, only duration occurring in the perspectival. And even then, the gaze of the artist is never at rest: apparitions appear but are always changing, like the light upon a form in Impressionist vision. Most of all, this is all gathered together in movement of a wider aspect of what is environment, informing style: that the agency of nature is a constantly dynamic scene is what is at stake in the term ‘Action’ in Action Painting.





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