Beyond Evocation

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The modern art object emerged out of the condition of viewing the painted object as a thing produced by the human mind, as painting through which the human mind could contemplate itself. Stylistic forms of the modern attitude towards things would vary, of course, and there were several differences and rifts between the methods and constructions of modern painting, however, a general tendency can be outlined as follows: in regards to painting, the problem was no longer to re-produced a reality perceived visually, but to project a complex inner experience of reality for which the inner relation of the artist to the natural world was of greater importance than observation and re-production of visible nature. Hence there arose within the personality of the artist specific spiritual or intellectual relationships, specific attitudes to the world, or to what can be seen of it and what can be experienced of it, and conceptions of the world where the contention rests in having painting perform to the challenge of defining a ‘ground’ of reality in visual terms. Accordingly, the painting became a field of projection. Since nothing could be reproduced as directly visible, but something of the ‘ground’ of the reality was to be visually rendered, all the old pictorial categories that had advanced since the Renaissance were displaced as the reproduction of a visible world had to be altered so that the function of reproduction was relieved and in its place was substituted the function of evocation. This basic approach to the object resulted in the transformation of painting into an ‘autonomous picture,’ that is, a picture largely independent of visible nature.

Hence, modernist painters undertook several different trajectories via the approach of the object as an evocative thing, from rational examination and harmonization of painting to sounding the irrational depths and expressions of romantic emotion, to the elucidation of ‘deeper’ unconscious realities, all of which combined to give painting multiple tendencies and stylistic expressions. At bottom, however, all of modernist painting shared a similar root irrespective of geometric or surrealistic deviations and it lay in the notion of painting as a new psychology of things where the old familiar attitude towards objects was displaced in favor of an endeavor to establish a pictorial expression of reality stemming from the artist’s active consciousness (or unconscious).

To go further into this approach, which may be summed up in basic terms as formerly arising out of modern psychology, it can be said that the way the painter approaches the painted object says volumes about the way the painter views nature, or the object. In the case of modernist ideologies, it unfolds as a tendency of equating experiences of nature with inner pictorial conceptions. In order to arrive at this hypotheses, which serves as bedrock to painting as an evocative sign, there is something of the Cartesian, painting Promeathean who as an active subject arranges elements of the passive object. Simply put, the object becomes a kind of tablet or surface or “flatbed picture plane” (Steinberg) in which to inscribe the artist’s intentionality. At its most austere or reductive, analyzing pictorial laws by ‘pure means’ to reduce all their possible combinations to elementary basis, the relation to the object reflective of the relation to nature is made manifest in concrete fact: the specific shapes of natural objects become an impediment to the generalized harmony which the artist’s mind is seeking to establish in correspondence to nature, demonstrating that at its most reductive the general tendency of the modernist painting is of an art as counter-reality which stands in opposition to nature. The theories and experiments related to concrete painting are radiated by estrangement from the object, which in its broader and more complex manifestation connects the artist’s intention to transform the natural image into formal relationships and rhythms on the surface with the view of matter as an inert and passive stuff to be prodded around at whim. The backdrop to this approach to painting is therefore the presumption that the material of painting is an inert stuff brought to life by the artist’s mind, just as nature is a raw material. At bottom appearing as a priori set apart from nature, it presupposes that nature is ontologically separate from the human.

Modernist painting is implicitly anti-nature and its affiliation with idealistic schemes of an absolute forgets the site of Earth. Further, it probably has much to do with a basic attitude that material is a passive, ‘dead matter’ only then brought into an image by the artist, just as the Earth is a slate only ever enlivened by human thought. However, the tendency of painting does not stray away from the Earth, but instead acts as the Earth acts.

N Masciandaro wrote in “Becoming Space”

“The geophilosopher is one who philosophically experiences rather than flees the earth, who passes through by remaining with it. Geophilosophical experience entails facing, more and more deeply, the fact of earth as the place of philosophy, and more profoundly, experiencing earth as facticity itself, the site of thought’s passage to the absolute.”

From this perspective, the Earth is the site of painting just as for the geophilosopher the Earth is the site of thought. The mistake of modernist painting was that it thought it could achieve privy into the absolute by “breaking free of the Earth” [Malevich]. This not only denies that the stuff of painting itself is earth, but more fundamentally it denies the truth of the surface as a sedimentary and erosional plane. The geologic in painting transforms painting once again, this time out of abstractionist ideology which would purport that the function of painting is evocation, stemming from the content of the artist’s psyche, and instead presents to us a realist ontology of excited matter.

In my painting and sculpture I have tried to subject the field of vision to a mineralizing process that is beyond the control of the artist’s hand and psyche. In doing so my aim is to immerse myself in the formative tendencies of earth processes. I have placed paintings on the shoreline and allowed the changing space to create its image. I have created miniature landslides and left work out in the elements. I have crawled into caves to do sketches and studies. Currently I am burying sculptures and using the concept of the time-capsule to create sculpture that is for a ‘future without me.’ Along these lines one could arrive at the notion of art as a form of geophilosophy.

And it is my contention that this notion would overturn the modernist approach to the painted object: leaving behind the method that would presume the object to be container for the artist’s conscious or unconscious mind, which also at bottom rests on the assumption that the materials undergoing transformation are insubstantial stuff until worked out through painter’s pictorial means, the task of geopainting is to create sensations where the truth of matter’s intensity can be witnessed. The difference between the controller of form and the witness of form is a chasm containing the basic presumption of nature (the object) and whether or not this nature is an inert stuff or itself an active agency. The geopainter co-creates painting with the painted object that itself creates.

Further, with the painting as a site of earth processes the painting is no longer a thing of projection and hence there is little room for the valuation of an identity.

If one follows the cord out of representation and into abstraction then one can see how the basic approach to the object also shifts from reproduction to evocation. Moving dialectically, the contention emerges that following this same cord out of abstraction and into the geologic the painted object shifts into a field of geologic tendencies and excitation. Therefore, what is revealed are the earth processes of painting in their ability to form their own beautiful image, outside the bounds of evocation.

 

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