On Painting

For many years I have actively directed my artistic focus away from painting. A matter of principle, I couldn't position this one medium on my artistic palette. Its two-dimensional intentions didn't comply with my axiom that every object has three equivalent dimensions and subsequently six equivalent sides. I saw no way to perceive a painting other than it being a painting. The process of painting itself appeared to me to be directed by sensual impulses rather than by an intelligent dialogue between material and meaning. The semantics of the materials commonly used to make a painting appeared to be limited to painting itself. And I felt that the seductive powers of colour distracted from the form and content of a painting. By way of inquiry into the general acceptance of painting, I made a number of sculptural works that referred to paintings as objects.1 Following up on these works, it appeared only logical to start on some actual painting.

One of the main hurdles to overcome was how to deal with the canvass, the typical base for a painting. The flat rectangular construct of linen and stretcher appeared to be too obvious, too lazy and worn out. My main concern was to paint and not to produce paintings. I felt that by using a canvass, I would direct myself to making paintings. The challenge was to just start painting and see where that would lead to.

The starting point was to work on a surface that was not fully inept, but at least semantically not connected to painting. I looked for something that had as little history with painting as I had myself.  I chose to paint on socks. Having no history, no personal routine in setting up a painting, I saw myself then confronted with the question of what to paint. In my sculptural work, I made a point of letting an object be itself and not a representation of something else. This is, in fact, an important matter, since it's how I value all things, art and non-art. In the sum total of how I register an object I incorporate intrinsic properties such as material, size, colour, smell and age just as much as intention, function, projected meaning and tradition. This sum total is then distorted by personal and emotional factors.To find a suitable subject matter, it seemed logical to me to paint either paint, or paint socks. Or paint a painting. The initial painted works show socks, depictions of paint or other smearable substances and motives that are typical painting subjects: landscapes, still life, portrait, abstractions.

Going through various declinations, a sense of intimacy in the act of painting emerged. Applying the paint to the surface in various modes recalled stroking something, or someone, recalled the act of  applying cream to one's body and thoughtfully -or thoughtlessly- rubbing it in. This highly attractive aspect certainly adds to the sensual qualities of the medium, but is considered suspicious from the point of view of an art practice that focuses on making specific objects. The paint on the surface attests to the painter's physical movements and links the presented painting directly to the person of the painter and the moment in time when this painter was at work. This connection is something that I have always found problematic when looking at a painting. It provides too much information, and erases the specific qualities of the object. It adds a component of sentimentality, perhaps even kitsch to the construct of communication between the artist and the viewer. When I spoke earlier of the general acceptance of painting, I was also referring to this aspect. It is something that can make paintings very attractive, especially since it can operate on a subliminal level. Take the notion of 'conceptual painting', and it seems that this sentimental quality interferes with articulateness. It's body vs. mind.

This dispute, a key characteristic of the human condition, provides in its antagonism a natural basis for art.

The exhibition XENOGLOSSY featured the fruits of my discourse with painting.

1: Works referred to here include Haengung, Fat Soft and Nonmember with Yellow and Black

© Geerten Verheus