When I focus my thinking, sometimes I slip out of normal time into a world with no clocks, as if in a time warp. In that frozen time, I begin a game of catch with the inspiration that comes from somewhere.
The sky throws me the ball; I throw it back to the sky.
The sky throws me the ball; I throw it back within myself.
The ball comes from within myself; I throw it back into myself.
The ball comes from within myself; I throw it back to the universe.
In any case, this game of catch isn’t with another person, but a conversation I have with myself, or a discussion with the universe. I gaze into the mirror, and become more conscious of myself and the world that spreads out infinitely around me.
Living in a countryside so rural that foxes wander about, I feel that eternity when it’s utterly dark outside, sometimes with the moon shining and the stars twinkling. Before I know it, the rock music blasting out of my stereo gets sucked away somewhere, and I hear only the voices of the animals and the sounds of the rain and wind.
To catch inspiration, I open my arms in my imagination, increasing the antenna’s sensitivity. The overwhelming solitude of those moments turns into pleasure, and lets me become one with the night. I pick up my brush before I lose that sensation, and have a conversation with the me that’s inside the picture.
In this city called New York, I will be presenting paintings, drawings, and sculptures born in these moments, along with ceramics I was so excited to create that it felt like a hobby. I hope that my inspiration reaches the audience.
Some seventeen years ago I was still painting the torso as an image of the human presence, when I stumbled into what I call a blind year – a year in which I had no luck, in which no image emerged. At the end of that year I destroyed forty-three bad paintings. As you can imagine, I was by then in a bad way myself, when my wife Anne Madden – herself a painter – brought me to Paris as to a place of discovery. And there indeed I did discover at the Musée de l’Homme, the Polynesian image of the human head, which like the Celtic image which I discovered the following year, represented for me – as perhaps for these two widely different cultures – the mysterious box which contains the spirit: the outer reality of the invisible interior world of consciousness.
In Dublin, now some sixty years ago, the great physicist, Erwin Schroedinger, astonished me with the thought:
Consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown and what appears to be the plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing.
Much later in Provence, faced with the Celto-Ligurian head cult of Entremont and Roquepertuse, I asked myself if it were not perhaps this “singular” which so preoccupied our barbarian ancestors in their oracular use of the severed head.
Such a concept of an autonomous, disseminated consciousness surpassing individual personality would, I imagine, tend to produce an ambiguity involving a dislocation of our individual conception of time (within which coming and going, beginning and end, are normally regarded) and confronting this “normal” view with an alternative, contrary sense of simultaneity or timelessness; switching the linear conception of time to which we are accustomed to a circular concept returning upon itself, as in Finnegans Wake.
Likewise, if indeed the aesthetic image in a painting by Rembrandt is illuminated by Joyce’s radiance or whatness, and if that revelation of whatness is achieved by an ambivalence in the role of the paint (involving a transmogrification of the paint itself into the image and vice versa), then these circumstances also may be said to produce that timeless or paratemporal quality, which we instinctively recognize in such a painting.
It would therefore seem that the realization of the aesthetic image or whatness of things, outside and to one side of the linear progress of time, is an essential characteristic of the art of painting and, I imagine, of art generally.
In the modern world, however, we appear to resist such significant integrating imagery, which was more evident perhaps in past cultures, wherein people seem to have regarded the passage of time rather more ambivalently, as being at once related to their personal predicament and to a larger cosmology.
It would appear that this ambivalent attitude to time was especially linked to the prehistoric Celtic or Gallic world, and there is further evidence that it persists to some extent in the Celtic mind today. It is consistent, I think, with Yeat’s tragic view of life – an essentially cosmologic and aristocratic attitude in opposition to the narrow expediency of the “greasy till”:
We Irish, born into the ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.
In my own small world of painting I myself have learned from the canvas that emergence and disappearance – twin phenomena of time – are ambivalent, that one implies the other and that the state or matrix within which they co-exist dissolves the normal sense of time, producing a characteristic stillness, characteristic of the art of painting.
After a number of years I recall Beckett’s Watt, regarding from a gate the distant figure of a man or a woman (or could it be a priest or a nun?) which appeared to be advancing by slow degrees from the horizon, only surprisingly “without any interruption of its motions” to disappear over it instead. Here going is confounded – if not identified – with coming, backwards with forwards. The film returns the diver to the divingboard. The procession of present moments is reversed, stilled.
Elsewhere in Finnegans Wake does not the fallen Finegan become “Finn Macool lying beside the Liffey, his head at Howth, his feet at Phoenix Park, his wife beside him, watching the microcosmic ‘fluid succession of presents’ go by like a river of life”?
And is not Yeats’s circular lunar system of re-incarnation – the winding stair of Thoor Ballylee, climbed and descended repeatedly – itself a cosmic arrangement of this fluid succession of presents, of time-consciousness in this profoundly Celtic sense? Is this indeed the underlying ambivalence which we in Ireland tend to stress; the continual presence of the historic past, the indivisibility of birth and funeral, spanning the apparent chasm between past and present, between consciousness and fact?
image: Image of Samuel Beckett, Stirrings Still, 1994, oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm
In art, progress does not consist in extension, but in the knowledge of limits.
Limitation of means determines style, engenders new form, and gives impulse to creation.
Limited means often constitute the charm and force of primitive painting. Extension, on the contray, leads the arts to decadence.
New means, new subjects.
The subject is not the object, it is a new unity, a lyricism which grows completely from the means.
The painter thinks in terms of form and color.
The goal is not to be concerned with reconstituting an anecdotal fact, but with constituting a pictorial fact.
Painting is a method of representation.
One must not imitate what one wants to create.
One does not imitate appearances; the appearance is the result.
To be pure imitation, painting must forget appearance.
To work from nature is to improvise.
One must beware of an all-purpose formula that will serve to interpret the other arts as well as reality, and that instead of creating will only produce a style, or rather a stylization…
The senses deform, the mind forms. Work to perfect the mind.
There is no certitude but in what the mind conceives.
The painter who wished to make a circle would only draw a curve. Its appearance might satisfy him, but he would doubt it. The compass would give him certitude. The pasted [papiers collés] in my drawings also gave me a certitude.
Trompe l’oeil, is due to an anecdotal chance which succeeds because of the simplicity of the facts.
The pasted papers, the faux bois— and other elements of a similar kind— which I used in some of my drawings, also succeed through the simplicity of the facts; this has caused them to be confused with trompe l’oeil, of which they are the exact opposite. They are also simple facts, but are created by the mind, and are one of the justifications for a new form in space.
Nobility grows out of contained emotion.
Emotion should not be rendered by an excited trembling; it can neither be added on nor be imitated. It is the seed, the work is the blossom.
I like the rule that corrects the emotion.
from “Pensées et réflexions sur la peinture,” Nord-Sud 10 (December 1917).
Reprinted in Artists on Art, Pantheon, NY, 1958, pp. 422-423
My purpose is to achieve the totally abstract. I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation without the benefit of a guiding principle.
Due to the fact that I have painted monochromes for fifteen years,
Due to the fact that I have created pictorial immaterial states,
Due to the fact that I have manipulated the forces of the void,
Due to the fact that I have sculpted with fire and with water and have painted with fire and with water,
Due to the fact that I have painted with living brushes — in other words, the nude body of live models covered with paint: these living brushes were under the constant direction of my commands, such as “a little to the right; over to the left now; to the right again, etc.” By maintaining myself at a specific and obligatory distance from the surface to be painted, I am able to resolve the problem of detachment.
Due to the fact that I have invented the architecture and the urbanism of air — of course, this new conception transcends the traditional meaning of the terms “architecture and urbanism” — my goal from the beginning was to reunite with the legend of Paradise Lost. This project was directed toward the habitable surface of the Earth by the climatization of the great geographical expanses through an absolute control over the thermal and atmospheric situation in their relation to our morphological and psychical conditions.
Due to the fact that I have proposed a new conception of music with my “monotone-silence-symphony,”
Due to the fact that I have presented a theater of the void, among countless other adventures…
I would never have believed, fifteen years ago at the time of my earliest efforts, that I would suddenly feel the need to explain myself — to satisfy the desire to know the reason of all that has occurred and the even still more dangerous effect, in other words — the influence my art has had on the young generation of artists throughout the world today.
It dismays me to hear that a certain number of them think that I represent a danger to the future of art — that I am one of those disastrous and noxious results of our time that must be crushed and destroyed before the propagation of my evil completely takes over.
I regret to reveal that this was not my intention; and to happily proclaim to those who evince faith in the multiplicity of new possibilities in the path that I prescribe — Take care! Nothing has crystallized as yet; nor can I say what will happen after this. I can only say that today I am no longer as afraid as I was yesterday in the face of the souvenir of the future.
An artist always feels uneasy when called upon to speak of this own work. It should speak for itself, particularly when it is valid.
What can I do? Stop now?
No, what I call “the indefinable pictorial sensibility” absolutely escapes this very personal solution.
Well that is what I do – I draw. Drawing is a process of making equivalents – of engaging in the world physically and emotionally – of casting your mind out and grasping what you see. To me it’s as natural as walking or talking – I have been doing it since I was 11 – every day – I cannot explain any one drawing as it depends on the one before. I suppose this is the way I see the world – it’s the closest I can get to reality. (read)
It is a give-and-take between an idea, what one might call “text”, and what is recorded using the medium as “subtext”. I have to ask myself what I expect from painting: should it be subservient to my ideas or a queen that I have to serve? The text, which I regard as a private matter, must be able to stand being dragged diagonally across the canvas. If it loses something along the way, so much the better, since it then gains something that it may have urgently needed: sensuality and a truth that is rooted in non-verbal space.
Since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture … it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model. Whether it will convince or not, depends entirely on what it is in itself, what is there to be seen. The model should only serve the very private function for the painter of providing the starting point for his excitement. The picture is all he feels about it, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with. If all the qualities which a painter took from the model for his picture were really taken, no person could be painted twice.
That pigment on canvas has a way of initiating conventional reactions for most people needs no reminder. Behind these reactions is a body of history matured into dogma, authority, tradition. The totalitarian hegemony of this tradtion I despise, its presumptions I reject. Its security is an illusion, banal, and without courage. Its substance is but dust and filing cabinets. The homage paid to it is a celebration of death. We all bear the burden of this tradition on our backs but I cannot hold it a privilege to be a pallbearer of my spirit in its name.
From the most ancient times the artist has been expected to perpetuate the values of his contemporaries. The record is mainly one of frustration, sadism, superstition, and the will to power. What greatness of life crept into the story came from sources not yet fully understood, and the temples of art which burden the landscape of nearly every city are a tribute to the attempt to seize this elusive quality and stamp it out.
The anxious men find comfort in the confusion of those artists who would walk beside them. The values involved, however, permit no peace, and mutual resentment is deep when it is discovered that salvation cannot be bought.
We are now committed to an unqualified act, not illustrating outworn myths or contemporary alibis. One must accept total responsibility for what he executes. And the measure of his greatness will be in the depth of his insight and his courage in realizing his own vision.
Demands for communication are both presumptuous and irrelevant. The observer usually will see what his fears and hopes and learning teach him to see. But if he can escape these demands that hold up a mirror to himself, then perhaps some of the implications of the work may be felt. But whatever is seen or felt it should be remembered that for me these paintings had to be something else. It is the price one has to pay for clarity when one’s means are honoured only as an instrument of seduction or assault.
(15 Americans, New York, 1952, pp. 21-2)
Dans ma peinture il n’y a ni sol, ni lointain, ni ciel : il y a des couleurs dont les rapports entre eux créent l’espace, et c’est tout.
(In my paintings there is neither ground, nor distance, nor sky: there are colours, and the relations between them create space, and that’s it.)
I don’t try to drain all expression out, I just want a very neutral expression. If you have an extreme expression—either laughing or crying or whatever—then that’s the only content that you will get out of it. Whereas if it’s presented neutrally and flat-footedly, you can read whatever evidence is embedded in their visage, like laugh-lines and furrows or whatever, in the same way that you can make assumptions about people when you meet them at a cocktail party. I am a humanist and I hope that a bit of humanity is in there somewhere; I just don’t like to editorialize it.
I have never made trials or experiments. Whenever I had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which it needed to be said…I can hardly understand the importance given to the word “research” in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.
“I can think of nothing which, uncurbed, uncontrolled, untamed, can lead to more ruin than thought and I can think of nothing which, curbed, controlled, tamed can bring more rewards than thought. ” Anguttara-nikkâya 1,4 (words attributed to the “awakened one”).
Claude Margat lives in Rochefort-sur-mer in Charente-Maritime, between the ocean, the woods and the marshes. He is one who roams space. He first published a few books under the friendly protection of poet Bernard Noël (who became his friend) and then, as early as 1990 started to produce exorcistic caricatures which were supposed to cure his malaise and his notorious inability to adapt to social life. With the help of a few anarchist friends, his works were first exhibited in the Librairie du Monde Libertaire, rue Amelot, in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. Along with more novels and poems he went into a thorough study of Dao and Chan with sinologist François Cheng. He was sent to China by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and he met there two great calligraphers Qin Zhu Yi and Li Shou Ping, in Yangshuo (autonomous province of Guangxi), a landmark in his life. Read the rest of this entry »
Marcel Dzama (born 1974 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) is a Canadian artist living in New York City known for small-scale ink and watercolor drawings of human figures, animals, and imaginary hybrids. Dzama has a BFA from the University of Manitoba. Dzama typically uses a muted, melancholic color palette of browns and greens, drawing from nature and army textiles. He often employs root beer base as an artistic medium. In addition to ink and watercolor drawings, Dzama also creates many collages. A recent departure for Dzama is the move into large-scale polyptychs, sculpture, and video. Dzama is known for providing the cover art to a number of major albums, notably The Else by They Might Be Giants, Guero by Beck and Reconstruction Site by The Weakerthans. His costume designs can also be seen in the music video for the Bob Dylan song “When the Deal Goes Down.” Since 1998, Dzama has been represented by the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City, at which he has had numerous solo exhibitions. In 2006 he had a major exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, which traveled to the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow, Scotland. Dzama co-founded the Royal Art Lodge artist collective in Winnipeg in 1996. McSweeney’s has published two collections of his work, The Berlin Years in 2003 (reprinted in 2006) and a follow-up, The Berliner Ensemble Thanks You All, in 2008. His works are held in the collection of the Tate museum.
Art work has only a tintering of what it attempts to represent to the artist and to repsonsive observers. It is not beneficial, nothing is gained from it, and it does not tell the truth. It is enjoyed or not according to the condition of the observer. A very small gesture of exultation.
Writings, pg. 16
The first thing I wanted to do was to state the truth, and the point about the truth is, the truth is not a painting. The truth is something that hasn’t been captured by painting yet. As soon as you do something that looks like a painting there are all sorts of ways of making it work that precisely because it’s already been done, are presented to you. But you’ve got to venture into unknown territory where you’re trying to state the thing, without having these hand-holds and grips and assistance of previous practise and so when the paintings became these strange lumps of thick paint, I was very interested and I pursued that line. (read BBC interview)
Agnes Martin was born in Macklin, a town in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1912. She grew up in Vancouver, then moved to Bellingham, Washington, in 1932. Martin gained a bachelor of science degree in 1942 and a master of arts degree in 1952 from Teachers College at Columbia University, while living intermittently in New Mexico. In 1957 she relocated to Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan. She had her first one-person exhibition in 1958 at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. Surveys of her work have been presented at venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (1973), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1991), and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1992). She was awarded a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial in 1997 and a National Endowment for the Arts National Medal of Arts in 1998, among other honors. From the late sixties until her death on December 16, 2004, Martin lived and worked in rural New Mexico.