In praise of emptiness

Unlike writing, painting makes a distinction between pattern and meaning. The physical content (i.e., the pattern one plots on the canvas) is distinct from the mental content (what the artwork tells us). For the painter, only a dissociation (or even a divorce) between these two content types (physical content and mental content) allows one to put the former at the service of the latter.

Taking possession of space to express oneself may well be natural, but creating an artwork can hardly be reduced to the action of filling. Attempting to fill the entire space amounts to regarding it as a uniform commodity that one is required to consume, rather than as a place dedicated to nurturing our art, one itself also made up of deficiencies.

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Abstract narrative

Art does not reproduce visible, it creates visible. – Paul Klee

April 2016, in a gallery, Marais, Paris. The night of the opening of my exhibition, a friend comes to see and starts to comment one of the artworks. “This one is not bad, he says, but I cannot like it, because I have not found what it represents yet. According to you, is it a submerged galaxy or a jellyfish fighting a dragon ?” I am amused and smile politely. Since the paintings are abstract, why seek in them such surprising scenes ? It is a very well-known cognitive reflex to seek for figurative details in an abstract painting. For my friend, the figuration of abstraction is even necessary to understand and appreciate the exhibition.

Figuration necessarily makes sense, since it figures. Shapes and forms are looked at through the prism of what they mean, offering a defined frame of comprehension and interpretation. Abstract art, frameless, is threatened by nonsense, not saying more than the pre-existing void on its canvas. Confronted with that risk, abstract artist wonders how to reach, through abstraction, an equally intense narrative – though essentially different – to what figuration embodies through its representation. To create an abstract narrative seems as difficult as it is essential, to give abstraction its eloquence and its work of art status. Three parts of the answer are here reflected on.

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Dissolution of the body

In shivaist philosophy, a dance is the original cause of the creation of the world. Shiva, seized by a sudden frenzy of life, is believed to have started dancing, thus giving birth to the Universe, continents, rivers, mountains and humankind. This “laysa” or “cosmic and divine dance“, represented by the famous Nataraja statues, generates the perpetual destruction and rebirth of the world (1).

This legend, by bestowing on the act of dancing and, specifically, bodily gestures, the ability to create things, leads to a poetry-filled cloud of questions around the body’s involvement in artistic creation. The human body is just as much at the root of creation as the spirit.

Whether flesh or spirit, fertility is one.” (2)

Whatever its nature, a work of art is experienced and created by means of the artist’s body, but to what extent? The artist’s body relates to his work in a range of different ways, at once involving, disseminating, dissolving it in what he creates. Differing ways of positioning and perceiving his body in the real world.


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