Catherine Ferguson

At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but in which, thanks to the critics’ article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and, finally, the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His dizziness increased; he fixed his gaze, like a child upon a yellow butterfly that it wants to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. ”That’s how I ought to have written,” he said. “My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall.”1

The ‘little patch of yellow wall’ which held the gaze of the writer Bergotte as he dies in Proust’s epic novel, is of course, iconic. The repetition of the phrase and the event within the context of the novel gives this detail great significance, which is not, as Miguel de Beistegui argues in his book Proust as Philosopher, because it is intended to symbolise the painting as a whole but rather it has the ‘ability to draw within itself people, places and affects that are essentially heterogeneous’. He goes onto say:

A fragment can be a part that reveals the whole; it can be the microcosm of a macrocosm. But it can also signal a reality of its own, juxtaposed in relation to another, but not leading to a higher unity: a multiplicity of differences, or a set of relations, rather than a gathering of identities, or an organisation of units. 2

I want to explore this idea in the hope that it will illuminate that moment when we stand up close to the picture surface, fascinated by ‘that bit’ that seems to hold the key to why the painting is so unfathomable. The harder we look the more it seems to escape as we remember once again that, of course, the secret can’t be found in the physical stuff of dried paint on surface.

This painting La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi (Albers’ Throat, the Teeth of Gaudi) (2003) is one I have never seen but I have looked at its reproduction many times in my studio, and I have made many paintings based on my fascination with what I imagine it to be. The reproduction, which I come across as I leaf through the pages of a catalogue of his work, is effectively a fragment too; never its literal stuff of printed ink on a page (that feels glossy to touch) but an image always doubled by an imaginative space that includes memories of looking at other paintings by Usle in the flesh and by memories of putting paint on a surface myself.

1 Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: The Captive, (London 1996), p207
2 Miguel de Beistegui, Proust as Philosopher: The Art of Metaphor, ( Abingdon, 2013), p102


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

In the centre, in the upper half of the painting is a motif, a copy of an Albers painting or a least it may be (for I haven’t discovered which one yet). The motif recognisably belongs to Albers’ Homage to the Square series of paintings which he began in 1950 and made during the final twenty six years of his life. Having said that it is upside down; Albers’ squares gravitated towards the bottom edge not the top edge3 and the white border on the outside is unusual in Albers oeuvre; a copy of a reproduction rather than a painting, perhaps?

It’s not ‘a little patch of yellow wall’ but how might this fragment ‘...signal a reality of its own. Juxtaposed in relation to another...’? How might it relate to other fragments in the painting as a patchwork of pieces juxtaposed, stitched together [infinitely whole?]; rather than a whole and continuous piece of fabric or garment? If we go back to the title we might suppose that the other fragment has something to do with the architecture of Gaudi; eccentric shapes that mimic external features of his buildings. How do the fragments come together, not to create some higher unity (Greenberg’s properly instantaneous experience of painting), but as de Beistegui describes as ‘a multiplicity of differences’?

As my interest in this painting has deepened over the last three or four years I wonder why I became interested in it in the first place. What motivated my decision to dwell on this painting which I have never seen? What was the nature of that decision and is there a relation to my decision-making in the studio, of which it actually forms a part?

Something caught my eye but that moment was not exactly chosen. The decision to write in relation to this painting was not made from a selection of alternatives; it wasn’t made because I had something to say. That moment of sustained fascination became an opening and a challenge not to let it pass - to notice it – an interruption as if something from the outside broke the continuum of my purpose-orientated perception. A paradoxical moment, perhaps, when what was undoubtedly new and alien was also a moment of familiarity – a connection to on-going questions in the studio, no doubt, but also a chance encounter with what seemed to have been waiting to happen.

‘This he [Proust] calls the memoire volontaire, and it is its characteristic that the information which it gives about the past retains no trace of it. ‘It is the same

3 The ‘world turned upside down, perhaps?


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

with our own past. In vain we try to conjure it up again; the efforts of our intellect are futile.’ Therefore Proust, summing up, says that the past is ’somewhere beyond the reach of the intellect, and unmistakably present in some material object (or in the sensation which such an object arouses in us), though we have no idea which one it is. As for that object, it depends entirely on chance whether we come upon it before we die or whether we never encounter it.’4

If what grabbed my attention was the irruption of involuntary memory then it was also beyond the ‘reach of the intellect’; present in the material object of the painting or rather in its image on a page in a book, picked up, flicked through, pored over; present ‘in the sensation which such an object arouses in us’. In comparison to a conscious act of remembering, involuntary memory is an unconscious remembrance. In a very significant sense it is, therefore, not the memory of lived experience but suggests the possibility that with every perception or lived experience there is an accompanying unconscious ‘unlived’ experience; a time that doubles that which we are aware of – a ‘fold of the real’ p51). In other words each perception produces a virtual image that was never present but which returns, at certain moments; moments of chance when there is no purpose or goal to achieve. [What are the conditions of possibility for its return? What does it signal? Why is it tied to a material situation How is it an image of an image? P53]

‘By “involuntary memory” Proust understands something like those “unconscious remembrances” which, randomly triggered by some sensation, some spoken word or some encounter, arise from the very depths of our being and from the forgetting to which a wilful intelligence and a wilful memory, both orientated wholly towards practical action, would have condemned them.’5

[or quotation by Proust onp48]
Would it be pure speculation to suppose that Usle’s decision to include a motif that copies an Albers painting was informed by the irruption of involuntary memory? Indeed the opposite may be true; for it could only be speculation to imagine that this was a reasoned choice intended to bring into play ideas which associate themselves with Albers as an exemplary modernist (materialist more than formalist...). And furthermore, such a claim would be to become distracted by narratives about the artist rather than by allowing ourselves, in the words of Damisch, to become educated by it [Bois ‘Painting as Model’]

4 W Benjamin, Illuminations, (London 1992), p155
5 Miguel de Beistegui, Proust as Philosopher, (Abingdon, 2013), p38


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

The importance of involuntary memory is to be able to think beyond the image of the motif (beyond observation and what can be described). Although the motif recognisably refers to Albers oeuvre that is only a semblance. Following in Albers footsteps, Usle experienced, as a physical act, laying specific colours next to one another in a geometric format, he felt the reversal of the gravitational orientation, the reduction in scale; the translation of one picture into a motif or figure embedded into a picture of his own. The specificity of the motif is more intriguing than a general sign for Albers. A personal opinion, of course, but I am trying to grasp the significance of the irruption of involuntary memory as a sign for something more important than appearance suggests, a sensation that is incomprehensible but from which a new kind of thinking can emerge. What emerges is the radically new = a return wht signals a metamorphosis of the real itself...p53

To grasp this slippery idea (and following Bois) the first concept I will import is that of the ‘radically new’. This is a term used by the Deleuze scholar Keith Ansell-Pearson in his book Germinal Life: The Difference and Repetition of Deleuze to draw attention to a distinction between what we usually call the new, which is actually a new arrangement of pre-existing elements, and the ‘radically new’ which begins with incomprehensibility but from which a new kind of thinking emerges. This appropriation is not simply to call incomprehensibility by another name, as if it were a quality that could be identified in the painting. It is instead to establish a philosophical ground for the ‘dynamic’ process of interpretation which Damisch’s question implies; dynamic because the interpretative methodology must be invented as the same time as the artwork. As Ansell-Pearson explains, whereas its converse, the relatively ‘new’, satisfies the intellect because it is able to compare the new with what it recognizes as the old (fashion, for example) and is predicated on the representation of objects of perception as static things - effectively “bracketed out” of the flux in which they operate – ‘the radically new’ refers to an event that happens only in the flux of unpredictability and chance; it is the event of the creativity of cognition not the act of recognition and judgement.

This idea of a new kind of thinking emerging from an initial incomprehensibility is also expressed by Deleuze when he writes in Difference and Repetition:


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter...its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived.

And so I want to explore the idea that by including the complete image of a work that exists in the world outside the painting, as a fragment within a new painting, and by juxtaposing it with another ‘image’/material object? Usle’s painting becomes a site for ‘dispersing’ Albers work rather than reifying it as a completed object of art history.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. For it is not the Albers motif which, in its repetition, is the ‘cause’ of the irruption of involuntary memory; for it can have no cause, it is singular moment that happens by chance. It is but a starting point for an investigation into the structure of Use’s painting. I am not trying to persuade you that you will have to same encounter. This is not a personal narrative but an investigation into the organisation of the painting. it is the relation with that other fragment, with Gaudi, which is what creates the sensation of the painting, What I am trying to say is that the painting creates connections between virtual elements of two different, heterogeneous material objects. For the sake of argument these objects are woven together in the material object that is Usle’s painting

Involuntary memory and the return of the past – how the past as ‘unlived’ experience returns – this is important because it implies that what was not lived now returns because involuntary memory irrupts through sensible material – what returns is immaterial – virtual relations - the importance of the juxtaposition with Gaudi is that a connection is made between objects that do not resemble one another but are different – a relation of difference – but how do I introduce this as metaphor? Where is the metaphor? Perhaps I have to say that Albers operates metonymically and point to the difference with Gaudi as metaphor but then go on to say that there is a bigger operation at stake that includes both – a kind of arche-metaphor. (see notes dated 9th April)


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

Is it the case that what may have begun with an intuition to use the Albers image began a process of reminiscence? A process that is the act of painting, not a landscape, for example, or an expression/repetition of self - the ‘revival of a lived experience’ (Mde B p38) but which explores a dimension of experience which remains to be lived. This is not the memory of representation but the memory of feelings which remain ‘a memory of the body (p40) [But doesn’t this still imply that this is the memory of what was sensed even though it remains an unconscious excitation?) This is the memory that was never conscious and thus could never be retained or recalled – in this sense it is the memory of what has never been present. but it implied a different notion of time from that which passes in a linear way.

In fact we could say that as we live in the present we perceive only that which interests us but that does not mean that the rest is unimportant – we didn’t notice it but passively it becomes our past as it passes away, contracted, always there awaiting action (JW, p28). And so when we speak of an image of Albers painting that means only a little because we see only what Usle has consciously remembered/copied – he has cut out from a plenitude of sensations, ideas etc. an image, but the image doesn’t really belong to him (it may have done when he made a conscious decision to use this image) but if we are writing from the painting’s point of view it now belongs to a new painting, a new present, a material form which nevertheless brings with it the repetition of what is enfolded (which I will elaborate later on). In this sense the present is process, for as soon as I say this, it too has passed and I am unaware of all that accompanied my conscious thought has also passed and remains awaiting. However, it would be wrong to imagine a space which held all those stimulations, as if captured in such a way that we stand outside of time and see that ever increasing volume which never changes and which has a separate existence. It means nothing until connections are made in the moment of the living present i.e. a perspective created in the living present that select a path and which brings order ‘out of a chaos of unrelated particulars’ (p30)


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

It seems to me that the question of “what is the commitment of/to painting as an aesthetic and/or ethical/political practice” cannot be decided through observation – as if we develop a set of ideas and then look for an example to back up the thesis. This would seem antithetical to very notion of commitment itself because it would suggest that the work itself does not think (does not have freedom) but can only represent either the thought of the person who made it or the person who writes about it.

Therefore, I have put analysis at the centre of my response; to work out what might constitute ‘commitment’ in practice, not through narratives about my own practice, nor by representing the work in terms of ideas about commitment that it might illustrate but by allowing myself to be educated by the work itself.

The problem of knowing where to begin and how to proceed with such an analysis is discussed in Bois’ lengthy introduction to his collection of essays Painting as Model, (to which Sunil refers) where Bois cites Roland Barthes who insists that (quote) ‘one does not “apply” a theory; that concepts must be forged from the object of one’s inquiry or imported according to that object’s specific exigency; and that the main theoretical act is to define this object, not the other way around’.

Thus, the essays in Bois’ book take the problematic nature of a specific work (as he say to give the work primacy and specificity) as its point of departure and invent or import theoretical models, in part of whole, form other disciplines (what Bois calls a ‘right-to-store up’ policy) in order to strive for that renewed intimacy with the work which Damisch speaks about when he asks:

Could there be a form of analysis whose aim was not to capture painting in the net of discourse but rather to allow oneself to be educated by it, even at the risk of undermining the linguistic model? ...Is it possible to escape the descriptive illusion in any way other than by denouncing the representationalist hypothesis from which it proceeds, while retaining the rights to an analysis that’s not about painting but rather proceeds with analysis aimed less at helping us to understand that at helping us to see, and which would strive for a renewed intimacy with the work that is painting’s own province?


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

Hubert Damisch The Origin of Perspective, p263

This ‘renewed intimacy’ belongs properly to painting, not as if painting has a universal essence, but in the sense that each specific painting is the actualisation of thought; not the thought of the person who painted it but of thought which belongs to painting itself. Perhaps, my argument is that commitment is the expression of such a thought; a thought that can never belong to anyone but the painting.

This ‘being of the sensible’ cannot be recognised, not because it is unfamiliar, but because it is imperceptible from the point of view of common sense. Rather than being limited to making a contribution along with the other faculties, to form a common sense, sensibility becomes free to ‘find itself before its own limit’. Such a disjunctive synthesis already implies a folding of inside and outside because what ‘can only be sensed’ is neither an object situated in time and space outside the subject (an object of recognition) nor does it have the identity of a subjective mental object as it refers, not to a general idea, but to an encounter which, in its specificity, requires a body. The object of a fundamental encounter depends upon an understanding of the genesis of perception as processual, beginning with the body (bottom up, as it were!) rather than the reverse which begins with abstract mental concepts applied to what the body senses.

Of course the question remains how that ‘new kind of thinking’ emerges from an encounter with the specific artwork if it begins with an incomprehensibility (which suggests a radical discontinuity) and yet at the same time strives for a renewed intimacy with the work. In other words, what is at stake is how commitment can be understood, not as a relation of cause and effect (as if we might be able to measure a work’s efficacy at engaging with social issues) but as a function of the internal organisation of an autonomous entity seen from the inside, as it were, not judged by us standing outside as an identity that matches our criteria but understood in principle to make a difference.

On a practical level the difficulty of establishing this ‘in principle’ as a function of its material actualisation begins with what happens to our available vocabulary; descriptive terms such as “abstract” and “figurative”, for example, which are


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

designed to identify certain characteristics of the observable, fixed and stable object.

The idea of the ‘radically new’ suggests that, paradoxically, analysis must begin somewhere other than with empirical experience, in Deleuze’s terms to ‘go beyond the state of experience toward the conditions of experience.’ The only alternative is for these terms, if they are to be used at all, to become purely theoretical in the sense that, rather than being linked to observable characteristics of the work they are understood to be its generative principles. In practical terms such an idea presents a considerable challenge because it puts into question the ‘truthfulness’ of the relationship between painting and the writing which ‘proceeds with it’. Without the requirement to ‘prove’ an argument using observation as evidence the prospect is that the latter becomes mere fiction. Although, perhaps this idea could be an important ‘sign’ of commitment; a free act inspired by the encounter, with no other purpose than to make something new, Damisch’s question implies that some necessary relation with writing and painting is at stake, so that painting is not simply a starting point but remains the focus as writing seeks to define its specific exigency.

In order to meet this challenge, the second concept I will import is “autopoiesis” (or self-production) which was developed by biologists Maturana and Varela as a logical method to distinguish living entities from non-living ones . Rather than beginning with the observable formal characteristics of the organism as a fully formed entity, their aim was to develop a method capable of analysing the genesis of that entity as a living form; that is from the point of view of the organism and not from that of the observer. A theoretical framework, in other words, that is not based on empirical observation but on logic. The living organism is not examined in isolation but in its dynamic relation to its environment. Their method is significantly different from a Darwinian perspective, in which the organism is understood to adapt to a pre-given, fixed and objective environment. On the contrary, the logic of autopoiesis insists that the genesis of a new species is also the creation of a new form of sensing the world so that there is the simultaneous creation of a new environment. For example, a wasp and an orchid may inhabit the same spatial region but their genesis actually creates two different environments according to what is important or significant to each species. By examining a species from the point of view of the species itself the autopoietic model resists the authority of


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

Darwin’s transcendental position which applies the logic of competition and telenomy to all species; a model perhaps for an alternative view of the world based not on competition but on expression.

Indeed, I would argue that implicit in Damisch/Bois is the idea that the work of art does operate as a form of life; ‘painting as model’ implies that painting creates a new way of sensing the world (rather than represent the world as it is); differentiating a new environment of which analysis is a product. Rather than adopting a fixed and stable position outside of the work writing creates a dynamic relation to it and, in so doing, affirms the life of that work in the new context of interpretation. A gift to the reader...? (p9)

As investigative method, the purpose of autopoiesis is to (quote) ‘understand the organization of living systems in relation to their unitary character’ ; a unity that is a dynamic ‘network of relations’ which the authors call its organisation. These (virtual) dynamic processes actualise the living system as a machine with no other purpose other than to “create itself”. As the defining feature of the living organism, its ‘organisation’ is the object of analysis not the observable components of the system, which are merely its products and so, it would be contradictory to begin an analysis of painting with its image. The question remains how to enquire into the nature of the virtual, invisible ‘organisation’ which generates visible form through logic not observation?

This is complex and something I have written in detail about elsewhere but I will try and give a brief account here that I hope will make sense. Let’s imagine for a moment that the life of the work of art, its organisation, is generated by forces structured like a genetic code. According to the field of bio-semiotics genetic material is not a blue-print for development but is interpreted by the organism’s relation to the outside; what they call ‘code-duality’ constituted by forces derived from inherited ‘memories’ that have evolved in time (“vertical” semiosis) and forces encountered in the environmental context (“horizontal” semiosis).

How might Mal de Sol express the idea of code-duality, what is the mechanism for its genesis? Although the vertical and the horizontal axes are always in flux and are inseparably entwined, for the sake of clarity, let’s say that the materials and their processes that make the work create a system that enfolds and unfolds a (vertical) memory of painting, one that becomes interpreted by an


The Bits and Pieces of Painting: Some Thoughts about Albers and Gaudi in Usle’s La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi

environment which is differentiated at the same time as the painting is created. According to the autopoietic model the organism responds, not to identities but to difference; the organism interprets its environment through ‘significant sign relationships’ and not as a passive object subject to a given environment and the forces of natural selection. The number of potential differences that surround the system is infinite so for difference to become information that can be interpreted these differences must first be selected by some kind of ‘mind’; the recipient system (a system in this case whose materials and processes involve paint applied to a flat surface). Therefore, information is conceived of as difference that makes a difference to the recipient. Earlier writers such as the 19thC ethologist Jakob von Uexkull also viewed environment as a species- specific ‘objective world’ or Umwelt and understood the form of a living organism develops through its ‘contrapuntal’ rather than causal relations with other organisms and its physical habitat (contrapuntal referring to the musical idea that two melodic line move in respect of one another but maintain their independence).

According to this idea of ‘contrapuntal’ rather than causal relations between entities we could say that one ‘news of difference’ that makes a difference to this recipient system is that between abstract painting and figurative painting, or more correctly between two historically mutually exclusive spatial systems (which in turn enfold many concepts, ideas and beliefs). However, it is the difference as sign that the organism is interested in, and which is interpreted by the paintings’ ‘organisation’, and not identities or terms. How is that expressed in the work?


One reason, perhaps, for never having been tempted to explore the ‘expanded field’ of painting is that, for me, the flat and bounded surface has always been a limit/condition that makes its own demands. Rather than operating as a mere support whose passivity might grow tired of the image and displace interest onto the actual space of display (the space of movement and of an ever-changing visual horizon) it seems to me that the painted surface performs a more active role, or at least it can do. Through the images that present themselves to the viewer, the surface has both the capacity to anchor movement and the visible and to simultaneously divert attention away from them. An act of doubling takes place that prolongs the gaze, which the writer Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier describes as ‘an arrest of time’.

The point of departure for this paper is the experience of painting Nomads and Wayfarers and specifically the closing stages. As my painting neared completion the thought of “architecture” came to mind. For a moment the vision was of building a house and that the surface was a façade and what made it so was not the idea that it was a metaphor (as one might imagine a picture plane to be) but that the façade figured something of the internal life/space of the building – or rather a space that comes into being through the different functions of a becoming structure/system: wall, window, ceiling, floor etc. At that moment it was as if the surface (and its images) became differentiated into functions that, although seen by the eye, were functions/rhythms felt with the body, much like the experience of occupying or moving through the architectural space of the building. When the thought of “architecture” came to mind the painting felt as though it had begun to find its own voice; that its emergent rhythms had begun to work together in an act of composition.

In The Logic of Sensation Deleuze claims that, unlike other arts which associate catastrophe, painting “hysterically” integrates catastrophe; as he says:

‘...painters pass through catastrophe themselves, embrace the chaos, and attempt to emerge from it. Where painters differ is in their manner of embracing this nonfigurative chaos and in their evaluation of the pictorial order to come, and the relation of this order with this chaos.’ (p103)

At a point when I had given up believing that I would ever complete another painting again, a point I have experienced many times and which I would describe as the feeling of chaos, ‘architecture’ returned as an involuntary

memory in the act of painting and with that the promise of (in Deleuze’s words) a ‘pictorial order to come.’

However, when I say “architecture” I can’t say that I had a distinct image in mind. It would be more accurate to say that a sense of a building, with its façade, entrance and internal space, came to mind. Like a dream image, this was a momentary sensation of standing in front of a building. It was as if the painting had reached a level of completion or promise that triggered an involuntary memory which connected painting to a very different object.

‘By “involuntary memory” Proust understands something like those “unconscious remembrances” which, randomly triggered by some sensation, some spoken word or some encounter, arise from the very depths of our being and from the forgetting to which a wilful intelligence and a wilful memory, both orientated wholly towards practical action, would have condemned them.’1

Although I have begun with a personal narrative the idea of involuntary memory shifts the discussion away from the personal. What returned was not the past which belongs to me and which I can remember. It is as if something from the outside was inserted into a conscious process, distracting me from the clichés of what I could imagine. I do remember the moment when the end began. It started with the first bisected square, at the bottom, in the centre. My aim was to ‘settle’ the painting or bring it back down to earth (it was just hovering all over the place - all background or underpainting); I wanted to bring it into focus by introducing a hard edged, flat shape that was not drawn or animated through the edge or the way it was painted (like everything else in the painting); something certain, a figure that was not a figure. It was an act of desperation in the face of a painting that was doing nothing.

‘It is precisely these (figurative) givens that will be removed by the act of painting, either by being wiped, brushed, or rubbed, or else covered over...This is what Bacon calls a “graph” or a diagram...The diagram is... the operative set of asignifying an nonrepresentative lines and zones, line-strokes and colour- patches. And the operation of the diagram, its function, says Bacon, is to be “suggestive”.’ (Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation pp100-101)

The involuntary memory of “architecture” that came to mind was both a distraction from conscious intention and the suggestion of a different direction, a different system, a ‘pictorial order to come.’ It was the operation of a diagram through ‘asignifying’ acts of painting – actions carried out with no purpose other than to make material count differently and necessarily done with no end in sight.

1 Miguel de Beistegui, Proust as Philosopher, (Abingdon, 2013), p38

There is a missing part to this narrative, for Nomads and Wayfarers is a painting that employs a “language” of painting that has emerged through a Western tradition of practice. This non-linguistic language is intertwined with its accompanying art historical and critical discourse. Explicitly, Nomads and Wayfarers makes reference to a painting by Juan Usle (La Garganta de Albers, Las Muelas de Gaudi, (The Breath of Albers, the Teeth of Gaudi) 2013) which I have been interested in for a long time and which I have, over the past six years, investigated in the studio and in essay form, most recently in a text to be published in The Journal of Contemporary Painting next year called ‘The Façade and the Picture Plane’. Rather than knowing irony it is precisely because I am unable to comprehend this painting that my fascination continues. Although I have borrowed its motifs in various paintings this has not been as act of reference to the image per se but has more to do with an appropriation of its rhythmic characters made to act out in different environments.

The involuntary memory of an architectural figure in the midst of chaos might seem to reveal something significant about these acts of appropriation and about the relation between a process of conscious decision-making and the desire to elicit something beyond what can be thought.

Through the genesis on Nomads and Wayfarers Usle’s painting was not the only external reference. It began with a motif taken from a Ben Nicholson drawing of a tree in which the trunk became drawn by what surrounded it. As we know he admired Mondrian’s paintings and we can see this debt in Nicholson’s play with figure and ground relationships in order to elicit different modes of attention beyond recognition. Not unconnected was another painting: the final stages of Monkey Fingers raised questions about the problem of the surface and how to overcome the figurative givens of the either/or of a figure/ground structure. This a very practical problem about how to overcome the problem of where one form ends and the other begins and how to create operations and functions which leap over such divisions instead. By overcoming the dialectic that overwhelms the rhythms that run across the surface, space is not occupied but becomes unfixed and fluid. After many configurations of the surface the solution was to schematise the idea of folding inside and outside expressed through idea of an invagination on each side of the geometric figure. The static central figure was at one time reminiscent of paintings by Frank Stella before it was painted grey as I was thinking through solutions to the problem of the ‘left-over’ in abstract

painting and those discourses on the geometric and the grid. The invaginations allow for a degree of play and a rhythm that is not geometric but is idiosyncratic, gestural, spontaneously executed (but were in actuality copied from a preparatory drawing). This figure returned in Nomads and Wayfarers as two oval figures. Gaudi’s windows became two series of mobile characters that make their way across the surface. The invaginated ovals are drawn out across the surface as they lend the idea of a centre to the bisected squares; such a repetition denying the idea of a centre. These bisected squares map out the surface and organise the plane for the mobile characters. (cf The Conquerors).

The diagram which distracts from conscious attention and suggests a new direction is an assemblage ; it establishes relations between heterogeneous terms. Deleuze and Guattari’s famous coupling of the wasp and orchid is emblematic of the connectivity and assemblage of two heterogeneous species coming into contact.

‘The line or block of becoming that unites the wasp and the orchid produces a shared deterritorialisation: of the wasp, in that it becomes a liberated piece of the orchid’s reproductive system, but also of the orchid, in that it becomes the object of an orgasm in the wasp, also liberated from its own reproduction. [TP p293]

The juxtaposition of the two works Monkey Fingers and G/A in is such a shared deterritorialisation. Nomads and Wayfarers operates diagrammatically to break with those external references as figurative givens or clichés. We might say that G/A becomes a surface of inscription rather than a façade; its windows or absences become animated characters that play on the surface drawn out by a different plane; one informed by the idea of overcoming the either/or (overcoming the surface as a plane of x,y co-ordinates). The centrality of Monkey Fingers becomes a repeated motif; a figure loses its individuality – the idea lost in rhythms of other thoughts.

Although there remain similarities in appearance it is not the image which is repeated but a deterritorialisation that allows the return of something less fixed, something that eludes description and which is operational and generative. Through involuntary memory the virtual diagram splits these figurative givens so that on the one hand we are reminded of objects of perception but on the other hand, a memory of feelings, a memory of the body becomes schematised in the work. Indeed, Deleuze draws attention to the appearance of pure figures in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time which, he says, were written as a function of

involuntary memory as opposed to voluntary memory ‘which was content to illustrate or narrate the past’ (p67).

As Benjamin has discussed in his essay on Baudelaire ‘only what has not been experienced explicitly and consciously, what has not happened to the subject as an experience, can become a component of the memoire involontaire’. (Benjamin, 1992:157). What returns then is what could be described as the ‘unlived’. In other words, components that were of no interest to perception in the past but remain as a pure past accompanying every present.

This idea of ‘unlived’ experience, to which Benjamin refers, is crucial because although it refers to the past it is not the past that was once experienced and now forgotten, but the memory of what remains to be lived and what’s still to come in any lived experience. This suggests the possibility that with every perception or lived experience there is an accompanying unconscious ‘unlived’ experience; a time that doubles that which we are aware of.

Accordingly, the claim is that Nomads and Wayfarers extracts a Figure from those external sources through the memory of what was never lived; what was left when a perception was cut from a plenitude of sensations but which remain awaiting action; a memory of feelings. In the temporal paradox of aesthetic sensation, the unlived returns, not through a conscious act of remembering but through the irruption of involuntary memory. This is not to fictionalise the event of involuntary memory as that which was experienced by artist or viewer but to locate it in the diagram of “sensation”.

What Figure does Nomads and Wayfarers extract from the figurative givens Monkey Fingers and G/A?

Although I have suggested that the diagram defeats the clichéd reading of G/A
as a source of characterful motifs through an assemblage with Monkey Fingers it is also the case that this figuration does not completely disappear. The diagram introduces ‘possibilities of fact’ but as Deleuze says ‘In order to be converted into a fact, in order to evolve into a Figure, they must be reinjected into the visual whole...’ p101. This reinjection happens through the operation of the assemblage/diagram which decomposes then recomposes.

Let us return to the idea that Nomads and Wayfarers is a painting that employs a “language” of painting but also that this non-linguistic language is intertwined with art historical and critical discourse. The involuntary memory of

“architecture” seems to suggest that what is in assemblage with Monkey Fingers is not the image of G/A but, in fact, G/A as a piece of writing which understood that work in relation to architecture. Indeed, it must be said that for this to be an assemblage of heterogeneous species this must be an assemblage of a painting with something other than other painting; not G/A but a piece of writing about G/ A.

We can imagine that painting emerges from an intertwining of the verbal and the visual (to use Foucault’s terminology) from an intertwining of the discursive and the non-discursive. I have said quite a lot about Monkey Fingers and the thoughts that were entwined with the painting process – ideas about painting and the material process of painting. But what can be said and what can be seen remain heterogeneous. On the other hand, the generative differentials of the seen and said are implicit in my writing about G/A, but here painting is the invisible fold of writing.

The thought of architecture began with the central bisected square, on its own at first, a door or at least an entrance into the painting. In my imagination the surface became a wall inscribed with the rhythms of nomads and wayfarers. These animated characters are not pictures of nomads and wayfarers in any literal sense, of course, and the title refers to certain Deleuzian motifs. However, it seemed to me that these figures were only their image – and that is was a picture not of visual, tactile objects but of mental schema written on the wall. A picture of a picture; a schematisation of figures on a schematic or diagrammatic surface.

It seems that the involuntary memory of “architecture” turns out to be schematic. It is really the return of what was constructed in writing; an essay that tried to invent an equivalent to the sense of G/A as a trope of the facade. As such, it is the return of the idea of the Façade as a Figure constructed painting which was then constructed in writing. With this the Figure of the Façade becomes the Figure of the Surface of Inscription/Depiction extracted from the figurative givens of Monkey Fingers and my writing about G/A.

But this is not a surface that could be experienced. What returns involuntarily is not subjective experience but only what was of no interest to perception in the past but which remains as a pure past accompanying every present. At the moment of return the past and the present are synthesised to cancel out temporal distance.

The time that separates them is annulled and they are carried onto another level, another temporality. They converge in a sort of instantaneousness that runs parallel to the flow of time, a sort of “time outside time” that is at the same time the very essence of time, what Proust calls “time in its pure state”. (de Beistigui, 2013:56)

It is as if Nomads and Wayfarers schematises the surface as the condition of possibility for painting and writing. It is as if the “unlived”, virtual differential relations of my own painting (the ideas and discursive discourses that are inseparable from my practice but which are never explicit always elusive, problematic and implicit) and those of my own writing on G/A (informed by my practice as a painter) return through the surface as it becomes a Figure.

The Figure of the Surface is encountered in its essence i.e. as pure and empty. It is the schematisation of a moment of incomprehensibility in which there is no content and no knowledge. But this is not a denial of writing, theory, philosophy, the discursive. It is a flattened space in which the seen and the said occupy the same space. It is the paradox that is incomprehensible but which doesn’t deny comprehension. It marks a radical moment of discontinuity in the subject – the arrest of time and the invitation to write, to paint with no end in sight.