The Quest Continues – The Ekphrasis Project
Within the body of work that I created during the past year under the heading “The Ekphrasis Project”, experimentation with the application of models of composition associated with the realms of poetry and music formed the core of my artistic practice.
Here the use of the term “ekphrasis” marks a distinction with synaesthesia, which concerns a simultaneous experience of the senses, whereas “ekphrasis” designates a conscious application of the primary aspects of one art in another.
This represents the most recent meaning assigned to the concept, which was formerly the exclusive domain of written descriptions of painting in ancient Greece. The concept gradually expanded to include poetic descriptions of paintings, sculptures and other artworks in general, and so even included descriptions of architecture. Eventually this led to a shift of the meaning assigned to the concept, and slowly but surely incorporated congruencies between the arts. The individual artist could search for congruencies with a specific character, where the applicability of a characteristic of one art within another determines the nature of its congruency: this is what gives us the opportunity to talk about the sculptural, the musical or the poetical in painting.
Above all, the metric counterpoint – which can be said to signal a melodic development, a shift or a new combination in music – is a specific characteristic of composition that can also be identified in music and in poetry-note 1. This is seen within the realm of the poetic as the simultaneous use of different forms of verse, and the shifting of one to the other. In this way one can seek as many congruencies as one wants, but how does this translate to painting? A clear framework, as in language and music (grammar/a tonal system), is needed for these congruencies to appear. As Edward Howard Griggs demonstrates in his Philosophy of Art: ‘To give beauty there must be definitely limited form; the abstract conception must attain concrete realisation; and the more perfect the marrying of the body of expression to the soul of meaning, the greater is the beauty.’-note 2
This inspired me to turn to the grid, which I used for the painting “LUX I” (see the images below) and enabled me to create modules of multiple squares, which can be varied and within which the sequences of forms can also be varied. For example, I created a module of two squares high and four squares wide, or one of four squares wide and three squares high. When the forms in the module have been chosen, the module and the forms can be repeated, and within the repetition of the module the form can be omitted and compared to an emphasised or non-emphasised syllable. In addition, the use of mirroring of the chosen forms within the module can be seen as analogous to aspects of the fugue. Equally, one can vary the arrangement of the modules themselves.
The outcome of my visual and theoretical research came as something of a surprise to me. I expected to be satisfied with the realisation of a programmatic development of style. However, this was not the case. The compelling intricacies of the medium baffled me. The toughness of the dry paint – its visual immediacy through which it claims attention for its own material being, existing through the act of painting, remaining like a “still” from a movie – repeatedly awakened a meditative consciousness within me that could not be ignored. My schooling also made a major contribution to the centrality of the act of painting as a manner of constituting autonomous meaning, in itself validating l’art pour l’art, which I increasingly consider to be the emphatic crown of painting as religion and the restoration of art’s liturgical value and quality within the Post-Modern realm. Even though a painting consists of nothing more than canvas and a certain arrangement of paint, and even though our sensory perception is limited to these material facts, what we ultimately see is not the sum of lines, planes and so on, but a painting with a unique intrinsic meaning.-note 3
Furthermore, I could not ignore my own character, which confronts the boundaries of any theoretical or formal framework with relentless vigour. Resistance to frameworks is the true axiom of modern art; it was this kind of resistance to the schemata of the 19th century Paris art school that lay at the foundation of the first modern movements. So while being a child of my time, friction could not be avoided. Jung would say that art is an autonomous complex rooted in “Participation Mystique”.
The great scholar of art theory Wilhelm Worringer argues that the concept of style could be said to define all elements within the work of art that find their psychological explanation in the pressing urge of mankind for abstraction. The transcendent within religion is always congruent with the transcendent within art. Humankind seeks out tranquillity within the absolute of abstract forms that offer peace, in opposition to the chaotic outside world, yet the consistency of the abstract and inorganic equals that through which we transcend our dependence on sensory perception; our understanding.-note 4 To underscore Worringer’s theory, it is important to keep in mind that he elaborates the terminology and theory of Kunstwollen that was earlier postulated by Alois Riegl. Most important to me is that this “desire for art” really exists in my consciousness: an autonomous complex within me that could be considered the “will of art”, a “will to take shape”.
The search for rhythmic patterns within my painting, as in my time at the academy, really found a concrete form within the painting “The Dream of Reason” (see the images below.) This painting is of the same size as “LUX I”. Within the smaller works from the years 2005 to 2008, such as “Sometimes Forms Can Transpose Into the Infinite” (see the images below), I also referred to music. The work “Rhythmical Allusion 2” is representative of these kinds of works and use of method. Circles are repeated, whole or halved, black and white, calling for a feeling of rhythm.
“Panta Rhei” (see the images below), a painting from 2009, was also created with the grid as a formal axiom. Here I looked for an analogy with music, but primarily attempted to give a general feeling of movement. While looking at “Panta Rhei” you will notice the mirrored forms, which refer to the technique of the fugue. The painting “Mystic Multitude” (see the images below.) consists of a free play with ground rules for composition with the use of the grid and modules that I had set myself. I have also integrated aspects of my still life painting, which I practise to sharpen my perception of the painted image and for my personal pleasure. This “sampling” of aspects of the still life includes shades that suggest shadow, reflection and/or three-dimensionality. The compositional principles of the still life are also taken into consideration, where certain parts are refined and others barely defined, as in the works of Cézanne and still life in general. This kind of improvisation continues in my new paintings, and challenges me to use different modes of paint application.
I look for stimulation within my work by challenging the ground rules within the framework I set myself, trying every time to find a better synthesis, a truly realised fusion of content and form, within which the outcome of prior painterly research is united. In doing so, my artistic vocabulary expanded. So although I consider the painting “LUX I” a successful work and I think it is a fully realised concept painting, within its composition and colour scheme it really is a completed solution, and to me the period has found its completion as such, and new challenges are to be found that offer themselves in the form of a more intuitive and painterly manner of composing. Within this newly affirmed longing, there is a more or less definite construct of phased artistic creation. First there is the sketch, where there is a more conscious exploration of form. Then comes the “scribble” (see the text by Dominique Nahas), which I gave a prominent place within the project because to me, while being analogous to the principles of ecrire automatique, it is the most perfect fusion of form and the emotional intent of expression, and as such forms the central focal point for the other two categories that I distinguish. Thirdly there is the “module”, which is a more balanced and elaborate work in mixed media on paper. Here the bands that construct the picture plane and the rhythmic content of the modules are tested. In doing so these remain fully realised works of art, and although they display a reflection that could be considered preparatory, they could never dictate one or another vision with regard to the fourth category, that of the “tableau”, for the tableau is also subject to its own laws of realisation: in fact only the sketch can be considered truly preparatory.
The conscious arrangement of form and spatial relations within the picture plane – until each part within the composition partakes of a specific artistic nuance, articulating a spiritual aesthetic and in doing so transcending the material compound as such – leads to a Gestalt that could be considered the ever-newborn child of the union of the work of art and the beholder. As such the painting could be considered a temple in which the spiritual is a given.
One could consider the repetition of a form, or for that matter a sequence of forms, as corresponding to a repeating melody. One could make use of a scheme, in which empty and filled spaces are combined and varied in the manner of an iambic or trochaic verse. To strive for the musical in painting could well be considered the prevalence of the element of composition as such. A compositional scheme could well be considered an instrument: it is the intention of the composer and the performer alike that give the composition its expressive value. Though noise is certainly vibration, it does not necessarily have to be experienced as sound. Though light is certainly vibration, it need not be colour: the quality of the vibrations is experienced and formed within the beholder, and this constitutes the quality of the vibration, which ideally transposes the intent of the artist.
Ideally a work of art should always be about expressive content, the expression of pure emotion to bring about a Gestalt of texture, colour, form and feeling, subjugating all systems of composition to this end. In doing so their value is primarily defined by their position within this aim.
For now, I can conclude that poetry, music and painting are not the same, and cannot successfully be subjected to laws of the same tenor. Nevertheless, we can make use of similar concepts – concepts suggesting similarity as described earlier – but then again only when they lead to a visually compelling image. In this light, I think it is apposite to mention that purely scientific research cannot be part of the immanent aspirations of painting, and cannot serve as a means of validation of painting’s expressive and artistic quality.
Catharsis, offering comfort and the purification of one’s soul, offering consolation, has been one of the key aspects of art (and drama) since antiquity, and remains of key importance to my art and to art through the ages. The work of Van Gogh is also of central importance in this regard. When looking at a work of art, the first thing to catch the eye should be its artistic rather than its technical quality, which is subservient to the former.
‘Beethoven found in the creation of music, even when he could no longer hear it with the outer ear, a way of life through which his own ideal self might be realised.’-note 5 This is the way that Edward Howard Griggs viewed the outcome of Beethoven’s creation: the realisation of an ideal self, which could be considered individual, but to me could be the realisation of a universal ideal echoing within the hearts of anyone participating in its performance. This could mean there is an “inner connection” of hearts, another ideal self resounding in harmony with the achievement of the composer, elevating the participant within the aesthetic experience to the stage of self-realisation.
Joost de Jonge,
Vianen, September 2010.
1. From: Bronzwaer, W., Lessen in lyriek: nieuwe Nederlandse poëtica, Sun, Nijmegen, 1993, page 78.
2. From: Griggs, Edward Howard, The Philosophy of Art, The Meaning and Relations of Sculpture, Painting, Poetry and Music, NY, B.W. Huebsch, 1913, page 296.
3.From: Merleau-Ponty, M., De wereld waarnemen, Dutch translation, Amsterdam, Boom Publishers, third edition, 2008, page 77 (note by the translator Jenny Slatman, footnote 60).
4.From: Worringer, W., Esthetica en Kunst, Utrecht/Antwerpen, Het Spectrum N.V. Publishers, 1965, pages 152 to 156.
5.From: Griggs, Edward Howard, The Philosophy of Art, The Meaning and Relations of Sculpture, Painting, Poetry and Music, NY, B.W. Huebsch 1913, page 328.
Panta Rhei, 140x 140 cm, tempera & oils on canvas 2009.
Rhythmical Allusion 2, 130 x 190 cm, acrylics & oils on canvas, 2008.
The Dream of Reason, acrylics & oils on canvas, 170x200cm, 2006.
Sometimes forms can transpose into the infinite 13, acrylics & oils on paper, 23 x 13 cm,2006.
Sometimes forms can transpose into the infinite 8, acrylics on paper, 28 x 13 cm,2006.
Sometimes forms can transpose into the infinite 9, acrylics & oils on paper, 24 x 25 cm,2006.
Sometimes forms can transpose into the infinite 14, acrylics, gouache & oils on paper, 25 x 25 cm,2006.