by Catherine Plassart

Focus Painting
catalog RENDEZVOUS Focus Painting 2011, exhibition, Potchefstroom, Capetown, Franshoek, Bloemfontein, Grahamstown, Oudtshoorn, Pretoria et Johannesburg  - Republic of South Africa

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RENDEZVOUS Focus Painting

Never be over and done with painting.


Painting is a polysemous word: it refers to an object as much as a language. Most of the time, the object is a canvas, but it may also be a work of art on paper, or if we may say, a ‘non-painting’. Altogether, they are pieces of a history about which there is much to say. One may look at the conditions in which works of art were created, or what they represent. A large collection of images is thus available, produced at a specific time and within a specific context. They are witnesses of reality, whether they transform it or transcend it; they reveal the infinite variety in artistic research, and each is an element participating to the numerous debates about aesthetics which punctuate the Western History of Art. Meticulous changes, development, metamorphosis, different styles have evolved in relation to societies and their times.

Once the clock was invented, we never returned to hourglass; likewise, one could expect that photography, cinema, television and digital imaging would out-fashion painting, or bring it down to some ancient view of the world. And yet, a painting as stunning as a grand cru, offers representations that surpass metaphor; its vocabulary is a set of countless signs, its grammar is a palette of colours and, through them, it extracts light from matter.

Nevertheless, painting is not something that one just faces. One comes back to it sidelong, to admire the relief of its beauty and its defects. Whether virtuoso or counterpoint to all academic thinking, it allows the contradictory, the poetic, or clever compositions; it expresses discreet intimacy, or a thoughtful relationship to the outside world. But above all, it still –and always will– create, reduce or multiply variations around shapes. Thus, not only is it the mirror where feelings and objects of the world find their reflection, it is also a self-nourished language, on the move, transforming itself, to tragically or blissfully state the unspeakable. It is a living language, for it involves body and spirit. Nowadays, painting is not about techniques, for all of them have been looked at; nor is it about approaches and styles, for all of them have been discussed. No more struggles then, no more debates, not even games! Painting as a language is a deliberate and free action which opposes and resists the talks on efficiency, rationalization, and profitability. Over the long run, painting is a privileged support for the imaginary, and it depicts varied views of reality.

The question raised by any artist is, in which society we would like to live. The painter restrains the question to the human condition. All geographic origins taken together, he denies the notion of “cultural products” and stands for the soul hiding behind a work of art (the concept of “aura” by Walter Benjamin). When De Kooning claimed that a work of art could be exhibited or sold, he humbly labelled it “do not destroy”. Similarly, let’s use this assertion and apply it to painting as a language: “do not destroy”, so as never to be over and done with a tool that defines and shapes our humanity. Indeed, no matter how long we have been around to see how a stone falls down after it was thrown high up in the sky, nothing can assure us that it won’t someday disappear in the clouds. And if that happens, it will only be that we won’t be there to see it meet the earth again.

Catherine Plassart