Antoni Tàpies and Sarpanitum

Antoni Tàpies produces kind of primal landscapes, sunken continents, relicts or only ground plans for ancient temples or fortresses, seeming relicts of a past long gone, traces of the most atavistic humanity, presence both of the earth and its inhabitants. It is submerged, it has lost its meaning and functionality, it has become levelled and incomprehensible but is still there and is indestructible and will there be long after our demise. Sunken into the depth and weathered those architectures probably did not make much sense in the first place but still they confront us with the enigmas of the world and of humanity that tries to overcome them and gain mastery. You want to come close to those paintings, to better understand them. They´re immersive. In their silence they seem talkative and carriers of knowledge – as they carry ancient dignity. You´re attracted to them. They´re pacifying and stirring.

Like Wols, Antoni Tàpies was a master of Art Informel, in contrast to Wols his expression was less explosive and volcanic, it was meditative and concerned about giving order. He liked to use materials like clay, sand, etc. and someone said that Tàpies´ artworks are more „tellurian“ than they are metaphysical. Yet of course the tellurian with its mystery and its depth and ancientness and reaching into the most shapeless and faceless future as well is the most metaphysical of all: That is what Zarathustra meant when he said: Die Welt ist tief/Und tiefer als der Tag gedacht (i.e. the world cannot be fully discovered by even the most advanced mind but always carries surprises). And Antoni Tàpies scratches on the strata of the earth, or throws them up. „I was obsessed with materiality … the pastiness of phenomena which I interpreted using thick material, a mixture of oil paint and whiting, like a kind of inner raw material that reveals the „noumenal“ reality which I did not see as an ideal or supernatural world apart but rather as the single total and genuine reality of which everything is composed“, says Tàpies (so again you have it that art, and creative sentiment, supersedes the epistemological „thing“ vs the „thing in itself“ puzzle and replaces it by a meta-noumenon, as it reveals the existential ontology of a thing, i.e. the embeddedness of a thing in all possible context). These artworks are haptically suggestive, and acoustically. You may want to touch them or stroke them with you hand, to get a sense of it, or hold your ear to them, to listen to the silent sound of the earth. Someone said, the earth is constantly making a sound. That sound will be all in your mind.

It is something you cannot directly communicate with, it is ancestral. It is mysterious, enigmatic, evocative. It gives you a sense of your own vanity and your own importance. Probably we´re alone, or very intelligent species are really very, very rare in the universe due to the right biological combinatory play to produce complex life being very unlikely (hence the Fermi paradox i.e. that, if the universe was so crowded with intelligent life, why hasn´t there been an obvious contact between us and them so far?). And that´s not even the end of the glorious story: In the future, as we advance, we might even colonise the mindless universe, or at least the milky way! That will be the heritage of mankind, over the long run. It is actually a very important heritage. We should not forget that.

A very sophisticated, yet underrated form of art is extreme metal, and it is good that extreme metal gained some new impetus in recent years. While more initial bands like Morbid Angel, Meshuggah or Brutal Truth sounded as if they would come from another planet, newer bands like Abyssal, Mitochondrion or Portal sound as if the came from the very depths of outer space itself (from close to the region where Azathoth dwells). Sarpanitum, a band hitherto unkown to me, are also of this kind, and what is peculiar about them is that they combine some „Mesopotamian“ elements with their chaos and forlornness in space as you have it with bands like Melechesh or Nile. (Although the album Blessed Be My Brothers has a medieval setting) you feel as if you´re in an ancient temple or some kind of stucture, long abandoned, of an atavistic high culture, so ancestral that you could not even name it. So, as well as in outer space, you are forlorn in an unreal situation/setting which is however tangible as well as it refers to very ancient humanity, to something that once made sense although that sense is faded but could be (partially) reconstructed. You have sameness in otherness, and vice versa, and that somehow feels good and chilling (at least for me, for my boring fellow humans probably not). You´re inside the continuum of history and humanity as well as you´re in the vast, but also local universe. It gives a sense of place and belonging, but not an immediate one, as it also gives you a sense of seperatedness and unrealness. Those sacred ancient halls, erected by Sarpanitum! They´re sublime, but it is a kind of undefined sublimity or infra-sublimity or transcendent sublimity, as it is something to which you have profoundly lost connection. I mean, if you´re able to get immersed into things you can somehow reconstruct it, as allegedly primitive extreme metal musicians can. Be taught: (extreme) metal mainly is surrealistic exaggeration, it is abstract and it is erudite. The lyrics (about satan, etc.) are more attached to reality than the phony love songs you can hear on the radio. With Blessed Be My Brothers Sarpanitum probably had the death metal album of the year 2015. And I think I´m going to write the long promised Metaphysical Note about Extreme Metal soon. It is good that I have already noticed some things about it, because to some degree I forgot what I wanted to say in that note hell yeah.

„When listening to the likes of “I Defy Therefore I Am” or “Thy Sermon Lies Forever Tarnished” the band’s blend of clinically chaotic but elegant almost cosmic riffage, and the historical imagery and themes makes me picture some sort of giant celestial knights clad in steam punk crusader garb usurping Sumerian thrones in far away galaxies. It’s not catchy or immediate, but presents an epic, swirling, nova of brutality and glistening beauty.“

Review of Blessed Be My Brothers by a guy named Lustmord56 at metal-archives.com

Homage to Rose Piper

It repells me that hardly anything can be found (neither in the library nor on the internet) about Rose Piper (1917-2005)! In the late 1940s she did some paintings (oscillating between abstraction and figuration) that recently had considerable impact on me. They´re about the situation of black Americans. About people who live in the social abyss, but long for a better life in the land of opportunity. It is obvious how they are trapped and their chances to ascent are dim – although there is some indication of hope. They´re painted semi-abstract, but they are – as you have it in good art – „more human than human“. In Grievin´ Hearted (1948) the grief of an (anonymous, faceless) individual as well as of a collective is expressed in the most powerful way possible. – Who has ever done a thing like that in the history of art? (Notably) Grievin´ Hearted is a very great painting and should be approached with the same awe as the Sistine Madonna or stuff Goya did (it at least was voted the best figurative painting by the seventh Atlanta University Annual Art Exhibit jury in 1948). If you like abstractions and generalisations you may even go as far as to think of a suffering humanity in toto that you have in Grievin´ Hearted – but no! Though of course such a generalisation is not without justification, Grievin´ Hearted is distinctly about the suffering of „negroes“, and the genius of Rose Piper is how she makes that clear. „Nobody suffers like the poor“, says Bukowski in Barfly. Suffering cannot so easily be generalised and thought to be a common good. Empty Bed Blues (1946) was a statement about black female sexuality – also an idol of Rose Piper, blues singer Bessie Smith, was quite offensive and confrontational against social norms as it came to being assertive about female sexuality – Piper´s The Death of Bessie Smith (1947) is probably her best known artwork. – When Rose Piper did those paintings her success was quite immediate and she began to feel that she „could make it“ – becoming a premier league artist, like Pollock. „I had the greatest time. The world was at my feet.“

Rose Piper was born in New York on Oct. 7, 1917 and grew up in the Bronx in an educated middle class family. When as a young lady she wanted to become a painter she was also heavily inspired by blues music and the situation of black Americans in the South and in rural America (she had not been familiar with up to then). She received two Rosenfeld stipendiums in the later 1940s with which she made trips to the South, originally she was a highly figurative painter who soon turned a bit more into abstraction, obviously to make her display of the human situation more universal without losing individuality. Her first exhibitions had been a success and she could earn a living with her art by then. Unfortunately, due to bad luck and family circumstances (she had to care for ailing family members) she had to give up art and instead became a (successful, but anonymous) industrial designer. When she retired, in 1979, she was Senior Vice President of her company. She then turned back to art, painting in a quite different style from that of the 1940s however. She died on May 11, 2005 in a Connecticut nursing home of a stroke.

Rose Piper was the aunt of performance/conceptual artist and philosopher Adrian Piper. I came across Rose Piper via Ann Eden Gibson´s valuable book Abstract Expressionism. Other Politics, which tries to shed light on artists of that era excluded or forgotten because of their race, gender, or sexuality (the Abstract Expressionists were actually quite macho-like and unemancipated, you see).

11 Female Abstract Expressionists You Should Know, from Joan Mitchell to Alma Thomas

Basquiat

In a crowded and overpopulated millenial art market Jean-Michel Basquiat was the rare occurence of a true genius. And his genius was for immediacy. He immediately did things right and did not need to have a program or ideology or philosophy so that, like in the case of Modigliani, there wouldn´t actually be much to add to and analyse about his artwork. – We can, however, say that Jean-Michel gave an impression about how a painting could look like at the turn of the millenium and that he made a solid statement that, with the right attitude, after the supposed death of painting (by exhaustion) authentic painting is still a possibility. – In the works of Basquiat you have the credible erection of figure! You have the masterful use of colour! You have spatiality and the location of the figure in the world (a somehow flat and immediate, but also hypertextual space that is both segmented and has open/undefined ends)! You have individual physiognomy (with the personnel being both individuals, types, caricatures and – what is essential to art – „more human than human“)! Although it is suggested that Basquiat´s painting style is „raw“ (and associates, e.g., to Dubuffet) it is actually immediate and the figures usually are complex and sophisticated. Also Basquiat has been labelled a Neo-Expressionist (like other artists of that time), but with expressionism you would, somehow, associate a content that is dynamic and that emerges out of itself, still has hidden meaning, but in Basquiat´s paintings nothing seems to be hidden. Everything is there and is fully illuminated and in bloom. Masterful – no, genius! – how the seeming immediacy (and „rawness“) he puts something on the canvas with and suddenly nothing else needs to be added (and with his immediately drawn double portrait of Warhol and himself, with which he tried to approach Andy, he immediately stunned Warhol). You have the highly associative intelligence of the genius as Basquiat never hesitates to put all kinds of stuff that crosses his mind into his paintings making up for the rich and saturated and (ironically) suggestive texture a great painting is about. Basquiat´s paintings even allude a bit of parody on painting – and in the respect that it´s definitely not but may seem to carry it, it adds another aspect and to the completeness and multidimensionality.

Complexity and immediacy – on the one hand a sharp contour and great definedness, on the other hand an elusiveness and enigmatic openness – was what Jean-Michel Basquiat possessed and what helped him make him a star. It was also this mix of coming up expectedly, but in an unexpected way. A black guy who was socialised with Afroamerican as well as white (counter)culture. Who hung around in East Village at the turn of the 1980s. Who turned graffiti into „something (artistically) serious“. A street artist who made it clear that his desire was to become a glamorous star (and, as such, was dragged into a world with which he actually could not identify either). A wanderer between worlds, both integrated in all of them and isolated from/in all of them. An early demise (at the wicked age of 27) due to heroin. This spring a work by Jean-Michel sold at a record price of 110,5 million dollars at Sotheby´s (to a Japanese online retail magnate, Yusaku Maezawa). Already when he was alive Basquiat would do senseless things like renting an entire floor in a hotel because he made so much money – on one occasion, and putting bundles of money into the pockets of the homeless on another. You had the mysteriousness and the heavenly impertinence of the genius. They called him the Radiant Child.

I took minor notice of Jean-Michel all over the years of couse, via art books like Fineberg´s Art Since 1940, etc. There are usually some paintings shown by major/remarkable artists and those presented by Basquiat actually didn´t really have an impression on me. Yet a while ago I bought a whole book about Basquiat, and that was when it did „take“, and so I wanted to write a note about him because I was shaken by his importance. When I looked at his stuff again now, I have to admit that I wasn´t that struck anymore, but that may change again and at any rate I found it necessary to sing this hymnos and paint this tableau. In the chapter about the East Village art scene in Art Since 1940 there follows a chapter about David Wojnarowicz. I have not come close to Wojnarowicz so far (so that maybe there may happen the same epiphany I had with Basquiat). Before he became an artist he worked as a male prostitute (and died of AIDS at age 38). His memoirs have the intriguing title Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. But I could not get them so far.

Remembering Lucrezia Buti, Marie Fel, and Company

Years ago, when I saw Quentin de la Tour`s portrait of Marie Fel (an opera singer of the 18th century – born Oct. 24, 1713, transformed Feb. 2, 1794) it moved me. A beautiful, lively, a bit secretive and mysterious face, a suggestive and eloquent physiognomy, staring at you, it has a high degree of presence and immediacy – but is long dead! Does this make me melancholic? Yes! The contours are soft, it seems like an emanation from an obscure, nebulous, eternal, undifferentiated background; well: a momentous epiphany of (distinguished) man out of the silence of eternity, into which it must pass again after some instants in time – or maybe still is there, behind the veil. Ahh, the human condition! Does this make me melancholic? Yes! Thoughful, to say the least. So it goes. Marie Fel´s heart will go on somewhere in mine and I have her on my mind.

As I wanted to write the note about Childishness in Art I borrowed a book from the library (Kinder in der Kunst) (unfortunately I did not find much else about that valuable subject). In that book I also saw Filippo Lippi´s Madonna with Child and Two Angels (1465), which moved me as well. The Madonna is supposed to have been a nun named Lucrezia Buti, who had been turned into a monastery together with her sister Spinetta by her brother Antonio. She fell in love with Filippo and fled from the monastery, causing a scandal, later giving birth to two children, Fillipino and Alessandra. Because of the couple´s courage and the sincerity of their love they later found pardon by clerical authorities. In the heavy book about Filippo´s paintings there wasn´t much information about Lucrezia, unfortunately. Maybe I can get a better book about her and the story of her life. That would interest me. At any rate I like Lucrezia´s idiosyncratic beauty. Because of this also she seems immediately present.

In Kinder in der Kunst there is also the fresco Leucothea and Dionysos, which was painted in the year 20 A.D. in a villa in Rome. What a gracious lady! And so you may ask yourself: How did the ancient Romans look like? How did Messalina look like? Were they graceful and, occasionally, vulgar as well, like people in our times? A while ago I read Quo vadis? by Sienkiewicz. The depiction of the massacres of Nero against the Christians are colourful, although I cannot actually tell how exactly. It is a horrible book as concerns the (exaggerated) portrayal of Nero´s holocaust-like atrocities, but the depiction of the Christian´s strong and transcendent faith and of their nice (actually, a bit faded) personalities had an impression on me. A main character of Quo vadis? is Petronius Arbiter, author of the Satyricon, the product of a very free and independent mind – Nietzsche loved it, I do it as well. Someone like the Arbiter occurs very rarely among humans. And hence it is alleged in Quo vadis? that Petronius was the only person in the culturally most high standing Rome who actually understood what poetry is about (whereas the others all took it as an extension of their ego or an instrument to flatter the emperor or so). When Petronius was sentenced to death by suicide by Nero he would say that the loss of life is not actually something to be sorry about: as things in this world are beautiful, but men are, in their majority, so wicked that an escape from them into the void is not regrettable. Long ago I was very impressed by Robert Graves´ I, Claudius, a historical novel that brings ancient Rome triumphantly to life. Graves was massively intelligent and had a stupendous output. I also read his White Goddess – although the specific anima of the White Goddess has not been a direct muse for myself, I like Graves´concept of analeptic thought: throwing one´s mind into the past to receive impressions. Indeed, it is good to have everything on the monitor, yes.

In the book there was also a portrait of young Mozart by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, a painter who painted in the style of rococo. In the book it was said that while Greuze enjoyed great success in his earlier days, he increasingly came to be seen as outdated, could not live from his sales anymore and had to become a teacher and finally died in great poverty. That moved me a lot and I got me a book about Greuze (since I also like the name „Greuze“). To be correct, Greuze´s influence declined in later years, but not substantially and he died in poverty mainly because of mismanagement and embezzlement by his wife. When I look at this Portrait of a Young Lady I wonder about her, like I wonder about Marie and Lucrezia. There is mysterious life in this face, evanescent but still very present and stronger than decay. What would the young lady have to tell? – Greuze was a painter of sentiment. His paintings usually carried a message respectively tought a lesson in moral. He lived in an age of sentiment, where a spirit of moral responsibility and enabling a good, decent life for everyone was in the air (and stood in relation to the bourgeoisie as a (proto-) revolutionary class – the cult of sentimentality could, in a Foucaultian sense, be understood as a formation of identity and self-awareness by internalising the moral codex of the state). Greuze´s most distinguished pupil was Constance Mayer, who would later commit suicide. Unfortunately I could not find much about her neither in the library nor on the internet. (Also Quentin de la Tour was associated with a female painter, Rosalba Carriera, as Rosalba made pastel-coloured painting popular again in Paris at his time. So I got me a book with Rosalba´s paintings. But I have to say that I hardly find in this book such glimpses of eternity as you have it in the portrait of Marie Fel et al. Indeed, that is rare in the domain of human physiognomy respectively art anyway.) The abbé de La Porte said: „I am sure that Moniseur Greuze is a man attentive to all that surrounds him: he is an observer who keeps nature constantly in view, and knows how to capture it in its most interesting aspects… What nobility!“

As you see, these (mostly ordinary) folks have long since passed and left no other trace in history, but they´re on my mind. Their presence is, actually, heavy. You see, I am not very talkative and I feel profoundly isolated from society (actually: from humanity), even from the high IQ societies, since these structures never seem to be resemblant to me, yet actually/but on the other hand I am so attached to and affected by the world that for instance when I look at the tree in front of me, it seems to immediately come near, even overrun me. The most common feeling I have (or had, especially when I wrote the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking) is that I am drawn, absorbed into the universe, and stick on it (a feeling that was, when I wrote the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking, quite painful as I felt literally enchained and grown together with the universe/the totality of being and unable to detach myself from the pain and the impositions existence includes). And so, although I am quite alone I am always surrounded by people, maybe even grown together with them, and Marie Fel and company are an expression of that. They reach into the depths of myself. When I look up, Lucrezia Buti may sit on the bench next to me. I live in a heavily populated world. Where does my self end and that of other begin? And ghosts are, in this respect, real (and more human than human).

Because of this, I am an unemployed social reject. When I was waiting for my adivisor in an institution for unemployed people recently I asked myself: When I somehow say that: after my death I am still a part of the flow/the continuum of life or so (I cannot remember the exact wording): is this a rational allegation, an emotional one, or a spiritual one? This is actually not easy to distinguish and it is correct in all those dimensions. I´ve been thinking for a while how rational, spitirual, emotional etc. sentences can be seperated, i.e. in the Wittgenstein manner. But maybe there´s some Quine to the whole problem who said that the analytical and the synthetical are not so easily to be seperated (if I remember correctly). The thing is, if your attachment to the living world/creature and capacity to get immersed in it is profound and not as superficial as in the case of ordinary man, respectively if you´re the overman, such distinctions are superfluous, indeed. But what it means among man is to be philosophised upon.

Childishness in Art

In the sunny season I like to get out and watch the children playing. I do it several times a week, and for about 90 minutes each time. I like the children´s movements and strange attractors, their unrepeated, chaotic cycles. Look how they´re doing something and immediately afterwards something else, as some other thing comes to their mind: wow, what an organic flow! And regardless of what they´re doing, they´re all anchored, resting in themselves, immersed in themselves, undistracted, unalienated. The actions of children are graceful and charming as, unmitigated, they act out of themselves and within themselves, with what they´re doing they seem to realise the full potential of the action and the full potential of the moment the action is situated. Nothing is hidden, everything is there! Kids playing signify emergence and full immersion into themselves; immanence so complete that it is somehow transcendent and unreachable to man. Kids playing are fully identical with what they´re doing and they´re fully identical with themselves. Children (in their explorative drive) are Spinozians, says Deleuze (referring to Deleuze again we can also say that they permanently fold and unfold – and that´s what Deleuze says life and existence is all about). – Blobb is at the water dispenser and produces a water bomb, something our children like to do! Little Leyla comes around and wants her flask to be filled, and four year old Sara helps her! Aynur and Aybüke and a couple of other children use the seesaw! Looking from my book up again I see how Mucahit has invented a running game, that after a while will transform into some other activity! Ines uses her scooter! Dinah marches around with her toy buggy! Hatice stands there and eats her sweets with a gaze that symbolises everything and nothing (i.e. complete immanence)! Three year old Benko and two year old Bim drive in an electric toy Ferrari over the place, undirected, meaningful, Bim all Benko´s Ferrari Bride! After a while they need to change and hand over the Ferrari to other children. Deprived of it, Bim starts to cry. Quickly, her mother gives her a tricycle and she is happy again and makes her rounds again, now with the tricycle! – The child and the genius are alike, and natural allies, in a world ruled, and distorted, by grown-ups. They symbolise the creative force, the elementary, ruthless drive of life, that triumphs over unworthiness, oblivion and obliteration. They´re uncontaminated and anti-entropic. In their clumsy movements they are graceful and the most elegant of men. In their squeaky voices, they sing like the sirens. It is good, warms the heart, uplifts the soul to see how they´re spontaneously cooperating. How their meta-choreographic patterns emerge and transform, or suddenly collapse just to give rise for something new and unexpected. That is, then, the grand scheme. – Indeed, I like to watch the scenery, the grand scheme at the market, the colourful immigrants from the lazy countries from the south, and the self-contained children. The unagitated, quasi-relaxed activity and atmosphere within which things are permanently in innocent motion. I find that meditative. It is extremely balanced and everything has its place in it. Heaven must look like this. It is the quietiv, and probably a vision of the White Lodge. It is, at any rate, exactly what the inside of my mind and of my self looks like. As I stare at this outside, I stare in my inside. Hence the immersion. Ubi bene, ibi patria.

The child embodies origin, authenticity, warmth, playfulness, innocence, relaunch and the choice of a new generation. The child is art. In art you have from time to time direct references to the child respectively its spirit, usually when the stupid grown-ups have failed again. In Dadaism, for instance. After WW2 in Art Informel and in Art Brut. Both significantly relate to Jean Dubuffet. Dubuffet tried to re/discover innocence and presuppositionlessness in art, and longed for access to the raw imagination/experience. He related to the unconscious, yet not in the sense of delirious association, as you have it in surrealism, but rather in automatism and rawness and the uncoditionality of the (artistic) expressions of children, outsiders and the mentally ill („Art Brut“). In his days the question was virulent in art of whether art should relate to reality, or the artist is to be understood as a creator of autonomous forms – and in Dubuffet´s art you have an amalgamation of both. It tries to establish an autonomous individual´s reality. Like Wols (who philosophised about the microcosm inherent in a crack in the pavement), Dubuffet found things produced by matter itself sometimes more interesting than things produced by man, and he tried to give banal things dignity. He was highly aware of the interconnectedness, of the primal unity of all things and occasionally found the space between objects more interesting than the objects themselves. In order to produce his paintings he used his fingers, he used spoons or scrapers. In his metaphysics of a keen interconnectedness and unity of things he understood this mode of unity as a permanent metamorphosis that happens between things, respectively between man and his surroundings. He also saw the primal ground of undifferentiatedness (and expressed it, for instance, in Place for Awakening, an undifferentiated, amorphous field of primal chaos) and the task of the artist to erect (malleable, flexible) forms.

In the late 1940s also the CoBrA group tried to establish authentic art by relating to the expression of outsiders in a grown up world (i.e. children, the mentally ill, etc.). However, the group disbanded after a while as they began to sense that in doing so, i.e. in trying to undermine style, a new style began to emerge – as something CoBrA was eager to avoid, although its members continued to produce art as individuals afterwards. CoBrA had understood its mission as distinctly political as well. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, in his depictions of the full potential of human gesture, also often relied on the depiction of children. Bouguereau used to paint cool children. In our days, Morgan Waistling does.

Upon reflection, there doesn´t seem to be enough childishness in art. Well, Nietzsche once said, in the realm of the intellect there are artists, philosophers, scholars, scientists. All of them are rare among humans, and he said that artists usually are very vain and conceited. The rarest of all are individuals are those interested in nothing but digging mole gangs, subterranean tunnels, in blindness, just for the sake of discovering something new about existence. According to him, that´s the true anti-egotism (and is usually poorly rewarded). I cannot find this aphorism right now, maybe it is in the second book of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches or in Morgenröte or Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft. Vincent, the Omega Painter, for instance, was of this kind (and also Franz, who explicitely wrote about a giant mole and about subterranean tunnel burrows). According to legend, van Gogh used to get very aroused when he saw little children, and he said: A child in the cradle has the infinite in his eyes. When his acquaintance Sien brought a child to this world, Willem, Vincent again was very fond, and also in the eyes of Willem he saw the infinite (Willem later became a worker for a railway company and made himself unpopular among his comrades with his flirtations with fascism).

Kazimir Malevich, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella

In the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking I have meditated excessively about genuine creativity and how it may become a possibility. More generally, the ruminations were about the realisation and purification of mind, spirituality, intellect, humanity. A prominent topos was the necessity to channel through your hereditary intellectual and spiritual equipment. As you´re equipped with ancestral concepts, intellectual theories and the like that enable orientation in the world, you got to get to know them all, finally transgress/semi-destroy them, in order to come to pure perception from which you then can establish pure concepts again. That is the cycle of life in the transhuman, intellectual realm (or: the Continuum, as I called it a while ago), that´s how the story goes. It is a bodily process. It is a bodily urge that drives the creative/spiritual individual; it can be quite painful, and it longs for a „transcendent“ breakthrough, hell yeah. For instance, you may feel a strong impuls shooting up from the lower, visceral body regions up into your head, crashing immensely at the cranial vault, which it tries to break open and pulverise your enigmatic essence into the sky, the universe, to become one with it. There are many different ways to describe it and personal experiences that shine in respective individual colors; the products of transformation may be Zen-Buddhism, the General Theory of Relativity, or something else. Alongside the process, there likely is an encounter with, well, the Nullfläche. In the clean sweep to achieve a state of purity you have absolute reduction, it is usually a monochrome surface or a flat space (that can be stretched into the infinite depth), where every point/segment is indistinguishable from another. And in the next moment there will be something going on, some kind of activity, that is undefined, enigmatic, likely unrelated and that vanishes into the Nullfläche again in the next moment, without obvious consequence, like maybe a distant thunderstorm. That is, finally, the apparent primal state of the mind, and the mind that has come to itself. It is also apparent that this is an image of the universe, and of totality – maybe even of the heavens, and of the „spheres“. It is the Alpha and Omega. As they say. In the art of the 20th century you have some expressions of it.

Most notably in Malevich´s Black Square. Kazimir Malevich was a very versatile artist who painted in (or founded) various styles. Already as a child he became highly immersed into and alert to the act of painting/drawing and a metaphysicist who wanted to explore the possibilities that lie within painting itself. As a young man, and in the artistically extremely versatile and volatile time of the early 20th century he started as an Impressionist, then became a Neo-Primitivist, then a major developer of Cubo-Futurism (which tried to combine Cubism and Futurism), then (as Cubo-Futurism was tried to establish an independent Russian tradition which, however, was only semi-independent) the champion of Suprematism. The goal of Suprematism was to connect man to an ideal world, respectively to establish the spheres (and not only via the display of geometric forms as the main motive and the absence of anything human, it somehow carried the ambiguity that the ideal world or the spheres are not human but inhuman, though, however, somehow tangible via the (purified) mind). Whereas Futurism was dynamic and „progressive“, Suprematism tried to display tranquility, self-containtedness and permanence. Kazimir´s Black Square was, so to say, the fulfillment and the cumulation of Suprematism as well as it carried the possibility of its transgression, as a wormhole, so to say. The original Black Square is not perfect (as its later reproductions) but a bit eccentric, signifying an inherent dynamic that opens the possibility for evolution. It is also cool that it is fragile and became full of fissures after a while, i.e. that its indicated stasis and permanence also carries life, spontaneity, respectively erosion and decay (that there are myths about the creation of the Black Square, that we do not know, for instance, whether Kazimir purposely executed it poorly or so spontaneously that he had to paint over another painting as he lacked any other canvas in that moment, and the like, add to the complexity and the mysticism inherent of the whole complex). There is the idea that once you meet the Nullfäche, practised the the clean sweep, went through the chunnel and the wormhole, the state of pure perception, you will be able to create new concepts and establish new figuration – and after Suprematism (and under Stalinism) Malevich painted a series of Russian/Soviet peasants (as well as portraits) again, in a distinct style however, and engimatic/ambiguous in its message. Some say that the peasants are mostly uncanny and unhappy, and Malevich secretly displays the horror of Stalinist collectivisation. Yet actually the paintings are colourful, the world is in order, the sun is shining (in an enigmatic way however, as if the world had been consumed by a terrifying and all-consuming eternal day that annihilates anything crepuscular and nocturnal). The asymmetric colours may indicate individuality or pseudo-individuality (a problem that is relatively independent from Stalinism). Often the peasant´s faces are empty. The anticommunists take it as an indication of annihilation of individuality and the human essence under communism. Yet if you´re spiritually more evolved and have more creative intelligence you know that the empty face is the best of faces (as it indicates the Nullfläche again and transpersonalised potential, including, nevertheless, destructive potential; which is also what Kazimir explicitely, though opaquely, said). His final works were a series of portraits he labelled as „Supranaturalist“. They commonly depict women and should indicate a better human race of the future. They are depicted in ancient clothing and there is a self-portrait of Malevich as a Renaissance painter. That´s, again (as mentioned in the introduction), how the story goes, in the Continuum.

As David Sylvester noted, Barnett Newman was a kind of a slow learner among the Abstract Expressionists. When Abstract Expressionism developed (in the 1940s) he was more respected as an intellectual among the Wild Bunch. When he finally achieved his creative breakthrough it took quite while until it became accepted. Increasingly, he became noticed as the greatest American painter of his time. Onement (1948) is quite literally an emanation of transcendent breakthrough: it is actually how breakthrough is enlivened and vibrates – and Newman tells us that, although at first he did not actually know what Onement is about, he felt that it is very alive (Malevich reportedly was so upset by the Black Square that he could not sleep or eat for a week after he painted it). A true work of art, as Deleuze/Guattari for instance say, can stand on his own and stabilises within itself. And such is the case with Onement, respectively the zip, it its uprightness. Onement is a monochromous colour field in which there is an energetic stripe: the zip. The zip, respectively the entire vision, is less – well – conceptual/elaborated than the Black Square, as it is, apparently, not even a primal form that emerges from the primal ground – it is a kind of lightning, a flash, or that In the beginning was the Word. It is, directly, one of the lightning flashes that happen at the Nullfläche, and that actually make it, and are a part of it. It is both epistemology and ontology. It is the primary process that (apparently) establishes order over (apparent) chaos. There´s a lot of stuff in that, and it is also an exercise is grasping the sublime. Until his death (in 1970), Newman painted in this style: Large, beautiful colour fields, that are often invaded by the zip. Very tasty. They have something sacral to them, and they are intented to give the viewer a sense of place. „I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did to me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own seperatedness, of his own individuality“, says Barnett. A lot of things happen in those colour fields. Maybe I could watch them endlessly, although, then, I rather prefer to watch really a while the children playing outside at the market (that is to say, in another time dimension, or at the meta-level of time I watch the Newman painting endlessly as the imitate my mind). Newman gave an impetus for colour field painting and minimalism. What we have in his work is an autonomous creation. It is a great order. It is a universalisation of a personal epiphany, respectively it is a basic, universal expression of epiphanic creativity. Likewise, it is also an expression of man: as being individual and excluded from a whole, but also somehow belonging to a greater whole.

Ad Reinhardt, labelled the „Black Monk“, was a kind of enfant terrible among the Abstract Expressionists, and among artists (or the art scene) in general. He became successful only late in his life and his final solution were the black paintings, i.e. he painted canvases that simply were black. He said that, in painting, there should be no texture, no brushwork, no colors, no design. With his black paintings he intented to paint the last, final paintings that can ever be painted. If you look closely at them, they however shimmer, minimally, in an individual fashion as they show different colour grades of black, respectively black minimally amalgamated with other colours. Therein, they are said to create an atmosphere and aura. Reinhardt said no sketching or drawing, no light, no scale, no space, no time. He loathed subjectivity and had an attachment to the Zen. He was very intelligent, philosophised about the black colour and other stuff of importance and was programmatic as he set up rules and programs in which he said no acrobatics, no self-pity, no guilt, no pain, no supernaturality or subhumanity. An heyoka with a program and manners at the edge of absurdity he expressed disdain for the art market and (as they have been the more dominant alienating channels at his time) the art institutions and academies and he said no drugstore-museums, no cultural entrepreneurship, no jurys, no prizes, no competitions, no masterpieces, no cheap art commodities. As he also raided against his Abstract Expressionist colleagues as they, quite willfully, became a part of the machine and art-entrepreneurs once they gained success they did not find that so funny anymore. Newman ended his friendship with Reinhardt (and tried to sue him for 100.000 Dollars) when Reinhardt did something (that was, from Newman´s perspective) actually not very nice (and threatened Newman´s reputation); Reinhardt regretted it that the Abstract Expresionists „did not talk to each other anymore“ (once they had become famous) but only „talked to the audience anymore“. The „funniest“ things Ad Reinhardt had to tell about reclusive purist Clyfford Still, a champion of Abstract Expressionism who shunned the light so much as that he often refused to have his art exhibited and was very rigid about what the Clyfford Still Museum that was set up after his death in Denver, Colorado was allowed to do (for instance not to have a café or museum shop so as not to contaminate the purity of aura) as he explained how Still was skilled at always finding a millionaire that would pay for him and finance his life, and if Still wasn´t to be seen with a specific millionaire than it was an indication that Still had found another millionaire lol (Clyfford Still reportedly tried to kick Ad Reinhardt out of some vital inner circles and institutions important for artists after that). Ad Reinhardt said no primitivism, no expressionism, no supression of time and of subjectivity, no low-level consciousness, no portrayal of life, no abstraction of anything, no anti-intellectualism, no confusion of art with something that is not art. In his writings there also is a cool and dedicated essay about art in ancient China (something I want to touch in the future).

Frank Stella was influenced by Ad Reinhardt when he entered the scene at age 22 with his Black Painings. In the 1960s he developed his idiosyncratic style which on the one hand drew from various sources and at the same time paved way for other innovations. Stella confused critics at the beginning because there is not much in its paintings. And indeed, you more or less have only the painting itself. Although heavily influenced by Barnett Newman, he was so concerning method, not content. There is no transcendence intended – there is, so to say, after the great hypercycle of going through the Nullfläche, which signifies both the primordial as well as the spheres, a return to base – and the return to the base of painting, in a peculiar way: there is no („radical“) transcendence, but „radical“ immanence in Stella´s art. Stella was aware of the mystical, contemplative tendencies of Abstract Expressionism, but combined them with the immanence of hard-edge painting. It is the movement of the great energy, of the great impetus, shooting, undifferentiated, into the sky, into space, to return to base, splash at the canvas and then to organise itself, peacefully, self-contained, self-sufficient, as you have it the works of Stella (to sooner or later start a new cycle, supposedly). Stella said that he was unhappy and that he found it unconvincing what the Abstract Expressionists did at the margin/edge of the canvas. A lot of energy, of convincing energy there is in their paintings, which however tends to get lost at the margins of the canvas. Hence Stella adapted the canvas to what he wanted to express and introduced the shaped canvas, a major innovation he came up with. Like in the case of Jasper Johns his paintings were not really paintings anymore, but objects. Like all the artists mentioned in here Frank Stella is highly intelligent and his writings and lectures are a worthwhile read. Interestingly, they reveal that Stella is very attached to Caraveggio – because to him, Caraveggio gave the most striking solution of how to display spatiality and figures in space. Stella was influential for Pop Art, Op Art and Minimalism and he also became a sculptor.

There are some other manifestations for this kind of subject. Mark Rothko or Yves Klein may come to mind (also, in a way, Mondrian, but there shall be a specific note about Mondrian). Malevich however was the most pronouced and universal of the passengers through the Nullfläche – and he even was the most aware that Zero/Null and totality are the same, respectively a kind of mirror image of each other. He saw himself as a depersonalised entity, born from a „desert“, respectively having his origin in space itself, which is free to create ex nihilo. „I have seen space“, he annouces. And then he was motivated by an urge that culminated in an urge for a transcendent breakthrough. – That Malevich chose a square as the primal form makes sense, as, in contrast to the apparently more perfect circle/sphere or any other form, the square indicates authority, assertiveness, uprightness, presence and dominance over the four cardinal directions. When I tried to write my first short story (for the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking, after I had written a huge novel like Yorick as a start) I again un/fortunately came up with something incummensurable/inalienable like The Square, an associative, delirious text that displays how creative emanations appear, including the possibility of architecture and how their architecture could look like, of of the dark fond of the Nullfläche, before they vanish into the Nullfläche again. – Malevich´s art-religion does not know an exact salvation, it is all an ongoing process. The goal is an atomisation, a nebulisation of man – I know this from myself – to become a true cosmic, depersonalised entity, that erects various mirrors in space so as to get a view over totality. In our time one could also think of a fleet of tiny nanobots sent out into deep space, for the purpose of exploration, or make contacts with other life forms.

Frantisek Kupka and Charles Sheeler

In 1912 Frantisek Kupka caused a sensation as he came up with the first truly abstract painting, Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors. Yet he did not consider himself an abstract painter nor a cubist, as in fact he was an unhoused loner who fell into relative oblivion in later years. Whereas Kandisky´s Concerning the Spiritual in Art circulated a lot, Kupka´s book Creation in the Plastic Arts went by largely unnoticed. At that time, abstraction was mainly understood as an expression of modernism and a progressive, scientific spirit, Kupka however strongly related to ancient and archaic art and culture and nurtured from the atavistic. To him, the artist cannot create something truly new anyway, therefore it is appropriate for him to try to relate to the glorious cosmic forces. He also says: The artist does not make reference to nature but is rather busy trying to organise his inner material and experiences and visions which are, to some degree, chaotic and consist of perceptions that are unclear, yet, within the process turning it into art, achieve greater clarity – via instrumental composing. The artist is highly sensitive (with a sensitivity that is achieved trough life and not innate), so to say a nerve system that reaches into the cosmos; his self is not a compact unity as his awareness is diffused over the whole body. The artist tells about his privileged inner experiences and visions and, therein, creates new experiences for others (which is, to Kupka, the (rather humble) end of art). There will be no endpoint in art, as the possibilities for visions are endless, likewise, there are no absolute ideals or rules but a quasi-spontaneous combination of elements that makes the primal ground: art is performative. In saying so, Kupka did not make a lot of friends among those who were talking about art as directed towards perfection, wholeness, etc. Kupka was leaning towards the dionysian and the dynamic. – In the Albertina Wien, they have this cool painting Aufragende Formen (Ascent). It is about making cosmic forces and ascension visible. It refers to Hinduism and temple architecture. I like it because it gives you a sense of place. The erectness is appealing. You can communicate with it, but not directly. That´s so fascinating. On the internet I see in the 1990s they had an exhibition about Kupka in Germany, titled Die abstrakten Farben des Universums.

Whereas the unhoused European Kupka, who affirmed that the artist lives in a transcendent or pseudo-reality, was (as they say) otherworldy, respectively, due to his high intelligence, operated at a high level of abstraction respectively overview over the human and the metaphysical condition and was tangential to the man´s world, the Americans were at the same time about to find their own identity and self-assurance in the domain of culture and artistic style. The Great War had shattered humanistic and progressive/spiritual ideals, also those transported by the avant-garde. At the same time the significance of the old world gradually eclipsed and American hegemony gradually solidified. The 1920s were a peculiar decade that brought about rising living standards, liberalism and pluralism, a democratic mass/consumer society and an intrusion of the „mundane“ into high art (the jazz age); alongside a mourning about spiritual emptiness, superficiality, commercialisation as well as that, obviously, under the surface man does not change or improve but may even be hollowed out by stereotypical mass culture. Intellectuals were uneasy about the absence of a grand narrative – in an age where traditions are under siege and society progresses yet no one knows to what end: The usual confusion of epoches of transformation and transition. In Europe, it lead to fascism. In America, the Roaring Twenties were ended by the Great Depression.

Artistically, Precisionism was the dominant style of the era. Pioneered by artists like Charles Demuth, Georgia O´Keeffe, Preston Dickinson or Charles Sheeler, Precisionism combined abstraction with the realisitic representation of everyday objects, particulary those associated with the functional or industrial or urban enviroment. The objects and landscapes are presented as harmonic, hygienic, flat and immediate, new, you have the absence of dirt, decay or human meddling, a rigid geometry, seemingly a „new harmony and order based on function“ that „offered an ideal of stability, eternity, permanency, order and power beneath the chaotic shifting reality of modern life“. You have both culture and inhumanity, a humanity that is probably soon to become obsolete or reduced by the anonymous power of industrialisation, as something both larger as well as inferior to human life. American Precisionists wanted to embrace both „native tradition and modern vision“ (Charles Demuth even said his depiction of modern America tries to relate to ancient cultures and their manifestations and therefore his art relates not to the future but „to the past“). Ambiguous, as it is. Ahhh… Die Welt ist tief/und tiefer als der Tag gedacht. What a supposedly flat pool of meaning, that is yet so deep and obscure. That´s metaphysics. (Quotations from Susan Currell´s book: American Culture in the 1920s)

Charles Sheeler was both a painter and a photographer, which made his paintings particularly „precisionist“ and proto-photorealistic. Sheeler was also particuarly influenced by Duchamp in finding secret meaning and appeal in everyday objects. What I like is that his forms and industrial landscapes are also ascendant and it is cool to be confronted with/exposed to their erectness, and their rigidity, and their asepsis. The sublime comes to mind, and is then relativised: as it is not unlimited and infinite, but seems to carry the potential for transcendance, even ultra-transcendance. It annihilates the subject and, at the same time, empowers it. It is infra-sublime, as it seems more humble and less competent than man, as well as it may be ultra-sublime, that which is destined to transgress man at all. It seems to speak to you, and it does not. It seems to be empty as well as meaningful as well as overcharged with secret meaning and stuff that surpasses man and human understanding, maybe leads into the transhuman or signifies the advent of the transhuman age. Have we conquered functionality, or will it conquer us? It is both heteronomous and homonomous. If it cannot replicate, it will survive as ruins. It is as old as time itself, archetypical. While hypermodern, it also seems ancient (and Sheeler compared it to religious expression in gothic cathedrals, whereas the new religion is scientific objectivity and industrial functionality that relieves man from hardship and makes life smooth). It, foremostly, signifies that there is stuff out there in the world which has semi-independent existence. It adds something to the world, to totality. An enigmatic ontology (respectively Ding-Ontologie), that philosophers have not exactly figured out so far. In reverse to what Kant says about the sublime (that it transcends the possibilities of our sensual perception but not of our ideas), it does not transcent our senses (as it is clear-cut and contoured, even somehow humble), it transcends our intellectual categories and indicates that our very modes of perception and intellect are going to be transformed (opening the apparent rigidity of Kant´s epistemology a bit and making it more malleable). I like the Upper Deck as, in silence, it speaks to me. In insignificance, it signifies. It is pure meaning and significance. It is a culture without me. It is the Great Other. When Bodhidharma failed to make himself intelligible to the Emperor, he sat in front of a wall for nine years, in silence, and finally invented Zen-Buddhism.

Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol

From the 1960/70s onwards, feminist/humanist critique has been articulated against the „notion“ of the „role model“ of the „white male genius“ as the dominant bringer of culture. Leaving this discourse aside for the moment, we shall be inclined to state that the true artist, however, shall not be expected to be as primitively and bluntly gendered as you are (supposedly): It has been noted that creative individuals usually are eqipped with qualities attributed to the opposite gender: Creative females are more self-asserted, rational and aggressive than other girls; creative males are softer and more intuitive and nurturing than other boys. The greater the artist, the more universal the artist´s personality, which means that s/he will possess both „masculine“ and „feminine“ qualities. Virginia Woolf (with reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge) says, the best mind is the androgynous mind.

Meditate about that.

When I recently saw Andres Veiel´s new documentary film „Beuys“, Joseph Beuys also struck me as a being for which „masculinity“ and „feminity“ does not actually, immediately apply. His idiosyncratic head resemblant to a skull, but one that you would not expect a skull(-like head) to look like; Beuys` general appearance is one highly idiosyncratic and statuary and symbolic, though not in a way you would expect an idiosyncratic and statuary and symbolic person to look like. Beuys` appearance is highly emblematic but in a way that comes completely unexpected. A hipster cannot look like that. In his „artificiality“ and his deliberateness Beuys is highly natural and authentic. Beuys was an originator of what would (later) be labelled as Performance Art, Process Art, Body Art, Happening, Social Sculpture, he gave a new outlook on sculpture in general and established a connection between art and politics and the social realm and the human realm, and, finally, about art and life and about what an artist actually is. He was/established a hyperset. Due to his pronounced subjectivity he also transgressed (the impersonality of) Fluxus art and in his endeavour to create a personal mythology he also gave dignity to „mundane“ material (like fat or felt) – as well as he gave dignity to people, in personal exchange, as a teacher, as well as by claiming that „everyone is an artist“ – which means that every creative thought is actually art, therein (and also in his declarative approach, to make something a piece of art by declaration) widening our outlook on art in general. Beuys was an artist in the formation of a democratic age and embodied the spirit of democracy, and his devotion to his students (because of which he finally got expelled as a university professor) was real and not a gesture, as he spent the whole day working in class. He is described as someone who was able to connect to anyone and finding out what the other person needs and how she could be elevated. Due to his high (schizotypal) sense of connectivity he tried to build bridges between East and West, connect man to nature, the ephemeral to the large context of history and the transhistoric, embodied the shaman and a bit of heyoka (though a very polite one). Due to his connectivity, which included also the (so-called) irrational he also had some downsides – but there are worse things around than Anthroposophy or not being able to become a politician (as he was denied to become a candidate for the Green party by the Green party´s other members). He rallied against narrowmindedness and conservatism but not in any obvious way, finally he distanced himself from mass movements, and the fate of people like Beuys is that they are, in the final consequence, isolated loners, whose impact on society is a (seemingly) indirect one, since they do not inhabit the same world as man. Despite his apparently odd figure, in the film a woman spoke to us how Beuys, in their encounters, struck her as completely normal (actually as „the only truly normal person I have ever met“) and as being both a dreamer and not a dreamer at all all alike (that´s a reference to the actual state of hypernormality of the genius). As a pilot in World War II Beuys was not as easily to be unrespected by the rightwingers and conservatives, and one can say that his personal history is one of transformation and elevation (at least apparently). When in his earlier days he had no success, and alongside with the usual pains of a true originator at the beginning, he fell into deep depression, became suicidal and a befriended family had to take care of him (and an elderly woman saved him and reestablished his self-assurance). When he came to America, he elegantly/spectacularly avoided contact with anyone and only (intensely) conversated with a coyote (I like America and America likes Me). His voice was masculine, but elevated and soft, swinging in its own intensity.

When thinking about the androgynous artist, also Beuys´ contemporary and friend Andy Warhol comes to mind; a shy, highly schizotypal homosexual who was otherwordly (and frail) already as a child (whithout, however, displaying signs of a miracle child). – When asked about his opinion about the „discontent“ of our age, in 1955 (in a private conversation with Patrick Bowles), Beckett dismissively said that the „discontent of our age“ is „the discontent of every age“: „99 percent of people lack true access to their own minds“. As a genius, Warhol did not lack access to his own mind, and so, at about the same time, passed off mindless consumerism as well as mindless intellectualism (from left, right or anywere) refuting or being dismissive of consumer society (whose formation is one of the great developments in human history) and turned it into art. As a commercial illustrator Warhol had been no slouch, and his immense talent, actually genius for painting and illustrating (and use of colour) had been disovered at the art school (that being said against the apparent simplemindedness or, at least, coolness of his later art he became famous with), in addition, that professional experience gave him an understanding of how creative work has to be designed to reach a maximum audience. When, after unsuccessful attempts to establish his own territory as a „serious“ artist, he saw an early exhibition of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg (who would refuse to let him into their circle as well) he decided to use their new found language with greater purity and immediacy – which then, finally, resulted in Pop Art. They said, Warhol had a genius for immediacy – and that´s what he did: present things and art as a „fait accompli“, which either means everything or nothing – respectively, in this ambivalence, actually means everything and nothing. He gave the purest expression of a democratic mass/consumer society, and its ambiguities. While Beuys said everyone´s an artist, Warhol said everything is beautiful, and when asked whether he likes or dislikes the apparently trivial things he portrays he responded that „Pop Art loves things“ – also Warhol elevated stuff. Dali said, genius spiritualises everything, and Warhol did this to things, according to the age he inhabitated, as he „glamourised“ things (reminding us also that „spirituality“ is not a simple and easily definable, but a complex, ambiguous thing, with a sharp as well as an infinitely nuanced and spectral/auratic contour, and that is differentiated in itself). With his technique of repetition he removed emotive potential as well as he investigated about (Benjamin´s) aura (via de- and reconstruction); as he added specific colour to it, he made stuff unique and idiosyncratic again. With his genius for immediacy he apparently removed transcendence, while actually he established an endless loop and an apparently mutual gaze between the glorious human and the humble and inarticulate soup can, which is both so ephemeral and (not least as a manifestation of culture and of the most vegetative needs of man, and also as an object for intellectual reflection) destined to outlive man. In a world full of celebrities and in his relentless drive to be a celebrity, Warhol apparently nullified his persona, which amplified his charme and his significance; by apparently reduing his complexity he added a meta-level to his complexity, by taking himself out, he became universal. In fact, while seeming inexpressive Warhol was highly receptive and aware of his surroundings – to the extent that he „merely“ seemed to draw from his surroundings and exploit people and the freaks at the Factory: but in this seeming reproductiveness and derivativeness there was his originality: as originality comes from immediate as well as „paradoxical“ combination of elements and elevating it to a higher level of signicance. When he said that behind his appearance and his art there is actually „nothing“, it may refer to schizotypal self-experience (as having no clear internal locus), to mastery of Zen, to the artist becoming a „sheer“ medium – or to a correct and precise look at the considerable elusiveness of the self. He was a transperson. His films, consisting for example of filming the Empire State Building for hours, result from Warhol actually being able to look at and enjoying stuff ordinary people find drab for hours and becoming immersed into it. And you had all the stuff in it that makes art, respectively the oeuvre of an artist: the paradoxical beauty of soup cans and Brillo boxes, you have (the ambiguity/frailty) of beauty (and of the Anima: Marilyn), of flowers, you have death, accident, execution, the human portrait, Chairman Mao, etc.

In doing so, Beuys and Warhol were defining geniuses of their age and a bit of a negative mirror image of each other. In their apparent superficiality (that is to say: immediacy), they were deep (and gave a new perspective on depth). They were, however, not ultra-deep thinkers of art (hence their relatively immediate success). The ultra-deep art genius will, metaphorically, rest on the ground of the ocean or so these days, and maybe even for the rest of days. He will not really know what masculinity and feminity is, neither will he know about androgyny; he is constantly calculating the universe anew and, by shifting perspectives, creating the hyperset of high order.

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach

In my infancy I used to say that what Francis Bacon was doing in painting, Samuel Beckett (Comment c´est) was doing in literature and Swans in popular music: Showing that the body/the subject/the individual is constituted by forces/flows/streams (of desire) that are older than the subject, that distort it in its compactness and that trangress it (with or without elevating it to catharsis) and that remain after its demise, i.e. the body/subject as a condensation/force field/way station/relay of forces that come from the outside/primordial chaos/nature/culture, constitute some kind of semi-self-referential loop and then, after demise, fall apart and combine anew – the entity formed by/being a way station for streams of desire crawling through greater streams of mud, decomposing: that´s How It Is. A reading of Lacan (and Schopenhauer) favors such a perspective – and of Deleuze who wrote a cool book investigating how Bacon´s art is about making invisible forces (that stem out of „the virtual“) visible. The subject/body as a force field … Numerous other connotations come to mind with Bacon: A „sinister“ painter (contrasted by the personal appearance of a jovial hedonist) who seems to make existential horror and crucifixation explicit – respectively (as an ultimate mode of being affected) vulnerability / and who establishes „zones of indistiguishability“ between man and animal (suffering, tormented man becomes animal / suffering, tormented animal becomes man) and, possibly, a communion of living creature. The erection of (apparently frail and multidimensional and enigmatic) figure within a historical context dominated by abstraction. A figure ghost-like and robust like the artist himself. References to van Gogh by a similarly intense painter, who solitarily creates out of himself. The idea of the body that wants to get „rid of itself“ (most notably exemplified in the Scream motif) and wants to transform into something else (but, obviously, can´t quite). A novel depiction of contour (in an interplay with occasionally violent brushwork). – David Sylvester complains that the relationship between motif and background is a bit unpleasant with Bacon: But herein Bacon is also some kind of originator: The background is nothing the figure emerges from or whatever: The background isolates and depicts the figure: You can also ruminate whether it is meant to express the neutrality of the many forces of the world with which the figure will never interact – at any rate: What a fabulous background! What beauty of colours! (You have to see the paintings in the original to get adequate idea.) Great Monoliths.

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach were friends and influenced each other and were dominating figures in the english art scene of their time. Cross out Francis Bacon, and there remains Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach. – Lucian Freud was a grandchild of Sigmund and, as a chaser of girls, produced numerous offspring of his own. He was described as „electric“, „breathing like an animal“, and „feeling free to do whatever he liked“. As a figurative painter he rose to full maturity when he combined the violent brushwork of Francis Bacon with sharpness of contour and immersion into detail. Freud gets intensely close to his sitters, has an invasive gaze, often portrays them in unusual, and frail, positions. He himself claims that he would like his portraits to actually be the persons portrayed, and that his colour functions as skin – and at any rate, the portraits seem close and the skin seems so thin that you think it could tear apart and the body mass could fall out – while at the same time it is stabilised by the many folds and brushstrokes. However, his paintings seem quite ambivalent, and actually more uncanny than Bacon´s. Freud´s personnel doesn´t exactly deliver a spiritual impression. Their individuality derives from peculiar looks (at the verge of oddity) and unusual gestures. They´re individual but appear relatively empty (and stupid!), they usually look down and seem uncomfortable when confronted with the invasive gaze of the painter at their supposedly innermost secret (note however that they´re captured in the way sitters look like after long sessions – silently annoyed and fatigued). When they´re together in a room there seems to be no true bond between them, respectively that the bond between them seems to be one of shame or guilt or a dirty (though not sensational) secret that has to be hidden behind closed doors. Isolated individuals. – As a child, Lucian liked to be alone, and he preferred animals (horses) over people. He did not treat his first wife good and was a controlling, maybe sadistic husband (who could not, however, dominate his second wife so easily). When painting others he „wanted to see the whole animal“, and he said a lot of his sitters „are girls who have some sort of holes in their lives that is filled by posing for an artist“. He had a difficult relationship with his intrusive mother but could handle her and painted her when after the death of her husband she was a shadow of herself. – Sylvester asked Francis Bacon whether he would provoke feelings of ambiguity in his sitters he did not portray so favorably – but with Freud this seems to be more at hand. Freud´s portrayal of man provokes empathy and  remind us of taking the other as an individual (maybe even in a Levinasian sense), but they´re also humiliating, even if that´s a portrayal of the human condition. When Freud painted the Queen (over a period of 19 months), the Queen was not amused about the product (although it is actually one of the more favorable portraits in Lucian´s oeuvre).

Francis Bacon, Lucian Freund and Frank Auerbach were friends and influenced each other and were dominating figures in the english art scene of their time. Cross out Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, and there remains Frank Auerbach. Like Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach was a (German) jew whose family had to flee the Nazis, and they settled to England, where he would study under David Bomberg (who had been a celebrated painter in his younger years but, due to his intellectual and creative versatility, annoyed and overcharged art critics and so became „the most brutally excluded artist in Britian“ – described as the most intelligent man of the academy, Bomberg was „certainly no one who deliberately wanted to impress someone“ but an authentic man). Although Auerbach´s individual works are often highly different from each other, his general style (or: stylistic approach) has not changed much over the decades. His motives are sparse in variety as he mainly paints scenes in London/Camden and portraits. He maintains a small circle of sitters who he may portray over and over again. Although his intention is to get to the „essence“ of the sitter, the portaits of the same sitter are often extremely distinguished from each other – and often he would work on a painting for a very long time, painting layer over layer. Auerbach´s ability to create a comprehensive portrait out of blunt brushwork and colour fields is amazing, yet often the density of layers is what is most striking (making his paintings occasionally very heavy and difficult to exhibit) – through the layers the paintings gain haptic quality, and remind us of the multiple layers of reality/perception as well as the sheer materiality of the physical world. – Bacon rose to fame (relatively) early (in the 1950s), Freud in the last quarter of his life, Auerbach is the least popular of them. His constant investigation of painting and his high versatility seems to have prevented a signature style or his stuff becoming iconic. – I mean, if you have an intelligence for the arts you will understand that in a virtual painting there is a fluctuation and a vibration/vibrating intensity between different layers respectively between the actualised and the virtual. That brings stuff into motion. This is how an artwork „lives“ and is brought to life. And that´s how you have it in Auerbach paintings who takes this eventuality of getting a grasp on art to very extremes. Auerbach eventually/primordially sees the world as chaos, and the task of the painter as to impose order. Auerbach is interested in „raw“ perception, and, so to say, in an immediate dialogue with the audience which forms the image partially on own terms. A „continuum of perception“. He solidifies form which carries the possibility of its dissolution within itself and offers perceptions that include their own variations. – In this radical approach, Auerbach considers himself a loner (within schools and trends in painting) and a workaholic who seemingly never stops adding the next layer.

„When I saw Frank Auerbach´s works for the first time, I thought that there was really happening something new and extraordinary, and that´s what actually happened … Wonderful portraits in dense colour – but he could not sell any of them at that time. I often ask myself how many people have an eye for art at all. They buy when an artist is famous – and probably does not create his best works anymore. But when something wonderful and innovative happens, they don´t see it.“ (Francis Bacon, Interview with Michael Peppiat, 1897; translated from German back to English by me, fuck off)

Winckelmann, Sulzer, Füssli, Mengs

… were artists and/or theorists who had something to say about art and who were important/conductive in intellectually institutionalising a discourse about art and aesthetics – as an autonomous subject – in Germany in the 18th and 19th century, respectively at the time of era-defining genius Goethe. Their writings are largely out of print. What did they say?

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), offspring of a shoemaker who loved art and especially the ancient Greeks, had a difficult life for many years and he had to live in humble circumstances. The hardships he faced as a scholar (shittily equipped libraries which were, in addition to that, accessible only one hour a day) are beyond our imagination: Acknowledge the effort behind his undertakings and bow down! – Notably in his main work Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums he lay the foundation of regarding the ancient Greeks as the most perfect people and their art as the most perfect art – and indeed ancient Egypt or the Etruscans, which he also discussed, weren´t exactly of such caliber. He attributed this to specific climatic and geographic conditions and to the Periclean democracy and, in doing so, tried to understand the emergence of art out of a greater social context. According to Winckelmann the end of art is beauty, and the ancient Greeks were the most harmonious of men. – Winckelmann´s legacy, and his work itself, was ambiguous. On the one hand he said that the ideal of Greek art could never be reached again, on the other hand he lay foundations for classicism which tries to imitate the Greeks. This was to come in a more formal, and anemic, fashion, but also fresh, original and abyssal-ethereal as e.g. in the case of the good Hölderlin. While Winckelmann resented anemic academic pedanticism his writings seem hard going by today´s standards. Originality and genius were, more or less, foreign categories to Winckelmann, but he also lived before the Geniezeit in Germany – his thoughts were more revolving around the collective genius of a people and about conditions under which great art can arise.

Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) was an eminent classicist painter and nicknamed as the „German Raphael“. His Gedanken über die Schönheit und über den Geschmack in der Malerey (1762) was used as a „textbook“ in many academies. Also Mengs says that the end of art is beauty – as beauty is a tangible expression of perfection (which is, in itself, intangible and only to be found in God). Beauty is achieved as the artist tries to imitate nature and as the artist is carefully selective not to display more or less in his paintings than nature would require. By careful selection, he may create art that is even more beautiful than nature! While also affirmative of the notion that the Greeks are the apex (because they had direct access to the ideal whereas all others only can have an indirect access to the ideal), Mengs is discussing three artists in detail: Raphael, Corregio, and Titian, and he announces that, on the whole, Raphael is the greatest of them (while the others may be the leaders in specific areas e.g. Titian concerning colour) because Raphael is the greatest and well-rounded of individuals, including the „downside“ of Raphael only being able to confront also malice and triviality in the human realm with generosity and greatheartedness (i.e. a bit inappropriately). – Mengs himself confronted less criticism than Winckelmann or Sulzer and, as a great artist, also appeared as a somehow more monolithic figure. His notion of the true artist imitating nature is somehow understandable as true creativity appears natural, stemming out of itself, relatively immune to the diktat of culture and the expectations of the audience, and powerful, overflowing and diverse. Therein, it creates its own harmony.

Johann Georg Sulzer (1720-1779) was a theologian, a philosopher and a man of stupendous erudition. His Allgemeine Theorie der Schönen Künste (1771-1774) was designed to be both a theoretical work as well as an encyclopedia about everything related to art and aesthetics, it contains ca. 900 articles and ranges from music and poetry to architecture and garden art. Sulzer says art is about adding beauty to things (stemming out of an aesthetic drive in man) and that the end of art is moral purification and betterment of mankind – he dismisses a cult of pure reason and says that the (educational) power of art lies in its sensuality and the power with which it adresses the senses and the emotions i.e. the whole of man (although Sulzer does not seem to have a well-formulated theory about that). Sulzer speaks of the genius and says the chief characteristic of the genius is enormous sensitivity and ability to be affected by and to get immersed into things. – The most prominent critique directed at Sulzer came from Goethe: Goethe dismissed the notion that art can be a main vehicle for the betterment of mankind – art originates from the „fire within the artist“ i.e. from the artist´s self expression and happens relatively independent from the (self-unconscious) audience. Of course Goethe was not entirely dismissive about the audience, but – in contrast to the democratic Sulzer – he favored the conaisseur of art over the general audience (which may be natural and unspoiled but, in fact, neither very understanding nor commited).

Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825), who called himself Henry Fuseli when he was an emigrant in England, was a painter, poet and professor at the Royal Academy of Arts. His Aphorisms, Chiefly Relative to the Fine Arts are condensations of his lectures. Confronted with the French Revolution and its aftermath, Füssli became dismissive of the notion that art could do a lot about true refinement of humanity. While he was a fan of the ancient Greeks (as the only people who were able/lucky enough to truly authentically relate to ideals), he was also aware that art is also/mainly about reacting to the challenges posed by the contemporary. As a painter Füssli often made reference to nightmares, horror and otherworldly stuff, as a theorist he emphasised the importance of expression in art (Winckelmann said that an artwork is/should be about expressing beauty/ideal but also about expression (Ausdruck) i.e. the emanation of the (beautiful) subject within circumstances – and he somehow favored the „static“ element of beauty/ideal over the „dynamic“ (quasi-contaminative) of expression: Füssli was inclined to think otherwise). The Aphorisms are a cool document, and they´re insightful also concerning the genius whose qualities are discussed at length. Füssli also thought the highest instance is (not a classicist ideal but) nature – in its infinity (i.e. also containing supposedly nasty elements), and that the genius is someone who is able to profoundly understand/imitate certain aspects of nature (where beauty and the ideal is one element but nothing art should be restricted to). Claims about the „death of art“ or cultural decay prominent at, more or less, every time, can be effectively countered by proclaiming that with every great genius art starts anew (and that due to the infinity of nature there is acutally no competition between them, just an ever ongoing growth and illumination of infinite nature). Hahahahaha! That will feel good.