29 April 2008


The opening of Liz Maw's show Cerberus, Solar Messiah and The Untitled is at the Peter McLeavey Gallery tomorrow, 30 March, at 5.30pm.

There are also openings at Hamish McKay and Mary Newton tonight, but I will be watching Doctor Who instead.

Rough notes towards an argument against Baxandall

  1. Prefer 'iconographical reductionism' to 'iconographical minimalism'.
  2. B's argument fails on his own terms. If he asks us to prefer the explanation that explains all the features of a picture and his explanation doesn't explain the angels' handshake or the pointing finger, then we should prefer an explanation that does.
  3. B suppresses acknowledged function of 15th century privately commissioned paintings as allowing patrons to show off their education and sophistication to their peers in favour of Church commissioned pictures' didactic function (deliberate deception?). This is a privately commissioned picture. Note common feature of religions to encode two or more things in same story – one simple one for general population, another (often quite different) for elites.
  4. Related to 3 is that magical thinking was prevalent in the culture – systems of correspondences etc, including number symbolism. Given P's mathematical ability and friendship with people such as Nicholas of Cusa (which B might not have known about), elaborate geometrical symbolism is one of P's resources. Note limited nature of geometrical scheme B presents (another deception?).
  5. Related to 4 is P's early training as heraldic painter, which would have taught him to see the division of space as a way of conveying meaning (note that B could not have known this).
  6. B's insistence of purely formal solutions to problems seems unreasonable. It doesn't take account of 15th century iconography, nor of role of humanists in deciding iconographical scheme (related to 3 but in tension with 4 – resolve by arguing for P playing active role with humanists in deciding scheme (cf Arezzo)).
  7. Is a reductionist account (what you see is what you get) best way of dealing with good pictures, part of whose interest surely lies in the way they work at several levels? How does that fit with B's (disingenuous) acknowledgement that his not necessarily best way to look at pictures?

28 April 2008

Quote of the day

‘Influence’ is the curse of art criticism primarily because of its wrong-headed grammatical prejudice about who is the agent and who the patient: it seems to reverse the active/passive relation which the historical actor experiences and the inferential beholder will wish to take into account. If one says that X influenced Y it does seem that one is saying that X did something to Y rather than that Y did something to X. But in the consideration of good pictures and painters the second is always the more lively reality. It is very strange that a term with such an incongruous astral background has come to play such a role, because it is right against the energy of the lexicon. If we think of Y rather than X as the agent, the vocabulary is much richer and more attractively diversified: draw on, resort to, avail oneself of, appropriate from, have recourse to, adapt, misunderstand, refer to, pick up, take on, engage with, react to, quote, differentiate oneself from, assimilate oneself to, assimilate, align oneself with, copy, address, paraphrase, absorb, make a variation on, revive, continue, remodel, ape, emulate, travesty, parody, extract from, distort, attend to, resist, simplify, reconstitute, elaborate on, develop, face up to, master, subvert, perpetuate, reduce, promote, respond to, transform, tackle… – everyone will be able to think of others.


To say that X influenced Y in some matter is to beg the question of cause without quite appearing to do so. After all, if X is the sort of fact that acts on people, there seems no pressing need to ask why Y was acted on: the implication is that X simply is that kind of fact – 'influential'. Yet when Y has recourse to or assimilates himself to or otherwise refers to X there are causes: responding to circumstances Y makes an intentional selection from an array of resources in the history of his craft.


The classic Humean image of causality that seems to colour many accounts of influence is one billiard ball, X, hitting another, Y. An image that might work better for the case would be not two billiard balls but the field offered by the billiard table. On this table would be very many balls – the game is not billiards but snooker or pool – and the table is an Itqalian one without pockets. Above all, the cue-ball, that which hits another, is not X, but Y. What happens in the field, each time Y refers to an X, is a rearrangement. Y has moved purposefully, impelled by the cue of intention, and X has been repositioned too: each ends up in a new position relative to the array of all the other balls. Some of these have become more or less accessible or masked, more or less available to Y in his stance after reference to X. Arts are positional games and each time an artist is influenced he rewrites his art's history a little.

- Michael Baxandall, Patterns of intention: On the historical explanation of pictures

21 April 2008

16 April 2008

Four-dimensional painting

Let us pass over the fact that there are no clear demarcations between objects, no such things as discrete objects. What we consider to be objects are constructs of the mind.

Let us accept for the sake of argument that these constructs are the objects that we conceive them to be. What is the entire object? It can’t be the object at any arbitrary point in spacetime. That’s just a slice of the object, not the object as a whole. There is no reason to privilege any particular slice of spacetime over another. The entire object is all the spacetime events involving it between when it was created and when it is destroyed.

Not only does this make it almost impossible to appreciate a painting in its entirety but it also has implications for the conservation and restoration of paintings. There is an assumption that the painting as it was when the artist stopped working on it is ‘the painting’, and that any change to it after that is ‘damage’ that has to be ‘restored’. This is, of course, an untenable position.

Over time, a painting changes. Dust and smoke particles accumulate on the surface. Varnishes darken. Pigments change their colour. Cracks form in the surface. Conservators talk about restoring a painting to its ‘original condition’. But this is, as we have seen, an entirely arbitrary designation. Why privilege the moment an artist stops working on something over any other moment in the painting’s existence?

When I’m working on a painting, I carefully blow smoke over the wet paint to trap the particles between the paint layers. In at least one case, I’ve included dark forms in the underpainting that should hopefully begin to show through the lighter overpainting in about 50 years or so.

11 April 2008

Quote of the day

Duchamp and Picabia first met in September 1911 at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, where they were both exhibiting. ... Picabia was thirty-two years old, eight years Duchamp's senior, and had already enjoyed critical and commercial success as an impressionist painter – although he was suspected of copying his images, supposedly painted in the open air, from picture postcards (he was to copy mass-produced illustrations at various points in his career) [many of these supposed plein air paintings were obviously far too large to've been painted anywhere but in the studio – as always, even at this early stage, he was taking the piss and mocking artistic pretensions – DC]. ...

The encounter with the more assured Picabia was a turning point in Duchamp's life. Independently wealthy in these years, Picabia could afford to turn his back on dealers and the market, and paint as he chose. The freedom of Picabia's lifestyle, his pleasure-seeking, irreverent and, at times, angry approach to the art world, and above all his utter refusal to toe a party line or be told what to do, opened Duchamp's eyes. In an interview towards the end of his life with the critic Pierre Cabanne, Duchamp stressed that he found Picabia's madcap lifestyle mesmerising and his spirit 'amazing':

CABANNE: I have the impression that Picabia made you understand that the people you knew, at Puteaux, were 'professional' painters, living that 'artistic life' which, at the time, you already didn't like, and which Picabia detested.
DUCHAMP: Probably. He had an entry into a world I knew nothing of. In 1911-12, he went to smoke opium almost every night. It was a rare thing, even then.
CABANNE: He revealed to you a new idea of the artist.
DUCHAMP: Of men in general, a social milieu I knew nothing about, being a notary's son! Even if I never smoked opium with him. I knew that he drank enormously too ... Obviously, it opened new horizons for me. And, because I was ready to welcome everything, I learned a lot from it.

Exactly what he learned, Duchamp never articulated [ha! – DC] ... Witness to their conversations [actually, an important participant in them – DC], Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia said strikingly that the two men 'emulated one another in their extraordinary adherence to paradoxical, destructive principles, in their blasphemies and inhumanities which were directed not only against the old myths of art, but against all the foundations of life in general'.

- Jennifer Mundy, 'The art of friendship' in Duchamp Man Ray Picabia

09 April 2008

Something to wear with pride

08 April 2008

Superlative painter of breasts

When I proposed a post entitled this, there was some objection. I believe some such calumny as ‘Is that all you can see?’ was bandied round. However, I make no apology. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with focusing on a particular part of an artist's practice.

Next up at Peter McLeavey’s, once Peter Robinson clears out, is a Liz Maw show. It’ll be nice to go to an opening of good paintings for a change. And there'll be breasts!

06 April 2008

Cheers mate

01 April 2008

Quote of the day

I favour art that is about the seriousness and challenge of adult existence, not Rupert Bear type fantasies.

- John Hurrell

The fool

I really like this time of night. It's really quiet, and it seems like the rest of the world sleeps while you restlessly prowl around.

One of the projects I've got sitting on the shelf is to do an avant-garde tarot deck. This project has been gathering dust for a while now. It's pretty hard to beat Crowley's effort after all.

Every man and his dog is online nowadays, and you can even do a tarot reading with Crowley's deck online. Here are the results of one I've just done. I get all the good cards!

First card, representing me: The Star (Hope, faith, unexpected help. But sometimes also dreaminess or deceived hope.)

Second card, representing the current environment: Ten of swords (Ruin. Death. Failure. Disaster. Undisciplined warring force, complete disruption and failure. Ruin of all plans and projects. Disdain, insolence and impertinence, yet mirth and jolly therewith. Loving to overthrow the happiness of others, a repeater of things, given to much unprofitable speech, and of many words, yet clever, acute and eloquent.)

Third card, representing the obstacle: Seven of disks (Failure. Unprofitable speculation and employment. Little gain for much labor. Promises of success unfulfilled. Loss of apparently promising fortune. Hopes deceived and crushed. Disappointment. Misery, slavery, necessity and baseness. A cultivator of land, and yet is a loser thereby. Sometimes it denotes slight and isolated gains with no fruits resulting therefrom, and of no further account, though seeming to promise well. Honorable work undertaken for the love of it, and without desire of reward.)

Fourth card, representing the goal: The Hanged Man (Enforced sacrifice. Punishment. Loss fatal and not voluntary. Suffering generally.)

Fifth card, representing the basis of the current environment: Eight of Wands (Swiftness. A hasty communication. Letter, message. Too much force applied too suddenly. Very rapid rush, but too quickly passed and expended. Violent but not lasting. Rapidity. Courage, boldness, confidence, freedom, warfare. Violence, love of open air, field sports, gardens, meadows. Generous, subtle, eloquent. Can mean untrustworthy, rapacious, insolent, oppressive. Theft and robbery.)

Sixth card, representing the past: Seven of Swords (Futility. In character untrustworthy. Vacillation. Unstable effort. Journey, probably over land. Partial success, yielding when victory is within grasp, as if the last reserves of strength were used up. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining through not continuing the effort. Love of abundance, fascinated by display, given to compliment, affronts and insolences, and to detect and spy on another. Inclined to betray confidences, not always intentional.)

Seventh card, representing the immediate future: Seven of Wands (Valour. Opposition, sometimes courage therewith. Possible victory, depending on the energy and courage exercised; obstacles, difficulties, yet courage to meet them, quarrelling, ignorance, pretence, wrangling and threatening, also victory in small and unimportant things, and influence over a subordinate.)

Eighth card, representing the future environment: Four of Disks (Power. Gain of money and influence. A present. Assured material gain, success, rank, dominion, earthly power completed but leading to nothing beyond. Prejudiced, covetous, suspicious, careful and orderly, but discontented. Little enterprise or originality.)

Ninth card, representing the influence of society: Five of Disks (Worry. Loss of profession. Loss of money. Monetary anxiety. Trouble about material things. Toil labor, land cultivation, building, knowledge and acuteness of earthly things, poverty, carefulness. Kindness, sometimes money regained after severe toil and labor. Unimaginative, harsh, stern, determined and obstinate.)

Tenth card, representing the challenge: Art (Combination of forces. Realisation. Action (material). Effect either for good or evil.)

Eleventh card, representing the outcome: The Priestess (Change, alteration, increase and decrease. Fluctuation for good or for evil.)
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