Extreme painting

From the ground the course that a painter follows often branches out in different directions. It is only from a distance that one can see clearly how the paths might cross, join up, merge into each other or suddenly stop at a dead end. One way to navigate these paths is to think ones way along them “philosophically”. Things in themselves - the core - that which lies at the heart of what the painter is trying to embody is often best approached not by looking at it directly but by knowing clearly where one does not want to go: avoiding expressionism, avoiding programmatic approaches, avoiding theoretical distractions, avoiding narrative, avoiding deconstruction, avoiding taking the picture plane for granted etc. In other words, preserve at all costs an open space for painting where it can unfold and reveal its precarious nature. It means committing oneself fully and without compromise to the possibilities of the medium itself and here I don’t mean the closed self-referential trap of a certain modernism but that way of experiencing things in the real world through the specific qualities of the medium itself by engaging with what only it, painting, can do. Ultimately, the desire to form a vital relationship with things in themselves, has its primal source in an underlying existential anxiety. That anxiety in which time, for us at least (and time is perhaps only a limitation of our consciousness), consumes everything, and turns it into pure oblivion. The irony for a painter is that against this vast, impersonal, overwhelming force of the universe he or she at once holds up images or objects of great specificity and uniqueness; the momentary reflection in a window, a shadow in a corner of a room, a view through some birch trees etc. This transformational value given to the mundane experience of the everyday and the apparently unimportant objects that surround us is one of the main features of our contemporary sensibility and is already beautifully expressed in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s The Lord Chandos Letter, of 1902.

In this sense, extremism is not about transgression as such, nor necessarily the embracing of excess and decadent subjects and in my mind it is certainly not the absolutist or fundamentalist approaches to art such as so-called “radical” painting etc. Extremism is when there is the greatest tension between ones initial motivation on the one hand and all the means by which one tries to manifest this on the other (even when this runs the risk of total failure). Extremism is the ceaseless pushing of the medium and extracting what it has to offer in its most advanced manifestations. While there is always the attempt (humble rather than heroic) to come to terms with the anxiety of existence one should never underestimate pleasure in painting and the fragilty of this pleasure only makes it more poignant and serious.

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