Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Excerpts from Gao Xingjian "Return to Painting"

While never straying form the work that is emerging under his hand, the artist also never stops observing himself. To possess this kind of self-consciousness is to no longer be a simple artisan. Consciousness is not like reason; it is far vaster, and to a certain extent, it includes reason. Whereas reason progresses through reflection, relying on language and logic, consciousness shines at the heart of the chaotic self and is immune to the rules of cause and effect, while also restraining and guiding human behavior. Consciousness arises out of a subconscious it does not reject. Instead, it regulates it and sublimates its drives into creative activity. One is hard put to tell it apart from intuition. If we agree that sensations are the endowment of intuition, then consciousness is the mistress of reason.

If painting returns to nature, to the human being, to human sentiments and visions, it will spell its return to what is spiritual, a far richer and more interesting recourse than the one offered by consumer objects and articles.
If nature is subjected to either micro- or macro-scopic observation, not only with the aid of scientific instruments but through the human gaze as well, the result will be landscapes imbued with humanity.

Representation, they say, is passé, a product of outlived methods. As an artistic expression, it is neither progressive nor retrograde. The still life, for one, has never been abandoned. Van gogh, Cézanne, Morandi, Derain, nd Giacometti painted their share of them, always swerving them up through a new gaze or a new technique.
If we oppose representation and presentation, why should the second strike us as the more remarkable of the two? Is it more modern, more contemporary? These are pointless questions and useless oppositions, with which the artist need not bother. As to the methods, there are neither high nor low ones, and they are of no import to aesthetic judgment. Only the originality of the gaze and the artist's talent and skill in conveying his visions are essential to art.

Go back to the beginning, to painting's point of departure, to searching for images. Still, you do not wish to paint nature as it is. You will have to set out in the opposite direction, move from your innermost self toward the sources of light. Allow yourself to fall into your inner visions to see the light springing up from everywhere.
Inner visions have no depth of field; they cannot be taken apart by geometry or arranged according to topology; their movement never stops, and you must work hard if you want to capture them. And while they may not pertain to physical space, they do pertain to time. Whether you concentrate your thoughts or allow them to roam, the pleasure you experience is always infinite.
Dispose of signs, free yourself of symbols, and reach for the image unhampered.
Codify chance and set a course for evolution.
Motion gives painting vitality; it is part of the process always, even if only for a split second.
Transform chaos into a process of mutation; you will endow it with meaning.
Make light the subject of your paintings; make it the only subject.
Transmute informality into formality and supply a method for the first.
Turn form back into an object to be painted, show the contrast between object and light, sustain the light, point up its effects, so there will be light everywhere.
Give even the simplest forms substance and sensation--not an abstract and lifeless point or surface or geometric line, but a stroke f the brush, a mark of the ink, a trace of water, a full taste. Allow it to recover its natural state. Give it life.
The rigid distinction between abstract and figurative art is the product of academic categorizations. When concepts are sent packing, concrete forms appear, sensation-filled forms that emerge naturally, wonderful forms!
Make motion a theme of painting, paint its contrasts and transformations.
Allow music to enter painting, paint its motifs not its phrases; paint the tastes of sound, not its melodies and rhythms.
Paint also the air, the wind, the flame. Paint flight, evaporation, and the thaw.
Bring back the literature that has been banished and paint joy, paint sadness and torment and anxiety and fear.
Paint the silence, the dark inner depths, the visions, the ever-changing visions unfolding in time. Even is stasis, they pertain to the inner worlds.
Do not paint logic and abjure treacherous dialectics. Do not paint language. There is no calligraphy in your paintings. You paint neither words nor signs.

A painting can be endlessly created, and this is why painting fascinates you. You are always discovering things while you paint, never describing them.
The meaning emerges little by little, then leads to another meaning, until all meanings are made to come together in the painting. Through it all, you intuition lets you know what works and what does not. And what works today may not work tomorrow: you look at yuor painting a long time, until it finally finds its stability. That is how you know your work is finished.

Your gaze is always inside the painting, whether you are looking from afar or close-up and in great detail. This may be a commonplace principle, but the question is, Did you really enter the painting? If the answer is yes, then the surface will no longer exist in mere two dimensions but also in time. You are clearly reporting a sensation now, not just a concept or speculation about time. In short, you don't shy away when you paint or look at your paintings but look things square in the eye.

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