«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
This complexity was fully intentional; the allusion to the canvas in Las Meninas I only discovered at the moment of writing this chapter, thus I am not certain whether the thought is an exegesis or an eisegesis. That is, I do not know if I am explicating the work or importing a subjective meaning into a reading of it. Either way, I am happy with the polysemic possibilities: once again, my allusciviousness appears.
Memento Mori Loop
The centerpiece of my painting-installation is the group of colorful sequential canvases.
The black areas were painted directly on the wall. The outermost image is that of a thought balloon as often seen in comics. Significantly, it contains not only the thoughts of the metaphor(m)al merger and of the sequence, but also the image of me. I am thinking about thinking, including myself and my artistic creations within my own thoughts, a clear metaphor for this entire chapter. Those thoughts consist of an image of my current principal metaphor(m)al merger. This arises from the trope "the convergence of formats=reframing," or "visual transformation=metaphoric transformation," as made specific in my blending of the vernacular arts of sign-painting, display and comics with the fine arts of painting, installation and philosophical conjecture: the comic made of paintings in a billboard, as an installation.
Inside these framing devices is the central image sequence. It reads from left to right and top to bottom, as does any book or comic within our culture, yet it must also be viewed as a whole and can be seen as a loop. In it, the third animal appears, another Golden Retriever dog, whose death had occurred only shortly before I did the work (the other animals having passed away within the year before). This sad event, as well as deaths among human acquaintances led me in a perhaps melancholic direction. I wished to complete the embodiment of my metaphor(m) in a humanistic, hopefully poignant, fashion — not just cerebral, if impassioned, intellectualization. The images show an autumnal scene with a sign on a post and falling leaves. The dog, named Gina, enters in panel two, head first. Panel three she is already walking on, we see her hindquarters.
My Metaphor(m) 142 fig. 49 Detail of My Metaphor(m), left "page" of sequence
fig. 50 Detail of My Metaphor(m), right "page" of sequence I was thinking not only of actual events, but also of Denise Levertov's title poem to the book Overland to the Islands. It highlights Levertov's varied, masterful use of linebreak with a purposeful mimicking of the subject matter in the line structure. Often referred to as "the dog poem," in it Levertov describes and imitates the seemingly random fashion with which a dog explores its environment.
A loop which is also such an "intently haphazard" search is a potent trope of the metaphoric search for and construction of meaning in life. In looped sequences I see an instance of a potentially important compositional invention, which I term iconosequentiality.
This is my neologism for the unique combination of forms of phenomenological perception in comics and my art such as this painting-installation. Viewers frequently perceive both the entire page as an iconic unit, similar to a traditional painting, and simultaneously follow the flow of narrative or images from panel to panel, left to right, up to down. In the My Metaphor(m) installation, this is viewing the entire artwork as a whole while also reading it left to right. Thus my work and comics are concurrently whole/part and openly linear (even multi-linear with the possibility one has to glance "backwards" and "forwards" if desired, while reading/viewing). They are therefore ontologically as well as phenomenologically both iconic and sequential. Aesthetic attention becomes a wonderfully anti-purist conceptual blend of, or perhaps flickering between, a rich variety of forms of reading and viewing, most of which are under the control of the perceiver. The ultimate hypertext/hyperimage united with the joys of a traditional painting image's patient always-there, self-reliant presence.
An agonistic creativity within the history of composition is crucial, not for "significant form" or any march of history, but for personal metaphor(m)al use as I have been discussing in this dissertation. Tackling the practical and philosophical problems of composition in art (especially painting) has been an impatient, important, revisionist struggle throughout history.
However, this has not been true simply in order to form novel conventions, but to move on to distinctive organizational structures, new tropes useful for the embodiment of arisen desires.
Iconosequentiality is my central compositional trope, perhaps the new "working space" for which Frank Stella has called.13 Such a factor determines the specific modes of attention which I wish to blend — especially a reading/viewing amalgamation. Important to me as well is that iconosequentiality has the inherent predisposition to be tropaically democratic. It is a step beyond Pollock's revolutionary "overall" composition, while embracing that discovery, as well as its child, installation, and not retreating to relational balancing games or neoDuchampian avoidance of compositional agon.
In an iconosequential loop, there is a rich opportunity to create an open visual and narrative field, where creative input appears to be asked of the viewers, including them in the experience (even reflecting the call-and-response notion I discuss in Chapter Seven). The loop is a tool for reflection, while simultaneously allowing one to be a part of the flow of the work.
In this case, I saw a chance for creating a memento mori, an artwork which reminds us, as the Latin says, "be mindful of dying," or "do not forget you are dying." In this case a very specific memento, a memoriale even, a "mnemosynum amoris inter animalium species": "a reminder of love between species." While this perhaps may be interpreted as sentimental, it is not intended as the anthropomorphization of animals, rather the zoomorphization of humans.
I have attempted to polysemically embody an analysis of my own metaphor(m) within a Panels painting-installation artwork and make this, together with a textual reflection on the piece, a section of my dissertation. This has led me into a multi-layered, allusive work, in
which as I feared, I primarily wish the viewer to feel, react and contribute to the complexities rather than desire that they be systematically elucidated. I yearn for artwork to have as part of its content the mysteries of the metaphoric search for and construction of meaning in life and art, a memento of tropaic hope. The painter, art historian and theoretician within me may not be reliably unified but instead, hopefully, dynamically, dialogically harmonized.
My Metaphor(m) 146 fig. 51 Cover Chapter Six: Central Trope, Two Contemporary Painters oil, acrylic and ink on wood, 2010, 40 x 27.5 cm / 16 in x 11 in Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 148 CHAPTER SIX.
Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works In the last two chapters we considered the creation of potential central tropes in an imaginary fashion and then saw my ruminations upon my own metaphor(m) embodied in a Panels painting-installation custom created as a part of this dissertation. Now let us trace the significance of realized metaphor(m)s in tangible detail by studying a single painting by Charles Boetschi and the most recent body of paintings by Leonard Bullock. As an exception, I have no overarching conceit in this chapter, unless an analytic essay which assays the chain of cognitive-metaphoric reasoning behind paintings is in some way indeed a trope of itself.
A Single Painting: Charles Boetschi's Color Unit 24.1
The artist, who passed away April 4th, 2006 at the age of only 48, was a friend of mine and a partner I treasured in discussions concerning art, especially painting; thus, many of my perceptions here are informed by long personal conversation. Boetschi's paintings, including the one under discussion here, Color Unit 24.1 (fig. 52), are both idiosyncratic and revelatory.
They are idiosyncratic in that they ignore the pressures of many current art world fads, but also in their very compositional reasoning. Each work is a subtle and sophisticated combination of tropes critically utilized in a unique way — one which points viewers toward possible personal revelations of vision.
Boetschi displays unadulterated and courageous antithetical awareness. His paintings make clear reference to the minimalism of Donald Judd and the geometric abstraction of the hard-edge and art concret painters. Nonetheless, he denies and inverts several of their key premises. In his paintings, he acknowledges geometric art's tradition, but also shows that he has taken postmodern doubt to heart. Boetschi extends the metaphors of this style, sometimes by "backing-up", sometimes by leaping forward. He paints, a method Judd abandoned to go into a three-dimensional form falling between painting and sculpture which he termed the "specific object." Yet, Boetschi's surfaces are immaculately smooth. The only evidence of the
object being hand-painted is the infinitesimally raised edges due to paint thickness where fields of color meet. The choices of hue are unique and playful, not primary and pedantically balanced as in art concret. The materials are traditional, unlike Judd's work. The artist forswears both the utopian aspirations of hard-edged purist painting and the Dada-fathered theatricality of presence in Minimalism. Therein, he is able to re-establish an activity important to early geometric painters such as Piet Mondrian, yet scorned by Postmodernists — the striving after integrity. He becomes technically, by choice of medium, and ethically, through his aim, prior to his composite of predecessors.
Boetschi uses a heavily intellectualized compositional strategy based on a grid formed of eight rectangular subdivisions. Generally, his compositions within his chosen constraints violate the standard rules of design as learned in art school. The paintings accentuate skewed arrangements and peculiar color. Strangely irritating yet attractive "off-hues" are adjoined in a seemingly random fashion. There are rarely primaries or even secondaries. Personal, emotional and anecdotal associations accrue to the various tints. Boetschi's works are intelligent, complex and precariously dissident.
Color and Light
Color is a happily difficult entity for trope and for theory in general. It is seldom mapped from the source domain of vision in fundamental metaphors in general speech utterances. This may be because particular colors are so insistently real, so sensual. Although it may be forced into a symbolic role, color does not mimetically represent anything in itself and it cannot be abstracted. It is always a sample of itself. Nonetheless, in many visual artists there is a mix of metonymy and metaphor in their central trope, which thereby allows the incorporation of color. A piece of something, a sample of color, may be utilized as either synecdoche or metonymy. This trope may then be further manipulated as a metaphor or other trope leading to foundational metaphors. As a simple example, one might exactly match several of the multitude of colors of "white" people's skin — none of which one can in any fashion describe as actually white. The various yellows, browns and pinks are a synecdoche of humanity, become a metonymy of societal division, and are a clear metaphor for the falsity of racial definition. Obviously, color must come into play in visual art. Much of painting throughout history has revolved around color-formed space. Light and color are inextricably linked for visual artists. Foundational metaphors of light are thus often intricately manifested in color.
Let us explore this at work in the acrylic painting, Color Unit 24.1 of 1998. The 200 by 200 centimeter piece may be viewed tropaically on two primary levels. First, there is the irregular/regular aspect pairing in the "J"-formed composition. Second, there are the individual, seemingly associative colors used where one would expect strong primaries. There are many additional elements convincingly integrated into the metaphor(m). These include the large size of the paintings, their scale in relationship to humans, the raised edges of the paint and the depth of the stretcher frames. However, these are of somewhat auxiliary importance, primarily displaying the artist's strength of reasoning in the pervasiveness of his central trope.
Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 150
Irregular Regularity George Lakoff and Mark Turner describe several prime methods for creatively applying foundational metaphors: extending (developing implications of the tropes), elaborating (adding in details), questioning (casting them into doubt), and composing (bringing two or more together).3 Boetschi is conducting several of these operations in this work, but most importantly he is composing tropes into surprises of opposition (REGULAR / IRREGULAR), thereby throwing their identity into question. His central trope is a productive model of thought. In Boetschi's metaphor(m) the action of composing and fusing tropes becomes the act of questioning them.
Lakoff and Turner, More than Cool Reason, pp.67-72.