«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 ...»
Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 151 There are several ways in which a tropaic path may be established in a painting. In a poem or novel, this is relatively straightforward. These textual works tend to unfold as one reads, left-to-right, top-to-bottom. Thus the phenomenological experience of the reader is the sequential path along which tropes are laid out. Paintings have an at-once far simpler and far more complex presence. The viewer simultaneously experiences the work as a whole and as a sequence, usually the path one's eye follows through the work, as determined by the composition — what attracts attention first, second and so on. Planning and controlling such consecutive visual paths is one of the staples of the education of artists in art schools and universities. A walk through a single work becomes quite complex. The painting is always being viewed metaphorically on three levels: the whole, the sequence, and the interaction of these two. Although literature, especially poetry, does this to an extent too, it is not as foregrounded or inherently important to the basic construction of textual works as it is to visual works. The speed of the insistent interaction in a painting compels flickering attention, a dialectic, almost split-consciousness. Therefore, Color Unit 24.1 must be viewed metaphorically as a spatial and temporal experience and as an entire entity, including its "internal" (e.g.
Boetschi is making several analogous and complementary mappings in his paintings.
The aspects of form he utilizes in his metaphor(m) are color and geometric composition, through which he plays regularity against irregularity, typifying understanding and learning.
His chief foundational metaphor is one common to our culture, if currently theoretically in dispute : "UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING," ("I saw the light!"). Kin to this is the famous "IDEAS ARE PERCEPTIONS." Boetschi's personal creative extension is "perceptions are surprising." Furthermore, philosophically important to his art are the two foundational metaphors "IMPERFECT IS IRREGULAR" and "PERFECT IS REGULAR." His mapping proceeds as follows. "Thinking is seeing," metaleptically then, it is "painting." Light becomes color, (in Boetschi this is paint, but without obvious stroking, so more of an ocular than a physical presence). His choice of quirky color is the source mapped on the target "IRREGULARITY." Furthermore, this yields the target "imperfect," which in turn yields "discovery" or "surprise" by steps. In an inspired turn of elaboration and extension, the geometry of his compositions is matched to "REGULARITY," yet contrarily the arrangement of those forms is matched to "IRREGULARITY."
Geometric yet irregular composition and eccentric, allusive colors are manifested very particularly in Color Unit 24.1. The eight rectangular units have pleasing proportions, their length being twice the distance of their width. Any sense of stability this could contribute to the composition is undermined, however, by the fact that they are arranged both horizontally and vertically in a rather willful, non-serial fashion. A classic shape feels highly conditional.
They do not line up in an obvious manner. This plays on our expectations rooted in the foundational metaphor "COHERENT IS ALIGNED" ("I couldn't get the facts to line up").
Boetschi is hinting at incoherence and clearly manifesting disparity. "DISPARITY IS CHANGE" is an important foundational metaphor ("His books are getting shorter"). By bringing these two together, his central trope is thus particularized to suggest that a change in what we perceive as coherent is necessary. Since seeing is a form of cognition and ideas are models, his insight invites broadening to perception and life in general.
Boetschi's rectangular units are contained within the overall square of the painting's form. This is an inversion of the expectation one has from the history of compositions based on the Golden Rectangle. The famous Minimalist Agnes Martin also often inscribes Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 152 rectangular segments within square paintings. She has described the effect. "The little rectangle contradicts the square. And the square is authoritative." 4 Although Martin uses much smaller rectangles, the point made by both artists is similar. Stability and authority are both presented and denied. "THEORETICAL DEBATE IS COMPETITION," ("They have rival theories") read in reverse, is united with "STATES ARE SHAPES" ("He refuses to fit in"), together questioning all our metaphors based on coherence, stability, and (thereby) authority.
The central figure in the work is a short-capped, long-based "J." It can be read as a tricolored figure on a butterscotch ground. This, too, is highly provisional. The "J" seems to be formed of pixels which are much too large; it calls to mind the random doodles on graph paper of a distracted science student: filled-in squares forming faces, little stick figures, or initials. Additionally, it is too top-heavy and lopsided to the left. A viewer's eyes begins at the top, travels down the shaft and then turns rapidly to the left where it wishes to zoom off the edge of the painting. Boetschi presents this so self-assuredly, however, that many a design fundamentals teacher would break his theoretical neck justifying this composition in standard Bauhaus-derived terms. However, the painting vigorously denies such a reading, which is an important aspect of Boetschi's metaphor(m). "Importance is central" and "EMOTIONAL STABILITY IS BALANCE" are blatantly negated. Color Unit 24.1's geometric structure displays a composite of elaborations and variations on foundational metaphors concerning regularity and irregularity. This composite is then utilized by the artist as a self-interrogating metaphor which causes us to mistrust our definitions of these concepts.
As potent as this formal composition is in its own right, it acts to present color in an even more unique and overwhelming way. Boetschi frequently professes that color is the raison d'être of his work.5 That is, color itself — not color theory or color therapy, which many mistake for color as experience. There are hardly ever any primaries in this artist's work. In fact, there are seldom secondaries or tertiaries. The choice to work with only red, yellow and blue, familiar from so much hard-edge painting, is revealed to be a conceptual act negating color by relegating it to simple formulaic, arithmetical permutation. In contradistinction, Boetschi creates an intuitive calculus of color desire. The hues are so specific, yet so unnamable, that one feels drawn to refer to personal associations. Their suggestiveness is precarious, though, by being adamantly referentially indeterminate. Color refers directly to life outside the confines of formalism, yet retains its personal integrity by refusing to be a symbol. The "background" hue in Color Unit 24.1, that to the left and right, is an acrid butterscotch, equally attractive and repellant. The almost-white at the painting's top is exactly poised between white, grey and lilac. Or is it simply assuming these guises because of the surrounding tints? The yellow recalls Vermeer's pearlescent highlights on gold, yet it is colder, like the sun on a beautiful winter morning. The grayed lilac below seems paradoxically both tasteful and tasteless, were it a fashion or interior design choice. It is as friendly as the butterscotch is discordant. In another context, it could well be a cloying variation on ancient rose, yet here it seems to ring like a bell. Boetschi's color references while often metonymic are all additionally similes, more than metaphors, each foregrounding its own conditional like or as. These colors are decidedly not balanced, yet masterfully
composed. The size of the work at 200 by 200 cm allows the viewer to swim in the colors, fully reveling in the stream of associative perceptions.
In color, Boetschi most clearly particularizes his central trope. "UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING" is driven home with quiet force — color is not allowed to become a color name;
seeing is not allowed to drop to mere verbalization; understanding is both a sensual and rational experience, not something one can memorize nor a mere pun. Imperfection becomes perfection. REGULARITY metaphors are not only played off against IRREGULARITY tropes, rather IRREGULARITY proves REGULARITY to be a misconception, overwhelming and replacing it sensually. Since "OPPORTUNITIES ARE OPEN PATHS" ("Her new job offers her better paths of development") and "IDEAS ARE LOCATIONS" ("He's always jumping to conclusions"), Boetschi's painting offers a new, more open possibility for envisioning and finding better perceptions.
Color Unit 24.1 is an instance of what Daniel Ammann has termed "the allusive game."
He discusses this in the novels of English writer David Lodge.
...I have concentrated on selected examples of intertextuality as they occur in their immediate contexts. Separated from the whole, they can only be hints for what might be salient aspects in an overall interpretation.
Now I turn to intertextuality on a wider scale. Just as lexical repetition, collocating vocabulary or alliterative and assonantal patterns often yield persistent clusters of theme and imagery in an intratextual, stylistic approach to the text, so intertextual references may be integrated into a meaningful reading when they permeate the language of a novel. 6 In Color Unit 24.1 one sees the potential for such highly complex, "wider scale," creative, yet refined metaphoric structure in painting. Boetschi's metaphor(m) is multilayered, allusive, interpictorial (to mimic the word intertextual), and permeates every element of the painting — most of all color and geometric composition. Let us graph his central trope in a blending diagram.
fig. 53 The Diagram of Charles Boetschi's Metaphor(m) His personal central message is that unbalanced surprises in color and composition show the contradictory truth of experience. Boetschi maps geometric composition on abstraction (and its associations of regularity, nonrepresentationalism, even coldness) and simultaneously oppositionally blends the colors of the geometric forms with referentiality and evocativeness. Thus his metaphor can be stated in several fashions including: "Geometric
forms are nonrepresentational, yet their colors are referential." His central equation is:
"Composition and color are visually irregular," thus yielding "surprising perception," which imparts "new ideas," which supply "understanding." The postmodern complexity in this metaphor(m) is the fact that his image-mapping relies on our expectations from the history of the forms with which he works. Significantly, this painting is both idiosyncratic and global in implication.
Central Trope in Two Contemporary Painters' Works 155 Leonard Bullock:"Venetian" Heterogeneity and Eidophor
Let us now proceed to another contemporary painter, Leonard Bullock. The blending in his central trope is much simpler than that of Charles Boetschi, yet nonetheless quite rich in its effects. Bullock's opulent and engaging paintings present subtle developments in postmodern art which entice an historical analogy as well as two newly minted concepts. It could be said that Bullock is a "Venetian" among contemporary painters, because his art offers an alternative to current trends, intellectually being highly of the moment but far more visceral. As has been much described, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and other Venetian artists created sensuous, painterly works emphasizing color, and light and space, thus supplying a clear alternative to the dominant rationality of much of the art of their day, particularly that of Rome. Bullock's work occupies a similar position within in the (post-) postmodernism of our day.
Heterogeneity is a noun describing the situation of being composed of vastly varied, dissimilar elements. Indeed, swirling structures of incongruous elements form the emotional and compositional heart of Bullock's approach. The parts themselves, however visually disparate they might be, nevertheless are fundamentally conceptually related. Each is an "eidophor."8 This neologism comes directly from the artist, self-coined to identify his creation of visual tropes through nodules of painterly activity, each of which contains a compressed collection of references and allusions. The painter is sensually and cerebrally thinking with paint — thinking through painting, in particular the stroke. Bullock's paintings embody Venetian heterogeneity and eidophor.
Paul Ricœur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), p. 214. Ricœur's italics.
Leonard Bullock, personal communication, Basel, Switzerland, 2007.