A Painting is not an Image.

"Rodger's Island, Lubec, Maine," oil on panel, 14.25" x 11.5" © Antonio Dias

We are swamped by images. This site is full of images.

Images of paintings are not paintings.

I would say the reverse is also true:

Paintings are not images.

An image is an illustrated idea. It is a sign for something we wish to hold onto. In this way an image is like a verbal concept. A simple analogy or metaphor, like any form of explanation, it exists as a sign pointing at an idea. Not all verbal expression is a stand-in for an idea. Extended metaphor, a story, a poem can be something else.

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Painting is not an additive process

"On Top" oil on canvas, 8" x 6" © Antonio Dias

It’s hard talking/writing about painting. Everything about painting is hard, except for the gifts of grace to be found there.

I’ve been struggling with how to find a way to talk about pervasive failures in painting that strike me as symptomatic of our time illuminating broader misunderstandings of what it is to be.

It presents itself most commonly in work that never gets beyond the first tentative steps of what painting can offer. Most often these are paintings that never even get there. They are stuck in a negotiation between the artist and the canvas in which the focus, although often unrecognized, is on creating an impression. Not “Impressionism.” Not anything as meaty as providing a glimpse into the dance of perception and attention interacting with recognition and association. That would be addressing the potential of art. This is simply a striving after an impression of cleverness. An impression that the artist, “Knows what he’s doing.” An impression of “talent.”

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Painting Air

Paul Cézanne, "The big trees" 1904

Everything is in everything.

I’ve come across this statement in Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster.

Everything is in everything.

It hits home with me as a painter, directly, viscerally.

It’s clear when we look at a Cezanne, for example. Continue reading “Painting Air”

Mysterious Foundations of Truth

1987 2nd suite #6

If the things themselves are holy, it is in the gaps between them, the form of their unstable, shifting relationships from which we uncover the sacred. The details grow to something greater. The mystery of representation is that it can never quite get at the thing itself. The mystery deepens insomuch that, nonetheless, in its own fragile manner representation is able to hold, or at least touch upon, the gaps between things.

Nick Norton

We find that ineffable point at which so much art fails. Realist or abstraction, unless a work maintains this precarity, honors the essential nature of the gaps, it promotes a lie. Asks us to be complicit in a fraud.

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Immersion, Quality, Presence

"Reflections" 7.5" x 12" oil on panel, © Antonio Dias

I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.

Pablo Picasso

Ego throws up every distraction, every dissipation, every rationalization for why we must maintain distance, approach everything critically, and mediate every moment. Every analysis, every mediation of our condition – however it may be helpful – risks reducing complexity to complication. Remaining with the results of any plan of action – any developed momentum – risks bleeding attention away from an immersion in the moment, an engagement with quality, sheer un-mediated presence.

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On Cezanne, Part II

Still Life with Skull & Candlestick, Paul Cezanne

Cezanne’s early paintings tended to be thick, clotted, muddy. He was pushing to set down so much. More than he had the means to express. His paintings, at times, appeared ugly. And yet, when we look at any of his early work, we cannot deny its expressive qualities. No matter how un-virtuosic his execution, the paintings have weight. They convey a complex mimesis that transcends his rough, ham-fisted approach.

Working in the 1860s, fifty years before such expressive excursions from the cannon of academic finish gained any acceptance, even among the avant-garde, Cezanne painted. He made one personal, often embarrassing – both for their content and their “poor” technique – painting after another. He kept painting.

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What Makes it Art? Guston Quotes, Part II

Philip Guston

What is seen and called the picture is what remains – an evidence. Even as one travels in painting toward a state of ‘unfreedom’ where only certain things can happen, unaccountably the unknown and free must appear.

Philip Guston

So much packed into these two lines.

Let’s begin with “an evidence.” This is at the core of painting. We manipulate a surface and what remains is evidence. Physical evidence. Paint freezes. It congeals into a solid. It has opaque qualities and yet is always more or less transparent, certainly translucent. What was done to the surface. What pigments were added. How they were moved about. Even what was removed. All leave traces that remain.

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What makes it Art, Responding to Philip Guston, Part I

Philip Guston

There comes a point when the paint doesn’t feel like paint. I don’t know why. Some mysterious thing happens. I think you have all experienced it… What counts is that the paint should really disappear, otherwise it’s craft.

Philip Guston

It’s all here. This may not be comprehensible to someone who doesn’t paint, but it is essential to understand this if one is to paint. There is no better description of the gulf between failed painting and the real thing.

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On Cezanne

1987 2nd suite #9

Cezanne might be the most reassuring painter to those of us facing a canvas today. Not that he was in any way easy. His work is monumental. His personality was prickly, certainly not one to console anyone. The temper of a loner diabetic with deep sugar crashes and the rages this can bring on. But standing in front of his work there is a quiet, persistent calm. The way this communicates itself to me, from one painter to another, if translated into words might go something like this,

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A Glimmer of Eternity

The air is so cold. The land is so hard

Marks & Intention: How the complexity of relationships builds a whole.

Every mark made on a canvas is a trace of an intention, volition encoded. Beyond position and value they give clues to direction, velocity, color. No matter how loosely made few marks appear just to have “happened.” Of those, most fail to be recognizable, failing to cohere. Lacking a unity of perception.

Unity can be perceived in a myriad of ways: mimesis, caricature, metaphor, synesthesia. Every form of equivalence, every rhyme with our perceptions of the world, is available.

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Signs and Extended Metaphor

"Ella" oil on canvas with attached wood, © Antonio Dias

Signs pull apart the totality of perception. Tearing holes in the field of relationships. Stopping the eye and the mind. Forcing a precipitation of some part held in opposition.

This post is illustrated by a series of images of my work from various “genres” and across the span of three decades. This essay begins to explore why these are one body of work and not merely an eclectic mash-up of “styles.” And not just this work, but all visual expression, is within a single unified realm of perception and action.

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Between Wanting and Finding, a Cross-post from Horizons of Significance

At Sea

There is a point at the start of a painting when there is a precariousness between what the painting “is to be about” and the first touches of what is actually there. Something I’m only arriving at now is that the former, while of great interest and concern at the start, is of no account. It becomes – if we insist – an obstacle to the work’s development.

What if we let go of such concerns? What if instead of focusing on what it should be, or what we want, we simply allow the painting to occur?

You see, painting never happens as “thoughts” translated into “actions.” As much as we wish this were true. As much as all of our mythology of genius and heroes would make us insist things must happen this way, they don’t.

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What Happens When Avant Garde Leaves the New Academy Behind?

"Hominid Skull," Graphite on paper, 11" x 14"

Avant Garde. We all know what that means! We learned it in school!

There was always something of a cognitive dissonance, sitting in a slide-show survey class and taking notes to regurgitate on a test about how the modern avant garde was – and therefore supposedly still is – so transgressive! The old story about how it was a rebellion against the bad old Academy,

“Repeat after me! The Avant Garde rebelled against the Academy!”

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Learning to See, Scratching at the Truth

Notebook 1981 untitled #6

“and the stones show me the way….”

I’m involved in a few conversations on the needfulness of art. This fragment of a quotation from Carl Jung seems an appropriate place to begin.

In a time when the hot-house strains of art criticism that have so long been the “High-brow” approach to questions of art join most other expert-led monopolies on thought in a growing irrelevancy, it’s important to begin again at the foundation of questions of art and its place. Andrew Taggart’s essay linked to above, and the thread it is a part of, is a good introduction to these questions and to how the current status quo has failed.

My own intuition has always led me to mutter under my breath that art exists in relationship to Truth. No matter how hopelessly unfashionable this has been, I’ve never let it go.

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Notes on the Sources of Art

1987 suite #8

This piece, a cross-post from Horizons of Significance, has grown during the writing, pushed ahead by the ambition of its title, only slightly modified by the insertion of the word “Notes…” I’m resisting the urge to break it up into my customary 1,500 words. I need to break that habit as much as we all need not to get too comfortable with the bite-sized nature of blog posts in general, a “rule” I’ve already stretched with my “average” post!

I’ve had this gestating inside me for a long time. Somehow it has surfaced now, with the catalyst of a post by Achille Mbembe, at the height of the “Dog Days” when we’re all distracted and feeling a bit lazy… So be it! I hope you’ll give it a look, and perhaps save it for later when crisper air brings renewed appetite. This may be as close to a “Manifesto” on Art as I come! So with some trepidation, here are,

“Notes on the Sources of Art”

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