Talking about a drawing by Goya the writer John Berger says that the distance between different parts of his drawings should not be measured in centimeters but in seconds. The time it takes the artist's eye to move on, and his hand to follow, leaving its mark. Perceived in this way the drawing spreads out in time, not just on the paper, and the sensation for us as spectators shifts ever so slightly from a static image to a dynamic one, with a pulse of its own.
People often ask me about about the distortion in my work, the big hands and feet, the elongated limbs. Seen in the light of Berger's lucid remark the term distortion is revealed as obsolete, because these are not stills but images extended in time: the hand has stretched, the foot has found the ground and the face has turned away. Think of it as a kind of cubism, not in terms of space but in terms of time instead.
This is not an idea, not a starting point nor a reason to work in a certain way. It is a conclusion that I have arrived at after 30 years of painting, following my intuition and reflecting on what is happening on the canvas in front of me. Any advance, any discovery has to occur within the painting, it is of no help to look for solutions elsewhere.
Giacometti stated that he knew perfectly well what he was setting out to do and how he would be able to achieve his goal until the very moment when he started to work. It was then that all his certainties fell apart and he got totally lost, incapable of applying any preconceived solution for the problems the work he was facing confronted him with.
The maze of each work is inevitably unique and so have to be the decisions that illuminate the artist's way out of it.
I don't dance. But dance has put a spell on me.
Maybe it all began when my mother took me along to see the productions by Pina Bausch's company in nearby Wuppertal when I was a teenager. Not that I was keen on seeing them, I was far too young to understand, but the seen definitely left a mark. Even now, thirty years on, images and words from back then surface on the most unexpected occasions.
To paint or draw a dancer is a challenge. And I am not speaking of rendering anatomy in a convincing way, nothing could interest me less. I am speaking of the attempt to catch a glimpse of what is behind the appearance of things. Dance as I experience it comes close to naming the unnamable, rare moments when the veil falls away and the essence of things surfaces, a kind of truth that does not filter through reason. Raw material.
I need the other, the not-me. Reality. For me painting is a necessary means to connect to a reality which I would find it hard to believe in without this on-going effort of establishing links, building bridges. Painting is what convinces me of the significance of the real.
John Berger again:
...for man, despite the faith of the empiricists, reality is not a given: it has to be continually sought out, held - I am tempted to say salvaged. One is taught to oppose the real to the imaginary, as though the first were always at hand and the second distant, far away. This opposition is false. Events are always at hand. But the coherence of these events - which is what one means by reality - is an imaginative construction.
Something is expressed through those bodies in motion, something I am undoubtedly in tune with, but words are of no use to express it, to come anywhere near it. It is painting of all means that I have turned to, a clumsy, static medium that excludes motion, a medium that does not rely on time to come across to the viewer, the antithesis to the ephemeral, evasive essence of dance.
And yet there are common grounds. The canvas defines a space like a stage for the brush to move in. Rhythm and balance are as crucial in a composition as they are in a choreography. Time is present, too, is layered instead of stretching out. Multiple time, my time as I paint, the dancers' time as they move and finally the viewer's time spent facing the painting. Three currents of time merging in a single place and moment.
Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Matisse, to name but a few. There's a thread of dance woven into art history.
(Introduction to the book (I don't) Dance, published in Barcelona, July 2018)
It's about the powerful sensation of something that longs to be expressed, of something that asks for attention and for time to be spent on it.
I have no interest in interpreting images.
I do not want to tell their story, nor do I try.
I love the voice with which images speak to me, not necessarily for their meaning but for their sound.
Through looking at an image and doing so over a stretch of time the image reveals itself, becomes familiar. The reasons for why it caught my eye in the first place are disclosed, not in terms of knowledge, but in a more subtle sense: the image soaks into me and weaves in with others already there so when I work on a painting I get in touch with all that raw material taken in over the time, all the inherent richness of visual memory.
Take the image for what it seems at first sight: something you see in front of you, no interpretation needed. Avoid the storytelling. Let the image tell its story, without interference.
Only like this its story will be truly its own and at once different each time, according to who is looking at it. You should look as you would listen. When I am painting I am listening to images, not pronouncing them.
For me it is not an imperative to innovate. The new cannot be a goal in itself but has to be an integral part of the work in progress. If the new does not surface during the work insisting in it
for its own sake seems to me a sterile attempt.
I am aware that in its essential aspects the impulse behind my work does not sit easily in a contemporary context. It relates to the longing of keeping bits and pieces of life outside time whose flow I have always been crucially aware of. Painting serves as a kind of antidote to this awareness and even if in the long run it may not mean more than the postponing of an ultimate defeat, it nevertheless feels like the one necessary thing to do.
It is not about what I might achieve striving for new goals in my work. It is about what I cannot avoid doing, about the inevitability of it.
If I am to trust the singularity of my ways (neither better nor worse, simply my particular load) I should have the courage to follow them. Without lowering the guard of my own critical sense, yet the criticism has to be inherent, its parameters advance alongside the work itself.
Over the time the charge of gesture has become more subdued, as if falling silent by and by. (When one sets out to work it tends to be all self-affirming noise.) Movement, too, has turned into something more subtle, as if it had frozen into its own potential.
I enter the ground of painting without a clear notion of what I expect to happen, even if I start off with more or less precise references: press cuttings, photos I have taken, drawings, film, any such thing as has caught my eye... The weaker the actual source material the better because the scarceness of information leaves me with the necessity to improvise. I am left empty-handed, so to say, and have to rely on that strange amalgam of the seen, the remembered and the imagined. It is there where glimpses of things seemingly forgotten suddenly surface, leading me not to a conscious recognition nor to a precise recalling but instead to a kind of intuitive relief. It is in this instant that painting takes on its ultimate meaning: time has turned into something relative and is no longer an absolute.
Reflecting on time and its part in painting has led me to a strange equation: what if time were to replace the third dimension in bi-dimensional painting? It is as if it solidified into just another medium employed in the work process, and all the different currents of time (the time implicit in the image I start of with, the depth of the time recalled, the actual time I spent in front of the canvas...) merge in the final image.
I believe that any art form has at its core some of this attempt to defy time, but painting is the one means of expression that withdraws from the realm of time in the precise moment of its completion. One may spend time in the contemplation of a painting, in fact one should, but the painting itself is not subject to time as would be a piece of music. A painting is just there, an object, independent of the flow of time; a still presence. Yet time is there, too, fixed, transformed from the usual horizontal time into a vertical one, providing a singular depth to the painting and therewith the strongest argument in its claim to exist.