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“Elephant” in a china shop”

Deep inside, it must be difficult, if your name is Painter [the Greek word Zographos = painter], to want to become a painter. Difficult, and yet of great relevance. What does a name actually mean? And what can an image mean? How do you name what appears – or perhaps it happens that one sees more frequently that which one names, and not that which one sees? Perhaps the image is nothing but the ability to name what we see, even if we don’t see fully? Or conversely, perhaps we consciously or almost consciously conceal that something extra we see, that something more than what we name, in order for the image to exist? Perhaps that which is not named in any specific way through the processes of naming the image is in fact what we call painting? Perhaps it is neither the name, nor the image of his work, or – to proceed a little more rapidly – his painting, which makes a man a painter? Perhaps what we call painting is not named either through the image or the painter or what we see, but consists in what we do not name in what we see in paintings or in that which we cannot name even as a material fact, as a ‘work on canvas’ – as the exhibition press release says?

What is the difference between a house and a home? The building and the building site? Perhaps a painter is a man who passes by the house, by the building site, by the building in order to inhabit it in a painterly way (much as the poet inhabits the world in a poetic way). But where is the world? How far away from us is it? What do we call it each time? And is there an ‘each time’? Is the world divided into units, into entities, parts and facets – or is it perhaps either one world or nothing? Do we say of the painter that we follow his traces through chaos or the inconceivable, as the hunter tracks his prey or the archaeologist the signs of human habitation, the detective the clues left by the murderer, or Tom Thumb the stones he left to mark his path? Or perhaps the artist too is like us, in the void, without a compass, without footsteps to follow, without material education, without symbolic language, without even any significant wisdom, semiology – white and impenetrable as canvas? Neither veil, nor transparency, nor membrane, nor interval, but naked, stretched, cold, unblemished canvas on which there happens (if it does ever happen) to be represented something – which is not the conventional process of representation. Because the process of representation is known as representation, not painting: it is the embassy, not the principal authority. It is the theatre, not the play. It is a protocol, not true experience. It is a memorandum, not a memory. A technique – not art.

And so what does the name of painter mean if not that one represents a profession, when in the eyes of the other, or probably too in the eyes of the painter himself, it should mean the capturing of a moment of lived experience in time, an experience that is not limited to the references of the subject, to the representation of a scene, but – as an old friend of mine wrote me on the subject of painting only today, a friend who has abandoned the installations and constructions that earned him an international reputation, when learning that I was excited by some paintings of his that I had seen – ‘he wished to work on scale : 1, not to need to authorize anyone to construct something in his name, not to need to wait to see his work finished but to be directly involved in the process of the work’. This may be one of the most concise and cogent explanations of what it means to be a ‘painter’, or of the meaning of ‘painting’. That there should be no authorization to sign and take responsibility for the work, that there is no contractor, no intermediary coming between the act of conception and its realization in practice.

In other words: to see, to act, to name, to think, to view, to project, to conceive, to conclude and complete, to move away and to approach, to perceive and to mean, to touch and to hesitate – and suddenly, to raise one’s hand, with all the force and energy the gesture can contain. All that unreasoned and unthinking dynamism that raises the hand towards the object – that white, naked, taut, cold, immaculate white canvas or painting – which, like a cloth laid on a table, like a closed box or a fresh slab of cement, demands that you lay the table, awakens your impatience to release the sense of surprise within you, or otherwise – the need to finish the building so that the space within can be inhabited. The need for the house to emerge from the construction, to be made into a home by the hands of the man who occupies it, who will open and close it, will prepare it to house a life, who will provoke or surprise.

What else is Vasilis Zografos doing, then, in his work – the works of pure painting – than that which brings out his technical mastery, knowledge of the subject and awareness of the process he employs in the name of the spectator and the history of art, in the name of information and education? As my friend expressed it in his direct and urgent message, so Zographos comes face to face with the transcending of this mastery. The extraordinary nature of a cultural and material wealth of the object and the names one can bestow upon it, transformed into something equally remarkable for its poverty and imperfection – an existence that lies in the memory of the gesture which laid it bare before our eyes, not as a perfectly achieved canvas but as a used, lived experience in which what we do not see and what we cannot name becomes the essence of a work of art. A work of painting, the accomplishment of a true painter – not a depiction, a representation, a mere naming, but like the skin of a snake or a “elephant” in a china shop, the passing of an age or the passing from one wager to another…

What age? What wager? What else? These things constitute indeterminate remains which only the work of art itself can undertake, can handle. Because this is the quality – unforeseen, neither intuited nor named – which cannot be contracted out to others, cannot be accomplished by proxy, the responsibility for whose existence cannot be transferred to others. It requires the presence of the painter and the art of painting, beyond name and function, directly and immediately present.

As spectators we wonder at the capacity to inhabit a space of surprises, bare and haunted, innocent and immaculate, and yet terrible and terrifying in its familiarity and the almost immediate ease with which we might see what cannot be spoken and speak that which cannot be seen: are we painters, or are we part of the work itself?

Let each of us take responsibility for his own gesture – reach out his hand to show or to appropriate. Let each of us accept a contract without terms or conditions – or satisfy ourselves with the dialectic of a cultural synergy.

The work of art both invites and provokes. And yet with what moderation and shame the painter warns us, and with what austere propriety he dissuades!

 

Denys Zacharopoulos

March 2009