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Stefan Arteni



SolInvictus Press 2004


The present essay is not the place, nor has it the space, to do more
than try to sketch a brief outline of a possible inquiry into the
survival and pseudomorphic appropriation of Byzantine artistic
practices from Theophanes the Greek through El Greco to Serge

Aside from everything else that tells against simply identifying art “All knowing is doing”.
with image or idea, any discussion which is to contribute Humberto Maturana
understanding must first elucidate the intertwining of presentation
and representation as the forestructure of interpretation - the
reciprocal relation of both at the same time gives and brings about
the work. The paradox of drawing a distinction serves as a bridge
between what is painted and how it is painted.

Similarly, the analysis of the contingent act of painting gives first

the correlation of organization and the varying possible topologies
of structure - von Balthasar shows that contingency is the heart of
the creative process. It is also essential to discover more about
Polanyi’s notion of ‘tacit knowledge’.

This double paradigm shows the collapse of a primarily conceptual,

idiosyncratic, and/or functional-image based view of art.

Perception lingers. Maturana and Varela suggest that perception

consists in an ability to differentiate figure from ground in different
media. According to Varela, visual perception occurs as a dynamic
visual flow. Form is not the shape of a something, it is the
difference between something and its environment. The distinction
of medium and form is itself a form. Painting symbolizes these
differences in the medium of visuality. In this context,
symbolization means creating form. By painting and viewing the
painting, it becomes possible to distinguish between graphic-
pictorial combination and sense-meaning.

Form and emptiness mutually depend on each other. Emptiness is

unmarked space. “Form arises as a…residue of the process of
distinction, indication, and unfoldment”, notes Jack Engstrom.
Master Fa-tsang remarks that form is contingent. For the observer
who draws distictions, emptiness is revealed through form. Thus
one may speak of the form of emptiness and the emptiness of form.
“The mathematical analogy of emptiness is…the empty set”, writes
Sean Robsville.

Nativity Icon, 15th century
26¼ x 25 in. (66.4 x 64 cm.)

Serge Poliakoff Serge Poliakoff

Yellow and black on deep red background Composition blue, white, red, 1952
Oil on canvas Oil on canvas
51 ¾ x 38 ¼ in. (131.5 x 94.5 cm.) 24 x 18 ⅛ in.(61 x 46 cm.)

Stefan Arteni Nicolas de Sta ël

Composition Road at Uzes, 1954
Low relief alkyd painting on canvas Oil on canvas
36 x 29in. (91.4 x 73.6 cm.) 25 ⅛ x 31 ⅞ in. (65 x 81 cm.)

“The painting must always rest…on a construction basis…it should
not have anything in common with…literature”, notes Serge
Poliakoff. The organization and structure of a painting are
inexplicably understudied subjects. Recent years have seen a few
attempts at investigation, such as the appearance of an article by
Carolle Gagnon-Marier on Serge Poliakoff And The Golden
Number where Poliakoff’s connection with the Byzantine tradition
is also discussed. Rather than conceptually, the Icon suggests that
art is best understood in terms of the elements unique to the
medium, such as configuration and color. The artist would map the
forces that transect the unique artistic event.

It is also important to reexamine the concept of tradition itself. “The reconstructive approach
This too has received little attention. Dell Hymes writes: enables the memory to
“…intact tradition is not so much a matter of preservation, as abstract a prototype, fill in
it is a matter of re-creation, by successive persons and generations, missing features of a noisy or
and in individual performances”. It may also consists of different incomplete pattern…”
codes of self-observation related to different positions of Liane Gabora
observation built into a polycontextural conception, such as
injecting classical universals into one’s cultural context without
sacrificing the respective identities. The different ways in which
artists encounter Byzantine art helps to explain how they pursue this
tradition. While familiarity with Icons comes through firsthand
experiences, the apparent formal choice consists of pseudomorphic
appropriation and stylistic interpretative citation, thus integrating
also reminiscences of Greek classical art. The process contributes to
the self-referentiality of the work. It is also evident that meaning
depletion and circularity, the continuous ritual reiteration and the
turning back of the artistic signifier upon itself - or, to paraphrase
Michael Sells, the performative apophasis consisting in
reference/non-reference - exhibit the tendency to step outside the
paradigm of referentiality.

Theology uses the term charmolype – joyful sorrow. The historical “Duration is construction,
background may explain the meaning of the concept. Nothing ever life is construction,
happened, or was accomplished. Procrastination, inertia, the reconstruction”.
sense of futility, of moving in an endless dream of lost hopes, were Paul Valery
perdurable. Form, as an alternative order, allows a flight from
history, the simultaneously evading and referring to tradition.
Monica Spiridon argues that the logic of the threshold of Europe is
connected with “de-synchronization with Europe’.

I have traced elsewhere the development of the concepts of “Every pictorial matter brings
organization and structure, one key to understanding the about its own form”.
sophistication of the composition process, the complexity of which Serge Poliakoff
lies in their integration.

The painting is a possible world organized into marks, planes - for

example, contour and local color - and so forth. Emergence is the
process whereby by means of a small number of simple rules -
such as first organizing the surface into abstract areas with the help
of the Golden Section and then constructing local-area networks
within these areas - one creates new unpredictable and surprising
structures. The organization is realized through structure. The artist
seeks to exploit the combinatorial potential of the pictorial space -
within the framework outlined in this essay, pictorial means

painterly, and the term space in ‘pictorial space’ is used as a
metaphor; pictorial space is an abstract space, the space of pictorial
forming. Form-ing is selectively contingent.

An event may, or may not, have happened. In complexity theory - “This frightful being on the
complex does not mean complicated - the outcome is often go without a precise goal…”
unpredictable. According to Cyril Stanley Smith, artists have a Mario Sironi
greater sense of the relationship of parts to whole and of self-
similarity. Robert Rosen defines a formal system as syntax,
symbols (in the Peircean sense), and rules of symbol manipulation.
It is a matter of mereotopological (parthood and connectedness)
contingency: speaking about areas (the two-dimensional regions or
continua), the transformations allowed before the space is changed;
speaking about the image, the transformations of an image
conceived as a diagram that may gain or lose parts and yet preserve
its identity. The flexibility of structure is the basis for the
complexity of parts, wholes, boundaries, interpositions and
overlappings, nested regions, contact, separation, and transition
(passage). But what of inner boundaries combined with passages, a
device used by El Greco? In this case of intrinsic vagueness, there
is a degree of arbitrariness about any particular choice resulting in
trapping regions as inner boundaries – a sort of inner vectorial
graph - and creating indeterminate outer boundaries. Such an
influence is visible also in Villon’s and in other Western artists’
work, a fact showing that to remain in the background, which is the
case for the procedural memory of Byzantine practices, is not
synonymous with unimportance. Procedural memory is also known
as tacit or implicit knowledge.

Figurative synthesis is responsible for the genesis of a determinate

representation. ‘Schematism’ specifies the conditions for
recognition as well as the topological invariant within the abstract

The playful assemblage, de-assemblage, and re-assemblage of “Dynamic models…capture

areas within which occur multiple intertwining formal visual important aspects of
pictorial narratives, iconography, and symbolism, often working at creativity, such as change
cross-purposes, help to lay bare the passage towards a resolution of and embeddedness…”
conflicting objectives and the satisfaction of those contending Geert Wissink
parties – presentation and representation. Form - pictoriality and
pictorial facticity - becomes the carrier of meaning.

Deleuze formulates the image as a “mobile assemblage”. This “An image maintains
allows for shifting conglomerations of elements – each image is memory of motivated
contingent and evolving. Any figurative elements - re-cognizable connection between the
configurational elements – are grouped in clusters within the signified and signifier, but
variable layout of the abstract areas that fit together like pieces of a this motivation is never
puzzle. By means of color-scheme, placement, and linking, reduced to a single one…”
natural spatial and dynamic categories are destabilized. Emerging Jelena Grigorjeva
patterns convert image data into pictorial equivalents - fiat entities,
that is, created entities - and construct a pattern of configured non-
emptiness and voids, an intense simultaneity. The work records
recurrent culture-specific modalities which were in operation - signs
interfacing with other signs, color, tactile modality, and the
imprint of gestures - cross-coupled with the material domain.

Attributed to Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)
Study for the Disrobing of Christ
Oil on panel
22 ¼ x 12 ⅝ in. (56.6 x 32 cm.)

Jelena Grigorjeva remarks: “visual explained as a
theory of reading visual texts…the very procedure of reading the
world rooted in earlier traditions of hermeneutic exegesis”. Eric
Gans suggests that “paradox…cannot be conceived without the
sign. But neither can the sign be conceived without paradox”: to
see what is not, but yet appears, to see the oscillation of
presentation and representation, to see likeness in unlikeness, to
see what cannot be worded, one must move beyond the text
metaphor. Sonnesson indicates that the model of cultural semiotics
elaborated by Posner suggests that semiotisation attains its
maximum degree at the Centre as opposed to the Periphery.

Han-liang Chang speaks of homo loquens and homo symbolicum. “Every symbol has an
Kris A. Murray indicates that Geertz describes symbols - by inherent apophatic
which he does not mean symbols as defined in semiotics - dimension”.
as recursive-like ‘models of - models for’. One can never achieve Michael Amaladoss
an actual visual reference to any nonsubstantial entity and can
never bring the unlimited into the delimiting - one uses secondary
polyvalent, multi-nuances symbols whose primary meaning is not
discarded. “Art as form is the locus where the absolute becomes
knowable. This locus, however, does not coincide with the
absolute”, writes Antoon Braeckman.

© Stefan Arteni 2004