November 24, 2018 - February 02, 2019
For a single day of exercise
An electric current runs through and burns it, so it does not resist but instead becomes a conductor,Marc Pautrel
Much has been said about Robert Brandy’s striking early works, the influence of Supports-Surfaces, of Robert Rauschenberg, and even, in the tribute made, of the goals of painting according to Cézanne. The present exhibition, which combines monumental canvases, boxes, Chinese inks and small-scale works, emblematic miniatures of his oeuvre as a whole, makes it possible to form an idea of these influences, but above all to examine their profound differences: they distinguish an original painting, remarkable for its coherence and what must be called its aesthetics. From the 1970s to the most recent works, there have been not so many periods as such (white, black, or “affiliation to Cézanne”, to use the words of Bernard Ceysson), as there have been variables, with their advance and regress, in an uninterrupted exploration of the principle notion of intuition of oneself and the world. Speaking of abstract art does not really take into account the complexity of the research, when Robert Brandy points out that he comes from landscape, that his initial concerns had to do with this question. Maurice Merleau-Ponty could serve here as a guide: “Landscape,” he writes, “thinks itself in me, and I am its awareness”. An awareness thus defined is a ‘fold' in the landscape, a fortiori in the fabric of the world. Merleau-Ponty calls it a “chiasmus”, an interlacing or criss-crossing, in which both awareness and the world participate as part of the same “flesh”, in an indissoluble osmosis. Robert Brandy reformulates this accident of the ‘fold’ in his own way: “I do not paint the line, but the feeling of the line”. The result is a set of features and operations. The emotional, almost lyrical fluttering of gesture and colour, the establishment of polarities taking on a status as event on the painted surface, the attention paid to the texture of the subjectile and the effects of reality obtained by collage, the grafting of objects or the exposure of the stretcher. The gesture “exhausts” the colour which, saturated, disgorges its overflow of drips, the polarities (high and low, convergent and divergent axes, geometry or elements of architecture and smears that appear random) accentuate the chiasmus between what the painter applies and what the canvas commands. One thus has a painting in a situation and in movement, both an almanac of the moods of the artist and a deposit of knowledge and technique, as Denis Roche would say. While painting sanctions the gesture and the propitiatory moment of its rise, the picture itself preserves the dramaturgy. Baroque in its realisation, it is memorial and commemorative in its considerations. “It seems to me,” remarked Robert Brandy, “that there is a presence underneath ... It seems that behind the painting, that is to say beneath, there is a memory of painting”. Moods, speed of execution, gestural and coloured commotion, underlying memory, reveal the world in its sediments and its strange presence. Painting achieves what we might call an epiphany, in the same way as it establishes its archiving. It is doubtless in this process that the challenge lies: space, where the self and the world intersect, appears as an exercise and an appropriation of time. This time picked up in the instant is the intuition of another time, an overwhelmed time. Gasquet, quoted by Merleau-Ponty, interprets Cézanne’s approach: “There is a minute of the world that passes by, and it must be painted in its reality”. This commentary could apply to Robert Brandy’s painting, even if this means, given that it is never acquired, the invention of a self that always begins anew.
“From the first stroke of the brush,” declares Marc Devade, “there is the presence of a nameable thing; the difficulty is to make a work formed of brushstrokes before it is actually named”. To maintain oneself on the edge of the razor, as it were, before everything becomes reified and collapses in the discourse, ordering a close correspondence between intuitive intelligence and the science of the brushstroke. This is the impeccable combination offered by the work of Robert Brandy.
My dear Robert,
Great doubts assail me as to your identity. Are you Robert Brandy? Are you Bolitho Blane? Are you the honest, scrupulous, excessively fussy archivist of the actions and gestures of this unusual individual, a sort of Arthur Cravan who has chosen not to linger over the Dadaists? Has Bolitho Blane – or his confidant, a certain Brandy, his Watson? – in turn adapted their love for lies, for idle cross-dressing, for the propagation – we would say today – of fake news bearing hectic legends of the little Buffalo, the little hunter of the Pampa, the little detective, or this inspector Allan Dickson – all children of Arnould Galopin or Arsène Lupine, a premonitory figure of chivalrous and seductive detectives and other cops, all dolled up like Simon Templar, Brett Sinclair or the Phantom? They loved cars, wild races, and so on. Well, well! Let’s forget Inspector Clouseau and look out for Bond, James Bond!
The painting is perhaps only a cover for an unexpected adventurer overlooked by the “services” of the great powers entangled in the affairs they have built up in order to assert themselves. That's why painting will never be a matter of ‘doing over’ demonstrators in demonstrations. Painting is always an alibi: for those who make it, those who sell it, buy it or comment on it. It allows them to feign a fictitious attention – sometimes well played, sometimes very badly played – in the daily life of our pea-like, our ‘potatoïd’ Earth, so that the news from the rest of the vegetable gets out from under their feet. Some – and we do not know whether they are double agents or improvised lobbyists – work on feeding the agitation of the pea that the species living on it nibbles the way rabbits do with carrots which, once eaten is forgotten: they continue, the rabbits, to gnaw in the void because they gnaw the way the Shadoks* pump, the way we, humanity, we pump, filling the time of the lives we live.
We – the human beings, aka humans, in the sense of Jean Pic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Kant – spend the time that passes that could happily pass without us. But those above-mentioned three, and a whole mass, a multitude, of others, comprising a number of ill-defined criminal somebodies who are a little or very much self-proclaimed philosophers, have led us up the garden path. One of them is Descartes, a “little bit soldier”. Red in the face and bored stiff, he deludedly declared that we “were”! Because, allegedly, we were thinking. The General of the French – yes there is only one – on reading this allegedly exclaimed: “What a vast programme"! But this René Descartes, as irritating as the daring puntor (but cautious the way they are in Auvergne), Blaise Pascal, far from being naive (not Blaise, but René), effectively wrote “I think, therefore I am”. He therefore, and before Bourdieu, practised a rather arrogant sense of distinction. Had he, in a more barman-like than soldier-like manner, written: “I drink, therefore I am," then he would have invented existentialism before Sartre! Which, in a way, would have rid us of it! No Descartes, but Sartre of course. I wandering off-track, certainly, but I feint, I dribble like in football, that’s a citizen of St Etienne for you! But no, we’ve put football aside, yes, but not Sartre, we have not got rid of Sartre. No! He was committed and wanted all artists to be committed. He even wanted everything that populated the pea to be so. Committed to what? That depended on his humour. We could summarise it in The Cause of the People, yes, we could! But we do not know for what cause and for which people, especially since we do not really know what “the people” is. And yet he managed to get artists involved. And, the artists, still today, taking advantage of the most astounding technological tools, never cease to express to us their compassion for the miseries of the people, of all those people on our pea, and not just on the pea, which, seen under the magnifying glass, from Sirius or beyond, must surprise for its horror, its murderous madness and a reprehensible absurdity concerning which all the humanists who ‘think’ and ‘are’ couldn’t give a damn. We are overwhelmed by compassion. This overwhelming drowns any political propensity. All those who have written or said that making art is making politics are so numerous that I will not waste my time citing them, but will limit myself to Mallarmé and Joseph Beuys; they were right. Painting to paint like Newman, Rothko, Viallat, Stella, is, in fact, a matter of abstracting oneself from a reality that cannot be depicted and so changed. And if one is a poet, one must drift along impassable rivers and head towards improbable Red-skin destroyers of sententious watchers. So politically correct because wallowing in a morass of compassion. You have to change them as also the World. But like Prince Salina, it’s best to change everything so that nothing changes. A little cynicism is democratic, more than the compassion that leads democracy to dictatorship.
I have not lost sight of you during these wanderings of mine, dear Robert. You are one of those artists who repeat and repeat and repeat themselves, like Gertrude Stein, Buren, Parmentier, Toroni, Viallat, Warhol, Judd, in his way Stella, and Beuys. A rose is a rose is a rose. You do it, too, in your own way, trying to hide it. Would you like to break the cycle? Like Viallat or maybe Buren? But the pea does not change, it does not improve. Just read the press to convince yourself that it is better to eat mussels à la Broodthaers than to paint or draw and engrave The Third of May or Disasters of war like Goya. It anyway ends up in museums! Then one must either radically repeat a radical form while allowing oneself slight variations or repeat a gesture with a paint-laden brush leaving its twisted traces and runs dripping so that the space of the canvas is marked as a rejection in order to consider it as a passing phase or stop doing art. It's a bit like that with you. Do we have to focus hard when we know that we cannot join Bolitho Blane and follow the route in an open tourer? We know that we cannot change themes and ways in one’s painting. That would mean accepting that time and its flow, like the course of a river, is never the same. You never bathe twice in the same water in a river – moreover it is not very hygienic – but it is always the same river. The river, time, its course, needs to have its canvas backdrops replaced, covered with blue; with black; entirely, so as not to see it any more, or it needs to be lacerated by simple gestures, brushstrokes, which will stain with strident colours. They will disaffect it so that we can go to examine ourselves, or bathe, elsewhere. But is this impossible? How can a pictorial space today accommodate a figure? I’m serious. All these works, including yours, only watch for its saving appearance. Yet they do not exorcise nothingness. So why the absence? This is their failure and their success! If the Figure were to appear in one of these works, then we would be finished with an art whose end had, after all, been announced, although not quite, by Hegel. A work of art can only make present its absence. Or depict with compassion the pea’s disasters and horrors. And, in that way, we distance ourselves from it. It’s easy. If one “oxymorises” – instead of sympathises – by looking at the presence of absence, then one is seized by the spell of the Sublime. That is why this absence is nevertheless present in figurative art, but only in a few rare paintings and sculptures, in Bacon and especially in Giacometti. I forget some others that should be included. It can be found especially in the works of very good photographers – “realist” of course, but perhaps rather in the manner of Fontana’s holes: always repeated – in Beate Streuli or Jeff Wall, for example; in works like theirs, in which crowds pass, what is lacking is the Figure, the Being. And in this crowd everything is depopulated! But these two artists present pitiless and irrefutable observations. They do not give a damn about compassion. But it is, however, the abstract artists of the Greenbergian era who, without pathos, after the apostrophe of Adorno, after Newman, Rothko, Still, Pollock – who sought to bring back the Figure – who were the most successful in making us simply feel our loneliness in this “Waste Land”. And that tenacious Terror from which we hope to see a healthy furor emerge!
In this obstinate and incessantly resumed work similar to the one consuming Sisyphus, when a pause is made, then we might see who has been condemned, in this labour, to looking at the world happily beneath a starry night sky. Camus thought it possible, but under the sun at Tipasa, he did not want to see, however, that he was only a lonesome cowboy. The path that would take him home is not one of the paths that bound Hölderlin to his country, to a Heimat. Camus, like Mallarmé heard, knew well “that this country does not exist”. That is why, in all the artists I have mentioned, including you, my dear Robert, each work is the same and never the same: a pause in time conjuring the misery of the pea. This is why painting, the repetition of painting, is more political than an election promise.
*Translator’s note (from Wikipedia): Les Shadoks is an animated television series created by French cartoonist Jacques Rouxel. The Shadoks were noted for their seemingly useless and endless pumping; as the Shadok say: “Better to pump even if nothing happens than to risk something worse happening by not pumping”.
Ceysson & Bénétière
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