THE FLOWERS OF TRANSPARENCY
by Christine Buci-Glucksmann,
« The flower sees » Odilon Redon.
It was in 2002, and I was writing a text, La traversée des transparences, devoted to the three pictorial modalities of Hervé Ic: the Flowers, the Vanities and the Dust. And in all his art of « re-painting » … « The image moves … in the veiled surface of multiple superimpositions ». Layers, strata, diffuse luminosities crossing all appearances by metamorphosing them.
In this year 2019, flowers have now invaded huge paintings of their halo of light that inhabit surfaces and volumes. As if it was necessary « to enter the painting without contradiction as in the dahlias », according to Matisse. Tiny or large, open or closed, tangled or separated by a void, in turn dominantly light/dark mauve, yellowed, orange, then from Opus IV, suddenly striped with light, everywhere « the flower sees » in a disturbing frontal face-to-face. It sees, it even looks at you, in an unstoppable cosmic becoming-flower. So what happened? How to create with paint this translucent virtuality, this Second Light that enlarges the vision and sculpts the painting?
In these ten years, there are of course many exhibitions, meetings and all sorts of events that change the relationship to the world. Thus this exhibition dedicated to Orchids : Phalaenopsis, and of this herbarium of flowers with colored pencils, forming a gigantic wall at the Albi Art Center. Thistles, orchids or roses on multiple papers assembled in their variety and their differences: an infinite floral unity and diversity, with its radiant circular lights letting us see, or rather making us see, what is underneath/above. A seeing through, nourished by Richter and Polke, that we find in Hervé Ic’s Nuancier, which analyzes the sources of light-color. But the discovery of this beyond vision will not be done in the explicitly floral paintings, but in those which explore the dance and the explicit relations between structure / space / light.
2O12, Legacy: the bodies of the dancers gleaned from the Internet fly away in the almost floral curved movement of their arms, against a background of horizontal bands of a luminous yellow à la Gauguin. On or under these lines of light, their bodies take on volume and transparency. A metaphor of alienation or freedom? No doubt. In any case a major discovery: the light becomes power of sculpture and transparency where the painting becomes volume, whereas it is in flat…
Choreography: four dancers deploy their arms and their body in a yellow light that crosses everything. Arms horizontally, vertically, in the round, diagonally, a whole exploration of bodily and psychic affects by the depth of the light that doubles them, makes them voluminous and throws them in front of your eyes. From then on, the bodies can become floral. Even if it still misses the systematic exploration of the element light, in its effects and its structures which dematerialize the flowers until giving them this strange transparent volume as real and as unreal. Virtual » flowers in painting …
It was therefore necessary to start from the light and, to take up some of my analyses in The Aesthetics of Time in Japan, to practice what is called the Ma: an interval that is also a passage, a two time that becomes one. For the Ma is the very form of time, an ephemeral time that captures all things in its fluidity. Then, in its transparency, « the void bursts forth as if thousands of grasses were blooming » (1)
First step: these striped paintings that structure the light with their radiant yellow and seem like a background.
Second step: painting on them, with the brush and then the brush, flowers previously selected, as in botanical plates. All in very light layers or more supported in their movement.
Third time: the two merge and the light becomes background and form in the luminous halos of an architectural volume. Paradoxically the matrices of time generate precarious, ephemeral and fluid floral bodies: transparent. To the point of bringing together the two spaces analyzed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in Mille Plateaux: the smooth and the striated. Because if the striated is geometrical, homogeneous, made of planes and zones like the luminous bands of the « bottom », the smooth is amorphous, nomadic, proper « to a flat multiplicity » creating « a close vision » and the affects of the journey. From then on the painting becomes double and double, « an absolute which makes only one with the becoming itself » (2). A « screen » vision where the striated releases the light and the smooth one an organic life, creating an analogy with the minimal, the differential and the imperceptible. A duality staged by Manet in the painting of Eva Gonzalès. Eva paints a bouquet, looking away from a « real » bouquet, being herself painted in her dress of light, with a detail on the ground: a cut peony. A painting of the painting, a painting
self-reflexive as the touch and the luminous paintings of Velasquez that Manet liked so much. Painting as becoming-flower in a cosmo-poetics of all the in-betweens.
A « You see » as in the painting of the Hollow of Hell of 2008, where we already discovered two characters emerging from big blue and pink luminous and geometrically ordered peas. To see is to glimpse, thanks to a distance that is also a proximity. The just captured of a floral look that becomes a style, where everything is on the surface and yet in volume. As if the second painting was the incorporated lining of the first one which gives him in exchange its light. An interval which becomes passage, a proliferation which creates its emptiness, layers which virtualize themselves, an indifferent distance, a whole presence of absence on the surface and of the surface, which generates this « impression of the being-lighting » dear to Wittgenstein.
In these Opus Dei with its flowers with frozen transparencies and broken colors, everything seems to refer us to a moment of Dutch and Flemish painting that Hervé Ic likes: the Vanities. With their staging of a fluid transparency: bubbles, mirrors, jewels, hourglasses, or skulls. Not to speak of the « second Vanities » of contemporary art that I had analyzed: indifferent allegories where death is explicitly present. That of Warhol’s Skulls with their surface, that of Richter’s Kerzen with their « wounded beauty » or that of Cindy Sherman with their flowers falling in avalanches from a skull (3). Without forgetting the numerous crystalline vanities, those of Adel Abdessemed or Jean-Michel Othoniel. Does glass envelop life and death in its own coldness? Would the flowery transparencies of Opus Dei be allegorical and melancholic?
I look at Opus Dei VII, this immense canvas of 3m.sur 2. An unprecedented abundance of flowers that cover themselves, uncover themselves, move and stand still against a background of yellowed bands of light from the dark. A burst of life generating a real imaginary cosmos. And I pass to Opus Dei IV or V more airy Stems, curves, diagonal bells, a same cosmic impression quasi vital which evokes me the European Art nouveau: Klimt, Gallé, Horta or Gaudi. A whole floral art in curves, counter-curves, waves and serpentine forms often very feminine. Eugene Grasset had even published in I896 a book of this ornamental geometry: La Plante et ses applications (The Plant and its Applications), a real plant grammar that marked the Art Nouveau in France.
Also, as opposed to the melancholic ephemera predominant in the West from Shakespeare to Baudelaire and beyond, there is another more cosmic ephemera. Aerial and icarian, it links heaven and earth in the immanence of the cosmos. A permanent cycle of repetitions and small differences, between appearance and disappearance. Multiple between-worlds that refer to our world. But in all this botany patiently explored and repainted, how to link the microforms of art to the macroforms of the cosmos ?
« Life is vibration? Without vibration, there is no life » wrote already Kupka in the search of « cosmic feelings » which would animate his painting and his aesthetics. Vibrations, rhythms, quasi musical differentials: a whole passage of the ontology to a topology which passes by effects of being proper to a philosophy of the ornament. For, it can never be said enough, the flower is an ornament, an ambiguous motif, which has crossed humanity and which can be found in all modern and contemporary art: Monet, Manet, Matisse, Richter, O’Keeffe, Warhol, Araki, Najia Mehadji, Miguel Chevalier and many others. Because the way of flowers is multiple. Without forgetting the medieval period which inspired Hervé Ic with its luminous rosettes and the play of its bright colors embedded in the lead of the stained glass windows. It was also the time of treaties, including one devoted to « The Flowered Ornament ». It is therefore necessary to return to this time of flowers and plants, to the infinite interior of life with its vegetable intelligence. For ornament is not « a crime » as Loos had defended in his famous book: Ornament and Crime, soon to be taken up by a part of modernism. But well « a style » as developed it Aloïs Riegl, Klimt and all the art Nouveau » (4). Far from any mimesis, this style opens to « an infinite plane », a « Will of art », the famous Viennese Kunstwollen, with all its figures and its potentially abstract ways. He sublimates the surface by giving it to see, in an ideal body most often rhythmic and fluid. Flower of the form or flower of the void, flower of the sex, of the beautiful or of the evil, the flowers figure the passage of time, its « grace » and its « feeling of clearness ». And in these flowers of the present moment, the glance slides, erotic and spiritual, opened or closed, volute, calyx, stem, corolla or button. For the floral ornament tends to abstraction by the splitting and stylization of its motifs, which could even become simple pop and neo-pop abstracts.
You look again at Opus Dei with its plurality of time and beings. Tiny flowers, very large or enlarged flowers, a botanical maze subjected to a double rhythm: repetition and variation, continuity and discontinuity. An infinity of transparent and almost dematerialized surface, where one goes from simple appearances to their crossing. And yet life is there, like these small birds emerging between two leaves. Life in its breath and its colored cosmic bloom, devoid of the Cogito mori of the Vanities. For if time inhabits the gaze, its explicit melancholic signs are absent. It is rather the totality of the canvas which becomes its own becoming in its lightness and its enveloping luminosity. Nothing else than the staging of the world in its serpents and its gaps, between the visible and the invisible. From then on, seeing the living by showing the very act of painting defines a whole aesthetic which is an ethic. For the plastic energy of the flowers, linear or trembling, fixed or slightly moved, reflects the structure of the whole, at the moment when the luminous cosmos grows and branches out into the infinite, intertwined in the details proper to the almost abstract volume-lines. Because, if « the paradox of the human being is to need at the same time a structure and a flesh » as Hervé Ic writes, the painting takes back and reinvents this same vital paradox (5). Structure of the horizontal or vertical light and abstract flesh of the flexible and fluid ornamental motives, which rhythm and fragment the infinity of the vision. A kind of existential weaving where effects and affects conjugate their powers.
Such are the flowers of transparency: a carpet of life, an image-flow. The lining of the world, of our world, in an ecology of the glance become transparent. Because this transparency does not arise from mirrors nor from the effects of clear-obscure. But well of the forms-light born of an intra-pictural gap. Then, the painting finds its own interiority, in a mysterious vision, which explores this « dimension in front of and behind » that Klee sought. A whole philosophy of the cosmos, a utopia of nature and painting reunited in this gap that has become the passage of time. The lines flee there in their radiance and their original spacing. Then, thanks to this first vision, the flower sees.
Christine Buci-Glucksmann, 2019.
1) Cf. L’esthétique du temps au Japon. Du zen au virtuel, Galilée, 2001, p. 51.
2) Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Mille plateaux, Les Éditions de Minuit 1980, p. 617 sqq.
3) The second Vanities of the contemporary art in the collective book: Les
Vanités dans l’art contemporain, Flammarion, 2010, p. 53.
4) Cf. our book: Philosophie de l’Ornement. D’Orient en Occident. Galilée, 2008.
5) I refer to the whole of the Interview of Hervé Ic and to his course, in Point contemporain, Cahier monographique, Hervé Ic, 2019.