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Stefan Arteni



SolInvictus Press 2004
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 Poliakoff.

Aside from everything else that tells against simply identifying art with image or idea, any discussion which is to contribute 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.

“All knowing is doing”. Humberto Maturana

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,

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.

it is the

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

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

Serge Poliakoff Yellow and black on deep red background Oil on canvas

51 ¾ x 38 ¼ in. (131.5 x 94.5 cm.)

Serge Poliakoff Composition blue, white, red, 1952 Oil on canvas

24 x 18 in.(61 x 46 cm.)

Stefan Arteni

Nicolas de Sta ël


Road at Uzes, 1954

Low relief alkyd painting on canvas

Oil on canvas

36 x 29in. (91.4 x 73.6 cm.)

25 x 31 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.

This too has received little attention. Dell Hymes writes:

“…intact tradition is not so much a matter of preservation, as

it is a matter of re-creation, by successive persons and generations,

and in individual performances”. It may also consists of different codes of self-observation related to different positions of 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.

“The reconstructive approach enables the memory to abstract a prototype, fill in missing features of a noisy or incomplete pattern…” Liane Gabora

Theology uses the term charmolype – joyful sorrow. The historical




background may explain the meaning of the concept. Nothing ever




happened, or was accomplished. Procrastination, inertia, the sense of futility, of moving in an endless dream of lost hopes, were 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’.

reconstruction”. Paul Valery

I have traced elsewhere the development of the concepts of

organization and structure, one key to understanding the sophistication of the composition process, the complexity of which

lies in their integration.

“Every pictorial matter brings about its own form”. Serge Poliakoff

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 - complex does not mean complicated - the outcome is often unpredictable. According to Cyril Stanley Smith, artists have a 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.

“This frightful being on the go without a precise goal…” Mario Sironi

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 building.

The playful assemblage, de-assemblage, and re-assemblage of

“Dynamic models…capture

areas within which occur multiple intertwining formal visual




pictorial narratives, iconography, and symbolism, often working at



as change

cross-purposes, help to lay bare the passage towards a resolution of conflicting objectives and the satisfaction of those contending parties – presentation and representation. Form - pictoriality and pictorial facticity - becomes the carrier of meaning.

and embeddedness…” Geert Wissink


Deleuze formulates the image as a “mobile assemblage”. This allows for shifting conglomerations of elements – each image is contingent and evolving. Any figurative elements - re-cognizable configurational elements – are grouped in clusters within the variable layout of the abstract areas that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. By means of color-scheme, placement, and linking, natural spatial and dynamic categories are destabilized. Emerging 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.


memory of motivated

connection between the

signified and signifier,

this motivation is never reduced to a single one…” Jelena Grigorjeva




Attributed to Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) Study for the Disrobing of Christ Oil on panel

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

Jelena Grigorjeva remarks: “visual semiotics

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.

explained as a


Han-liang Chang speaks of homo loquens and homo symbolicum. Kris A. Murray indicates that Geertz describes symbols - by which he does not mean symbols as defined in semiotics - as recursive-like ‘models of - models for’. One can never achieve

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

“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

“Every symbol has an inherent apophatic dimension”. Michael Amaladoss