Remarks on Self-Portraiture
To say "I", or, more precisely, to say "I say". I cannot paint myself in a different situation than the situation in which I paint myself.
I can paint you in profile, reading or eating. But I can paint myself only in the act of painting.
I don't do a portrait of Lellouche. I paint a self-portrait. I can look in the mirror only in the situation where I'm looking in the mirror. I can paint Lellouche only when he's painting a self-portrait.
The goal — beyond the facial features, the character of the face — is the act of painting itself. The hand that paints cannot paint itself. The eye necessarily looks into the eye of the viewer.
The myth of Narcissus has nothing to do with self-love. Self-love has no need of a mirror. Narcissus, however, when he bends towards the water and sees a figure in it, is convinced he is seeing an "Other".
Narcissism is, first of all, the inability to distinguish between the reality and the model of the reality.
Narcissus and Echo, a dual metaphor for the functioning of language, or, more precisely, for its limitations. Narcissus is the eye, Echo is the ear.
Narcissism is the inability to distinguish between signifier and signified. In other words, it is thinking that the painting is the real world. The collector who bought a still-life and demanded to pay less for the still-life that he found, because there were only two flower-pots in it instead of three. Narcissism, a metaphor for the relations between a reality and the signifier of this reality.
Narcissus, because he does not understand the functioning of the signifier, remains a captive on this side of the mirror. He remains a captive inside the real world. Echo, however, remains a captive in the signifier.
The understanding of the functioning of the mirror is the basis of all understanding.
The analogy between the sheet of paper and the mirror: The sheet of paper is absolute fidelity and the mirror is like the absolute whore.
I seek for the posture in the mirror, I seek for the drawing on the paper. When I paint a model I wait a little until the posture becomes more flexible, less tense, more natural. But there is nothing like that in a self-portrait. I have only to want Lellouche the model to raise his shoulders, because that's what I need in the painting. I have only to want Lellouche the model to lift his nose, or blink, and the thing is done. Lellouche the painter even feels that Lellouche the model anticipates him with his intuitions.
The form in which I position myself opposite the mirror is just as important as the form that I paint on the paper.
I build the paper in the same form that I build the mirror.
A self-portrait is first of all a Performance.
We constantly construct models that enable us to understand what we call reality. These models are not the reality. Every attempt to describe a reality, or even to give it a name, is a construction of a model. But the person who thinks that the reality is the model is surprised when the model is replaced. Is Al-Quds different from Jerusalem?
Remarks on Perspective
Depth of field, vanishing point, and the theory of the subject.
Depth of field — to paint everything that is close to us large and clear, and to paint everything that is far away small and blurred. A technique, which is also a world-view, that was accepted from the early Renaissance through to the late 19th century. To paint with depth in the 20th century means to do Kitsch. A taboo. In the late 20th century artists return to depth of field (Anselm Kiefer and others).
One may compare, for example, a seascape by Gustave Courbet or Caspar David Friedrich with a seascape by Henri Matisse or Andre Derain.
Alberto Giacometti and Giorgio de Chirico. In Giacometti's work everything is blurred. As though the infinite began very close to his nose. In De Chirico's work, the horizon line is clear and sharp as though cut with a razor blade. In both cases there is no depth of field. Modernism rejects the depth of field world-view, because it exposes a world of contemplation. It rejects the impotent hero who is drawn to the blurred horizon line and dreams of an ideal world.
A stroll beside the sea.
Afternoon, at sunset. The roofs, the streets, the clouds, the reflections in the wafer, everything arranges itself according to a perspective that draws everything together to a single point. A point on the horizon. This is the vanishing point. In French it is called "the point of escape". The world escapes into this point. If I walk along the promenade, this point moves with me. This point is symmetrical to me in relation to the world. The world functions like a giant mirror and the vanishing point is my reflection and the decisive proof of my existence. Euclidian perspective is based on a point theory of the subject (meaning that the subject is a point, and has its absolute density). The eye-hole of Albrecht Diirer's machine; or Leonardo: "It is preferable to paint with one eye than with two".
But when I stroll in the same place in the morning, with the sun at my back, the same landscape looks completely different. Heaps of colors. A combination of colors beside one another, a "patchwork", a jigsaw-puzzle of colors. And I no longer have a single vanishing point. There are countless vanishing points, which give me countless reflections of myself. A very different feeling than in the afternoon: energy, vitality, instead of the slightly melancholic introversion of yesterday evening.
Courbet's The Atelier and Eugene Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus. It's only a question of the hour of the day. Of light and of your position in relation to the sun.
Euclidian perspective makes us feel as if we're in a cathedral. The cross is the vanishing point. Today I drew a seascape. Suddenly, when I touched the horizon line, I had a moment of alarm, as though I'd touched the center of my eye with the pencil.
When we work facing the sun, the world appears in architectonic and monumental perspective almost without colors, but with the entire range of grays. If you work with perspective, you work with tonality. If the sun's at your back, the world looks very colorful, but without depth. Black-and-white: I exist, I don't exist. Gray: I exist a little. Color: I exist in blue, exist in pink, exist in a different color each time.
Remarks on Painting from Nature
The more I progress in working from nature, I become aware that the regard is double. A landscape is on the one hand what we see: a house, a tree, a certain light at a certain hour (to measure the height of a certain tree, this tree in relation to the width of a certain house, to understand the structure, the architecture of the landscape).
But a landscape is mainly the feeling of that landscape, as it stays with us after we've forgotten all the separate details of that landscape. Or as one could dream about it.
In our dreams, a very precise picture is formed without our being able to give it an actual form. Without our being able to measure the height of the tree in relation to the width of the house. A kind of revelation.
In most cases the optical regard disturbs the appearance of this revelation. The eye alone is incapable of giving the sense of complexity that exists in this revelation, even though everything begins with the eye. When one looks at things for a long time, they undergo a metamorphosis. They become more intimate, closer, though we don't know why. Like a sense of deja vu. Certain details vanish entirely, while others attain a very great importance. These things become simpler, and are charged with a kind of presence, which suddenly takes over the entire field of vision.
In the early eighties I went out to paint in the Judean Hills. I painted them in pinks, purples, as I saw them in nature. But when I returned to the studio in the evening and saw what I had done that day, I was disappointed. I might have painted these landscapes in the south of France.
They did not show the extraordinary power of the light as I remembered it. When I was in the landscape. I tried to paint it with a lot of white. When I returned to the studio the white looked to me like masses of plaster. One day I left an etching plate in acid and forgot, about it. The outcome was an almost black landscape. I was surprised: that black landscape brought back the memory of that glare that had been in the landscape.
Between the observation that is completely optical, mere looking, and the translation onto the sheet of paper, something happens. Something has to happen.
Are breasts pyramids and cones, or the passion entailed in touch or is there no difference?
Do we say the subject of a painting or the object of a painting? Does the fact that we can use subject and object interchangeably say anything about painting?
The verb alone can serve as a rescue plank in this game of mirrors.
Is it possible to paint the verb? Is it possible to paint the act of painting itself?
A painter who paints his right hand has to stage-direct it. He has to place his right hand in a certain manner, remember it, and then raise it in order to paint it. In order to paint his right hand, the optical painter has to stop being optical; he has to direct his regard inwards, towards the memory of the hand. He has to insert a sentence in parentheses into this painting which is done entirely in an optical manner. Parentheses between the hand that rests, this object that I perceive with my regard, and the hand that acts, which I can perceive only if I paralyze it and stop painting.
A self-portrait by Nicolas Poussin. The two hands, like wings, which at first glance look symmetrical.
A surprise when I look in the mirror, in the morning, my head full of dreams. Who is this figure? What is its connection to the absolute knowledge that I drag with me everywhere? If I don't understand the connection, how can I paint a tree or an apple?