If we prefer an understanding of the surface of Veronique Maria’s work using the more obvious and apparent art history catalogue, from the abstract expressionists we might see Jane Frank’s mixed media canvases or certainly the traces of Pollock’s expressionism as being here. But this limits our vision. And, what is most interesting about these paintings might be the very edges of the visual that these abstract expressionists, also, reached for.
So, what presents itself here in Veronique Maria’s work is what exceeds the visual image. More than imagery, and, more than the imaginary in a mixed-media painting, it is, in one word: movement. But what kind of movement are we witnessing having taken place?
Using our peripheral vision then, and closer to home in a broadly British painting tradition is a motive that is more immanent, more tactile, a type of work that revels in the materiality of paint itself. And furthermore, that might be a movement towards another, a materially felt sense just out of our visual range, an encounter. This might best be described, in its profundity, as follows:
‘I felt there was an area of experience — the haptic, the tangible, what you feel when you touch somebody next to you in the dark — that hadn’t perhaps been recorded in painting before’.(1)
When Auerbach says this of his work, we also see the thickly layered, exhuberant, solid and physical presences of his paintings as states in which we wrestle with the materiality of being, others and our own. It is this materiality that leads VM to extend her artistic vocabulary beyond paint, to the hand-moulded fired ceramic ‘shapes’ which both carry and move the paint across this canvas surface. We are reaching an artform beyond the category of traditional painting, that nevertheless, resembles paintings. In terms of technique: a reverse decalcomania. Instead of images being transferred to a ceramic base in the traditional process of ‘decal’ as it is known, we have the sustaining layer of clay, of earth, acting as a layer upon the ‘image’. This is puzzling. There is a dissonance here both between the clean edge of the rectangular frame and the depths of eschatological encounter bounded therein. Furthermore, the material we are witnessing being moved and acting upon the ‘painting’ is, clay, lest we forget, earth, or life itself: change, flux and constant creation. So we are left imagining, what kind of making led to these ‘events’ we see here?
What is now much more complicated by the artist’s movement-making process is that we now cannot see these ‘paintings’ as paintings in the expressionist tradition-although that is what they might look like. There is a more contemporary reference to this ‘tactile school’ still very much within the discipline of painting offered by Geoff Uglow’s recent work, Coda, thickly rendered impasto of his encounter with the raw beauty of the Scottish coastline in stark colour combinations. He has said of his surfaces: “I equate the physical quality of the paint to a sea pushed and pulled through itself. When this activity is stopped, liquid becomes solid as if frozen.”(2) Also with Frank Bowling RA, whose increasingly vibrant colour palette through the 1980’s mixed ochre, vermillion and lapis to breach the smooth skin of canvas and bleed into the encrusted surfaces of the lands he touched from then on. But it was an accidental or traumatic splattering of plaster over his precisely drawn work that allowed a new attitude to his process of constructing a painting. Then, when his poured pools of liquid, dry, flat, on the painting, the surface will: ‘rise and fall due to the atmosphere in the room’. This being precisely the point: ‘It came out of this accident, which, literally, threw me, but I didn’t want to waste that idea’.(3)
So with Veronique Maria, we have such an act. The self that made them is not simply and wholly expressionistic, the artist that made them is no longer present, the performance of their making is not now taking place in our presence, they appear virtually unauthored, unpainted. We are entering another realm of encounter, as if in the dark, where we might gain a notion of the artist herself making such work. Instead of Auerbach’s scrupulously close attention to the body of his sitter, these are not pictures of something in that sense, we have, still in his words:
‘actually to apprehend the weight, the twist, the stance, of a human being anchored by gravity: to produce a souvenir of that’.(4)
That is, the body of the artist attending to her own body, making, moving and being moved. Dancing a dance of base materialism and producing a souvenir on her return. Using the light of lands other than England’s green, the colour of the earth’s insides, rupture and ‘accident’, we see a painted orogeny.
In these frames we might see, or rather now, feel, nature or natural forms, intimations of landscape, emotionscapes, ideoscapes, of dynamic feeling, and be transported somewhere, to some place, volcanic in upheaval, like Burtynsky’s photographs of open-cast mines or to any verdant, wild and sublime, ‘Romantic’, place. But we will be brought back immediately as we ask ourselves: how are even these natural events made? We are just left with another unsettling question. Are these ‘paintings’, ‘places’, ‘events’ or ‘performances’ more in the realm of being uncreated, part of the infinite, ongoing transformations of material? A natural method of change, a moment stolen from itself… and in this case, are we not sensing an artist’s attempt to become as close to being made, created and transformed as possible, to become both the subject and object of her own artwork? The artist as a process of nature? This would not be new, it may be simply part of the post-conceptual performance heritage. But to live this process, such is the liminal, terrifying intimacy of the process of relinquishing the known -that which we stop, that which is still- which might also act as a therapeutic transformation within the crucible of the frame, the bucket of the frame, of the gallery. Echoing a medieval view; the soul is a bucket of water. A thimbleful of seawater is no less a sea for that.
We might agree that one puzzle is answered whilst another is only asked. These are paintings that are no longer to be seen as ‘paintings’, which leads us to the paradox of art objects that are unmade, or unmade through a movement of transformation-that is, destruction. A question we ask both of natural events, on a large-scale, in extremis, ‘How can this happen’? and in intimate moments of reflection, ‘How can I be’?
1 Catherine Lampert, ‘Auerbach and His Sitters’, Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings, 1954-2001, Royal Academy of the Arts, London, 2001.
4 Quoted by Isabel Carlisle, ‘Early Works: 1954-1970’, ibid, p. 34.