In the three final chapters of The Erl-King, Michel Tournier describes three positions adopted by a boarding-school’s boys: on their back, the stomach or their side. The postures of these ing boys are described as three ways of embracing sleep. They are presented as three different possible approches to life. Children go to sleep in the same way as some people embark on travel or begin painting: as simple means of existence.
The culmination of a piano concerto is not the soloist’s final note, but rather the initial one, when he or she enters the stage: by surprise with Chopin, with great fanfare with Tchaikovsky and Grieg, elegance with Mozart, always too early with Bach. There is something in this initial part of the piece that goes beyond what follows: the piano establishes its presence—this undefinable presence allegedly mastered by Nureev, when he entered the stage, without a gesture, with the audience holding its breath.
A hand-drawn line is a form of expression, while a ruler-drawn line is a dying entity. The nature of man, s that of a machine, is revealed in the strokes they produce. A lifeless machine will plot nothing more than a deadly, expressionless stroke, while man will draw an expressionful line, itself feeding its internal psyche (imagination, emotion). Historically, abstract painting was built around this man/machine dichotomy, which could also be designated by the softness/hardness opposition, also called geometric abstraction/ lyrical abstraction in the pictorial field.
Unlike writing, painting makes a distinction between pattern and meaning. The physical content (i.e., the pattern one plots on the canvas) is distinct from the mental content (what the artwork tells us). For the painter, only a dissociation (or even a divorce) between these two content types (physical content and mental content) allows one to put the former at the service of the latter.
Taking possession of space to express oneself may well be natural, but creating an artwork can hardly be reduced to the action of filling. Attempting to fill the entire space amounts to regarding it as a uniform commodity that one is required to consume, rather than as a place dedicated to nurturing our art, one itself also made up of deficiencies.
On the day I first visited Vitry-sur-Seine, I had been allured by the high ceilings and abundance of light—which even a pretty thick coat of dust couldn’t dim—in the former industrial warehouse I had turned into my workshop. The advertisement described a spacious expanse, but on arrival my impression was rather of a large, empty rectangle. Empty, not just of furniture, but of meaning. Rather like a canvas intended to be minimalist yet ultimately coming across as unfinished, this space was devoid of atmosphere—it conjured up nothing at all: thoughts, neither of a workplace, nor of a private place nor, even, of a vacant place. This workshop, being empty of substance, could only gain content through the act of painting.