In this exhibition I am presenting a series of paintings based on paintings from a range of periods and styles in the history of art. The monumental paintings of the great artists are presented through my personal style which I developed and which I call topological painting. The history of art presents diverse styles which have crystallized during the course of history. These styles are viewed in the exhibition through the prism of one style, the topological style, and from the perspective of painting they are presented through the topological point of view. The result is topological variations on the history of art.
For many years now I have been researching the topological painting, both from the pictorial practice and by means of a comprehensive intellectual debate expressed in three books which I have written on the field of art: Mimesis: the Psychology of Modern Painting, 1996; A Sketch; Teaching Painting, the Painting Apprentice, 2005; Viva Picasso: Esthetic Interpretation of his Work, 2006. (All three books were published by “Yediot Sefarim”).
From my perspective, the confrontation with the works of the great artists is analogous to a confrontation with concrete reality. I consciously ignore the time period of the painting’s evolvement and its contextual associations. Similarly, I do not bring into account the style structure of the masterpieces in the history of art. My confrontation with these masterpieces is based solely on direct, sensory, sensuous contact, loaded with emotion from just observing masterpieces such as these.
I act in the spirit of the art researcher, Heinrich Wölfflin, who investigated the history of art as one who researches “history without names”. Namely, history not in the context of time and place, but only in the context of style morphology, which the painting represents. Each masterpiece in the history of art embodies a reflection of reality through its unique style, and I present these masterpieces on one common basis, through my styled spectacles, namely – the topological painting.
The topological style presents reality through three points of view:
a. The natural eye (or as it is more often called, the innocent eye) absorbs reality’s phenomena empirically. The natural eye represents the world on a basis of impressionist abstract style, namely: dynamic fields of brush strokes representing a complementary texture of colors, as gradually introduced by the impressionists, Seurat, Signac, Van Gogh and Boccioni – from free brush of splintered stains, to pointillism of quantum point of colored blots, to a combination of strait and round shadowing and up to dynamic fields of force of light and color. The natural eye looks and presents the fluid reality, found in movement, in the Heraclitus flow in amorphous form distortion.
b. The thinking eye represents reality concealed behind the world of phenomena which the observer considers to be composed of geometrical structures. Reality is built on architectonic scaffolding hidden from the natural eye. One tends to consider that the same concealed reality is built on basic structures whose form is a cone, ball and cube.
These geometric structures were revealed in Cezanne’s work, continued to be represented in analytical cubism and in constructivism as a component of reality, and finally were presented in Mondrian’s and Malevich’s total geometrical unity. Both the natural eye and the thinking eye represent two essential sides of the same coin. One eye is unable to exist without the other. The world of phenomena represents the particles in their amorphous movement, creating a texture of the whole; while the geometrical whole imparts the phenomena with their spatial organization. Both together – the natural eye and the thinking eye – create at the essential meeting between them the synthesis of the third eye: the viewing eye.
c. The viewing eye constructs reality by means practice, meaning: decision and execution. The artist does not suffice only in observing the phenomena and in seeing the geometric reality but he also decides and executes: with the aid of the hand and brush he paints reality on the white canvas. The viewing eye sees what it creates, in actuality. To see reality means to be present at the confrontation between the natural eye and the thinking eye. Maurice Merleau Ponty the French philosopher coined this confrontation: “the unseen in the seen” and claimed that Cezanne is the unmistakable artist who is imprisoned in the ambivalent junction between “the eye and the spirit”. Cezanne painted out of stammering and doubt because he was “on the edge” between these two modes of viewing. The transition between looking and seeing paralyzed his ability to make a decision regarding each brushstroke he executed on the canvas.
To see reality means to be present at the current confrontation with an objective reality located outside the observer. Realism is not a copy of the objective reality but a representation of the marvelous synthesis existing between reality’s phenomena revealed to the natural eye and the geometrical structures which the observer – authorized by the thinking eye – thinks that they exist. In the language of the art historian Ernst Gombrich: “you cannot see reality with the Hellenistic eye without basing it on the Egyptian eye”. As the child’s painting evolves in moving through three stages – from scribbling, to the schema up to realism – so the human eye sees the same reality by means of early stages of memory, both phylogenetic (based on the tradition of the historyof painting) and ontogenetic (based on stages of the individual’s development in building a representation of reality). The viewing eye can also be called the pragmatic eye, enabling by means of the pictorial decision, to construct an ad hoc representation of realism.
As a student of the Andre Lhote school, I was educated in my youth to present the synthesis between the observing eye and the thinking eye symmetrically, under the influence of the artist George Seurat.
The term topology, which I have chosen for naming my artistic style, has been borrowed from the field of geometry, and my choice has several reasons: the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan claims that man’s soul is built and functions dynamically in a topological manner. In his opinion, the soul is built from three fields of content: the concrete world, the symbolic world and the imaginary world. It is my belief that these three worlds are represented in parallel in the topological style which I have developed in painting, by means of the combination of the natural eye, the thinking eye and the viewing eye. Lacan presents an essential meeting between the three worlds in man’s soul, called in the topological language “the Borromeic Connection”. The Borromeic confrontation is never a homogenous and harmonious meeting but is in the dialectic conflict between its components. The three worlds become distorted during the synthesis in order to enable the connection between them; and indeed the topology is called: geometry of creasing and distorting. The topology endeavors to expose the determinants behind the variability. It does not take into account the quantitative sizes of the place (topus) but the relationships between components of the whole; external and inner are located in a common space according to the modal of a Mobius strip (where inner and outer are the same) and also according to the model of the Klein bottle, of the mathematician Christian Felix Klein (namely a closed surface of only one side, without inner and outer).
In the opinion of the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, the three stages in the child’s painting represent a transition between three geometries: scribbling stage represents the topological geometry; the schema stage represents the projected geometry and the realism stage represents the Euclidian geometry. The Borromeic connection unites these three geometries in man’s soul. For the child to paint realistically he needs to recall seeing the scribble and the schema which preceded the realistic stage. In the topological painting style the viewing eye is enabled only on a basis of the existence of the natural eye and the thinking eye in combination.
The history of painting represents the history of styles. Each style represents a specific viewing mode of reality, or in Gombrich’s language: “artists do not paint what they see but their picture of the world”. Wölfflin attempted to perform a reduction of tens of styles crystallized during the course of history and proposed two styles only, two viewing modes: the baroque and the classical. According to the criteria which Wölfflin presented, the baroque style represents the impressionistic viewing mode, based on the natural eye; while the classical style represents the thinking eye’s geometric viewing mode. I add to these two points of view and to the two viewing modes styles of reality a third eye too, which I coin the viewing eye, which is the pragmatic eye, which decides and paints on the basis of the synthesis of the primary two viewing modes: the natural eye – the baroque, and the thinking eye – the classical.
Over recent decades painting as an artistic medium is in crisis. Artists have abandoned the field of painting and have begun to create in other artistic fields: video, photography, exhibits, installations, body art and earth art. In order to restore the painting practice and to resuscitate it there is a need to present both a new metaphysical theory as well as a new theory on the art of painting. This is my present endeavor, based on some thirty years of research, from the 1980s on, and expressed both in theory – by means of writing three books in the field of art, which I have mentioned above – and in actual painting, in various exhibitions I have held, which have been devoted to the issue of this research: “Mimesis” (Angel Gallery, Tel Aviv 1988), “Metamorphosis” (Angel Gallery, Tel Aviv 1991), “Concert in Painting” (Dual Artist and Teatroneto, Habima, Tel Aviv 1998), “Bonjour Monsieur Boccioni” (Efrat Gallery, Tel Aviv, 1998), “Sketch: Paintings Evolving” (Artists' Residence Gallery, Herzliya, 2003), “Bialik: Portrait of a Soul” (Beit BialikMuseum, Tel Aviv 2003), “Paintings of Myth” (Art Gallery, Herzliya, 2006), “Guernica ll: War and Peace” (Cervantes Institute, Tel Aviv, 2007), and of course the current exhibition: “Variations on the History of Art: the Topological Painting” (Artists House, Tel Aviv, 2008). I define myself as an expressionist attempting to express, by means of expressive painting, man’s existential being in the face of the darkness of the cosmos – man’s life and enigma, beauty, suffering and happiness. Yet, simultaneously and with great dominance, for many years painting for me has been a method for researching the world. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard defied his mentor Friedrich Hegel by claiming: “you have built an empire and you live in a stable”, meaning: throughout your life you have been engaged in the metaphysics of the world but you have neglected researching man’s life as an individual. I disagree with Kierkegaard and claim, in the poetic language of Pinchas Sadeh: “There is no difference between writing the book Zarathustra and the tear of an old woman”, and I add and say that painting as a world research method is also a way to touch human existential experience.
According to Albert Einstein, he endeavored to understand how God thinks. Without committing the sin of hubris I am attempting, as a dwarf on the shoulders of giants, to understand by means of the painting how God creates the world moment by moment. The topological style in my work assumes to present the creation of the world according to Plato’s perception, in a triangular combination betweenthe artist, the demiurge and the ideas. The artist creates a world in miniature on the canvas.
As artists we are commanded to revive the painting as a legitimate artistic medium, by presenting alternative theories. The debate remains open.
The writer: Igal Vardi