a treatise of paintings by G R Thomson

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Multiple original digital prints (MODP): some speculations on the occasion of ‘Disseminar’, 23.04.2006

No work exists in isolation. The most discernable reference for the accompanying ‘MODP’ is the ensemble of paintings dating from 1987 that bears the generic name ‘Anachromisms’.

Each study in the ensemble comprises no fewer than two paintings, each square in format. The gap or ‘coupure’ between the paintings unsettles the notion of wholeness, a privileged value of much cultural production. At the same time this ‘coupure’ will be regarded as constituting the very possibility of unity. The pictorial space of each painting is divided into two elements: framed and framing. We might call this an ‘echoic’ moment. The framing element is always centrally placed and of a darker tone than the framed element. (See illustration above.) The degree of tonal difference is contingent upon the deployment of a colour programme and can be extreme or minimal. A colour programme can be imagined as having a minimum of two actors or ‘fundamental colours’ e.g. red and white, and a maximum of four, e.g. black, white, red and green. Despite the appellation and the temptations of metaphysical convenience, these ‘fundamental colours’ can no more be read as ‘primary colours’ than can Mondrian’s myriad reds, yellows and blues. Nor are they reducible to the kind of pigmental particularism sometimes appealed to by a certain school of fundamentalist materialism. The question of what exactly is a ‘fundamental colour’ will here be regarded as metaphysical in essence, and as such will be left begging. Suffice to say for now that each actor is granted equal weight and value. The fewer fundamental colours, the more readily discernable the structure. In the illustration above the central element in each image occupies 25% of the total area. In the image on the left the remaining 75% is occupied by red at 100% saturation. In the image on the right, the remaining 75% of the area is occupied by red at 33.3% saturation. We can imagine that this has been achieved by exchanging 25% of the red which would otherwise have occupied 100% of the image on the left for 25% of the white which would otherwise have occupied 100% of the image on the right. The pink framing element in the image on the right would thus be the result of mixing red and white in a ratio of one part of the former to two parts of the latter. In the case of Anachromisms, colour is regarded as at play within a regulated economy. No element can be altered without the attendant, systematic alteration of all other elements.

The play of difference, which both links and sunders these images, takes place within an economy regulated by principles of fair exchange. The play of colour-form is governed by rule(s) articulated in the public domain, rather than arbitrated by the private, ultimately inaccessible, whim of any individual. Clearly, the reading strategies proposed by this re-framing challenge those whose interpretive power insists on the centrality of the individual subject to the creative process. We pose, even if we cannot address here, the question of why the re-assertion of the primary value of this subject, and of the readings it authorises, remains such a constant refrain, even within the supposedly deregulated cultural logic of late capitalism. For me, the unapologetic insistence on the collective and social dimensions of cultural production constitutes an important marker of work that contributes to the possibility of political literacy in the visual-plastic arts. This applies in equal measure to those cultural artefacts designated as knowledge.

Contrary to appearance, the work [on paper] presented here remains as yet ungraced by a name. Irreducibly framed by Anachromisms, it nevertheless announces a departure from, and a reframing of Anachromisms. The notion of ‘two-ness’, as constitutive of the possibility of post-metaphysical unity, remains. The rectangular format opens the question of a more complex, non-echonic relation between framed and framing elements. Questions of orientation, in relation to imaginary and concrete horizons, gravity and weight, arise with renewed force.

The use of a computer enables the drawing parameters to be set up within an application programme that has the ability to image for output to the inkjet printer to an accuracy of four decimal points. The work displayed here is printed at a resolution of 1440 x 720 dots per inch (DPI), the highest of which the printer is capable. None of this is achievable by more traditional methods. The templates for the later Anachromisms were already printed on large-format plotters, although the production methods for the paintings themselves remained otherwise traditional. One of the more intractable difficulties encountered in the production of the present works was the glaring mismatch between what was displayed on screen (video uses red, green and blue within an additive colour mixing regime) and what emerged from the printer (which deploys cyan, magenta, yellow and black within a subtractive colour mixing regime). Interestingly, the only way to get round what remains essentially a problem of translation was to resort to printing many colour trials, much as one would in the process of producing a painting.

Neither ‘computer art’ nor painting ‘as we know it’, these works propose a re-constellation of the practice of painting within a different medium. This raises a riotous assembly of questions. Fortunately, the constraint of the present context has permitted only a limited airing.

Lyotard, writing approvingly of the work of the painter Albert Ayme, has suggested that his method of layering discrete ‘primary’ colours accords with the spatio-temporal discontinuities of the ‘information age’, whereas colour mixing serves only to reinforce the normative, continuous space of a reactionary metaphysics. Leaving aside the unquestioned primacy of the primary in the text of Lyotard, we note in passing that inkjet printers render colour by depositing discrete, scalable dots of pure colour in a discontinuous pattern, determined by mathematical algorithm. At lower resolutions, the ink is dropped bi-directionally.  At maximum resolution, the ink is dropped in one direction only. The print heads pass over the medium several times to produce each band of ‘solid’ colour. The action is akin to that of writing in the old style. The hand moving across the page, tracing the textual reality, lifting and moving to the opposite margin, beginning the next line.  The subject who writes-paints is always belated, always already framed, traced through and through by the precursor text.

To the extent that it is textual, no work exists in isolation. The accompanying prints retrospectively frame and displace that which precedes them. The simplistic chronology that underpins readings under the seminal influence rings hollow. But can the tableaux be turned? Is it possible to hazard a post-metaphysical reading of the text constituted by the paintings of Piet? If such a project is imaginable it will, necessarily, have to depart from somewhere other than the fashionably unfashionable resurrection of the dialectic.

© G R Thomson, London, 2000-2006


The grouping of works collectively called ‘ANACHROMISMS’ (MODP) and any accompanying text(s) are dedicated to the memory of Malcolm Hughes and Jean Spencer.

Technical note on digital prints

Application programs: Freehand 5 (Works on Paper); Quark XPress 6.5 (Documentation Layout); AppleWorks 6 Spreadsheet Component (Calculating engine for proportional rectangles).

CPU: Apple Macintosh PowerBook Portable, Motorola G4 microprocessor running at 1GHz, 512MB RAM, 60GB hard disk, CDRW-ROM, wireless network, built-in 15” LCD display, external 20” NEC 2080UX LCD display, Mac OS 10.4.6.

Output (hard copy proofing): Epson Stylus 2000P Photo A3+ inkjet printer, Epson six-colour pigmented ink system. Printer driver: standard Epson QuickDraw printer software. Medium: Schleicher und Schuell Hahnemühle digital art series German Etching 310gsm ‘mould-made’ watercolour substrate with proprietary coating to accept output from inkjet printers.

Output (electronic): Standard built-in MacOSX .pdf driver.

Contact:  iiixray@gmail.com                                                                                                                                                    © G R Thomson 2016