Yves Gaucher: Eyesight and Temporality (1979)

“Yves Gaucher: Eyesight and Temporality,” Parachute, no. 16 (Autumn 1979), pp. 47-48.

A Fifteen-Year Perspective/1963-1978

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
17 March - 29 April 1979
Glenbow Museum, Calgary
1 September - 28 October 1979

Analogous to music, but ana/logous alone, Gaucher’s paintings parallel the development in modern compositional structure from the relational to the intensive—or, in other words, from the structural to the non-structural. Thus, the early En Hommage à Webern prints and the “Signals/Silences” paintings (I shall refer to these works as Series 1) affect a certain structure equivalent to that of the twelve-tone music of Schönberg and Webern, where, in the last instance, the structure dominates the temporal—although the work in itself is a temporal structure. It is, furthermore, a discontinuous structure. The “Grey on Grey” paintings and the “Colour Bands” (Series 2) break with the earlier works and assume a continuous temporal duration of appearing. The “Raga” paintings point to this phenomenon as transitional works, although they have the look of the earlier paintings. The formal and temporal structures of the second series are in greater equilibrium, with the continuous horizontal bands in formal association with the edge of the canvas helping to promote the slow process of temporal appearing (colour predominately serves this function). The “Jericho” variations and especially Er-Rcha (Series 3) seem to abandon the relational, which still implies the structural, for the intensive. (The works of Series 2 are not relational, but they are still structural, the structural being displaced outside the work in perception.) The intensive: the non-relational which is not structural and not, moreover, in reaction, substantive—the works do not point to anything but themselves. The effect of this final series, to carry through the initial example, is analogous to effacing structure in favour of the tone in music. Series 2, the band paintings, emphasizes the temporal over the structural; Series 3, the latest work, seems to emphasize the ‘tone’ over the temporal structure. While in Series 2 there is an appearing and fading of temporality, the last works of Series 3 assault and surprise the viewer by a sudden and intense image that removes him from the above approach and appearing and projects him into an intensive state of forgetfulness of time.

Each of the series varies the relationships between structure, image and temporality. The relational (Series 1) and non-relational (Series 2 and 3) both involve a temporal structure but bring that structure into focus in different ways. This focus is also a structure. There is a shift of focus from a variable and changing internal structure dependent on the temporal becoming (temporal structure) of the viewer’s perception in Series 1 to a non-focusing appearing of the temporal in Series 2 and 3. In the former relational works, structure dominates the temporal; in the latter, the temporal dominates the structure-image. But between Series 2 and Series 3 there is a distinction. Series 2 involves a non-focusing field, while Series 3 assaults focusing by the intensity of the spectator’s initial perception. In the latter works, new emphasis has been thrown on the edge as a dynamic shape within the canvas. The interior divisions of the earlier band paintings complemented the limiting frame, effacing themselves thereby and allowing the value structure of the colour bands to come to the fore as the agents of temporal appearing.

The major difference between the early and later works is the abandonment of the temporal structure of changing part-whole relationships internal to the work—yet dependent on perception, that which is external to the work—in favour of colour as the agent for the appearing of the temporal structure of the work, for instance, the greys of the “Grey on Grey” paintings, the values of the “Colour Bands” such as Deux Bleus, Deux Gris, or the intense colouration of the last canvases.

We do not need to continue this temporal/structural analogy to music—we can turn to previous structures of painting. And there, besides a temporal structure, is introduced a symbolic relationship with the spectator. This order of relationship tends away from the internal part-whole relationships still inherent in En Hommage à Webern to the relationship of horizons, to the mutuality between work and spectator which is basically symbolic.

In terms of painting proper, we see affinities to Rothko’s and Newman’s work. The slow appearing of temporality draws Gaucher’s paintings to their work. The horizontal disposition of much of Gaucher’s paintings seems to align his intentions to those of Rothko, but they have more conceptual commerce with Newman. In Rothko’s paintings there is an internal weight: the dematerialized forms hover within the limits of the canvas, although optically in front. But this is almost token representation. The temporal continuity that ensues seems to be one of the slowness of density within a dominant relationship of forms. Newmans paintings, meanwhile, are faster and cleaner, like Gaucher’s: faster and yet slower, or, rather, more complex temporally because of the shifts brought about by the internal structure in relation to its perception. In Newman, besides, there is a greater coherence of surface and there are no forms on which to focus except for the vertical bands. These latter, it must be admitted, are internal divisions, but divisions that have nothing to do with internal relations of geometry, balancing, hierarchy, etc. To note the difference: in Gaucher's En Hommage à Webern there is a similar function to the internal elements whose structure changes in time. But this time is not revealed because there is no direct opening to presence brought about by the saturated colour field and scale of a Newman painting such as Vir Heroicus Sublimis. For a spectator in front of a Newman there is full presence within a structure of temporality. The scale and saturated colour absorbs the spectator in presence, and temporality is revealed/released by the structure of the painting—the function of the vertical ‘zips’ to which one’s attention is directed through focusing, eye fatigue, etc. To follow these suggestions was the direction of Gaucher’s art.
This opening to presence, however, is a closing to death. It is the symbol—the painting considered as a symbolic relationship and resolution of identity—which effects this guarantee of presence and the closure to death (our proper spatiality). (See “The Death of Structure” elsewhere in this issue for an analysis of the symbolic relationship). Symbol and temporality are inseparable—they both exist as the framework of the other’s ideality. Temporality withdraws/effaces our spatiality as bodies. One is present in time, outside space, present to oneself in an ideal phenomenological reduction. Non-presence is differing spatiality, death. Gaucher’s paintings deny our proper death. They offer only the false death of identity.

The phenomenological justification of these works (and others)—their supposed turn to the body's spatiality, but a spatiality effaced within temporality, I would say—is only possible within the symbolic and ideal space of the art gallery. This promotion of the experience of temporality is only the most recent of abstractions created from the meditative space and supportive ideology of the art gallery; while outside this space, we are condemned to the political technology of our bodies, to inscribing spatiality. Phenomenology, and works based on that philosophy of perception and being, cannot ensure the “truth” of our bodies. It remains to us to find how that “truth” is/was created. As Foucault says: “The body is molded by a great many distinct regimes... Nothing in man—not even his body—is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men.” (“Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”) In other words, self-constitution through the perceptual-consciousness system and the intersubjectivity of phenomenology are insufficient justifications for a body of work.