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Commitment And Elegance Notes On Charline Von Heyl By Vito Acconic And Sarina Basta

Charline von Heyl

What do painters want? Some painters paint because they don't want to think; some painters paint because they want to think, or because they want to start to think, or because they want to think for the very first time, or because they want to think for this time and this time only, or because they want to re-think; some painters paint because they want to prove they can think; some painters paint because they want to paint more later; some painters paint because they want to never have to paint again; some painters paint because they never want anything else; some painters paint because they want to never want anything else; some painters paint because they never want anything; some painters paint because they want to never have to want. [1]

Once you paint a line, that line has to go somewhere [2]; you decide where it ends, on the canvas, or you just don't decide, the line simply ends not #Kwhere#K the canvas ends but #Kbecause#K the canvas ends. But, if you cross the line with a line, if you cross one line after another with one line after another, the line doesn't have to go anywhere, the line-upon-line stays where it is, you've made a grid. Or, if you want, or if the viewer wants, you've built a trellis.

Let a thousand flowers bloom. Paint a trellis so that then you can paint flowers behind the trellis, flowers bursting through the trellis, flowers kept in place by the trellis. Or paint the flowers first, so that then you can paint a trellis in front of the flowers, the trellis can keep the flowers in, no, the trellis can't possibly keep these flowers in, can't keep these flowers down.

The flowers - call them flowers, for the time being - become a cloud becomes a bomb becomes a burst [3]. Bomb-cloud. Cloud-burst. Flower-bloom. Broken flowers, rainy clouds, bomb contamination. Mist and haze on the one hand; a tangle of weeds and barbed wire on the other.

It's not that these paintings are composed of grids; each painting is a box in a grid, a grid that's in the air the viewer stands in. Neither vertical nor horizontal, neither portrait nor landscape, neither land nor body, neither giraffe nor snake, neither person, place nor thing. [4]

These paintings don't frame the burst, the bloom, the bomb. The burst continues, the bloom goes on, the bomb keeps exploding, the mist spreads where the painting ends.

In the meantime, the burst bursts inside itself. Holes in the world. Pockets. Worlds within the world. Voids in the world. Pinpoints. Nothingnesses. Theory of nothing in spite of everything. Breaks in the flow. In the beginning was the word and the word grew a little, just a little, to become world, another world, other worlds. In the beginning each other world was blank, in the middle of chaos and indeterminacy, indistinguishability. One world here, another there, others over there, in the middle of strings and tangles, each world waiting for the second day, third day, etc.

Photos of buildings & persons, bodies, hands, fingers, skulls: do you use them because they don't matter, paint can cover anything - or do you cover them with paint to make the matter out of them, to subsume them into the matter of paint - or do you use them to desperately make paint matter ... [5]

Main text: Vito Acconci / Footnotes: Sarina Basta


[1]I am stunned. Vito writing about painting. And all these words and still no specific mention of your work, Charline. It's all my fault. I had a moment of panic upon seeing your show, wondering if I were competent to broach the subject of painting. Funny how painting, without the safe distance of cynicism, that enables an avoidance of engaging with the technical specificities of painting, can make some people nervous nowadays. Respectable sources suggested I attempt to frame your work within the Cologne/New York art-scene. But there is a show in Philadelphia, centered on Kippenberger's influence that would provide more rigorous information on that than I ever could [Make Your Own Life: Artists In and Out of Cologne, ICA Philadelphia, through July 30th]. And the only apparent reference to Kippenberger I could find in your exhibition, was the very absence of any reference to him. [Anyway, I got a little disappointed when I found out Kippy was born in 1953, he had always seemed so "old" to me, even if his painting "Untitled", 1981, of a gray doggie against a gray background, is a work I wouldn't mind hanging on my wall. But then, us critics are not supposed to be able to afford the works we write about, it would be a conflict of interest, unlike "sleeping" with the artist, which would imply a sort of intimacy with the work. I am sure Kippy must have thought of that.] And I am not sure that any of the propositions in the above paragraph could apply to him. Unlike you, Charline. I don't think you could have just as well been a novelist or a player in a band. You really are a painter, aren't you? There seems to be a sense of urgency and a necessity about the very act of painting in your work. Something that demands immediate attention and creates a personal field, transcending the pictorial references you make to the German painters K., or B., the squiggles of T. - or is it P.K? - and the blue period of P. Just showing that you could if you wanted, but that you don't really. Taking a motif, a stylistic gesture, or a palette of colors from them, but never really the three at once because it isn't really about them but about the pictorial components that create abstraction. Not being entirely naïve isn't the same as being cynical, is it? And yes, I was a little ashamed at having forgotten so many technical words on painting because I was so used to looking at it through authorship that I hadn't used them for a very long time. So I turned to Vito for a quick impression on your show because he didn't have all those names trotting in his head. His utter resistance to "objects that hung on the wall" is, after all, what informed his early work. But somehow, Charline, you seduced him into thinking about painting and I didn't feel I could deny you his words, because, in the tortuous and obscure ways of The Vit, he has hit the mark I think, even if, as a by-product, we have both been temporarily swallowed in the flow. But so far your name is the title, that's not so bad. And perhaps I am mimicking one of the very positions of your work, trying to plow and tear open some space for us, within the interstices of the over-bearing and yet reassuring voice of the "Patres".
[2]Specific to Van Heyl's work in this exhibition, her fifth solo show at Friedrich Petzel gallery, is the way she uses - or doesn't use - the edge of the canvas; the way the canvas is revealed, slightly veiled or nude under and between layers of paint of various opacity. In fact, in "Dunce", 2005, "Poodle Pit", 2006, or "Untitled (1/11/06)", 2006, it seems that at times, the paint rawly reveals as much or more of the canvas than it covers, by sheer brutality of contrast or variations in degrees of transparency, additional space is given to the paintings by their tasteful and spread-out hanging. The degree to which (quantitative dimension), and the movements with which (qualitative dimension) Van Heyl covers the canvases vary within a range that reveals a method: in one painting, the movement and amplitude is centrifugal, in the other centripetal; in a third example - partial - blatantly privileging one side of the canvas over the other. The two dimensions of amplitude and movement, combine to create a third variable, that of temporality, or as Vito describes it, of velocity, as crystallized in the gesture. And in the specific case of Van Heyl's work, the relation of the temporal and gestural seems inverted: the trace is no longer a "factor" of speed/movement as it is in Expressionism, but rather, "defines" or encapsulates a duration, reminding one that the word "length" in English and German, describes both the duration of a given moment and the distance between 2 points or extremities - unlike French, for example, where there is a distinction between ""durée"" and ""longueur"" ...
[3]... many words to describe what seems to be an extremely light and speedy, repeated and alternated touch upon the canvas in Van Heyl's painting, probably one of the only definite stylistic signatures of this particular body of work. And what becomes the dialectic of "durée" and "longueur" is also very much explored in her series of works on paper - mostly black on white and displayed in this case as a tightly knitted grid along a large wall. What is there to say about this series, except that it's a delightful exploration? - almost a typology - of painterly effects studded with imagery, and unexpectedly, prints and photography collaged and used as material. I am trying to remember why the word "delightful" is such an avoided term in our current art-lingo. Maybe it's due to a bourgeois appropriation of the word, or maybe it was once over-used, or perhaps its association to the picturesque or the naïve render it indigestible to a certain group of people. But if delight is what celebration is to social obligation, what the mischievous is to cynicism, or sincerity to strategy; in the case of this series of works on paper, it would describe a disregard towards the strict format of a page, a salute to the pictorial nature of gestures and splashes, a free and yet measured hand from which suddenly emerges, for example, a group of running stags. Or their ghosts. And I did get a shiver of a synaesthetic experience, when the sound of the stags' hoofs and their shadow, probably through association with the visual noise escaping the grid, followed me out of the gallery.
[4]Within the context of the exhibition, there is a marked difference in treatment of the paintings and works on paper, even if the concerns overlap. In the paintings a stricter method is developed, and unlike the drawing/paintings or studies on paper, any illusionist device of perspective and representation seem almost a footnote; shade and contour the habit of a conditioned viewer. In the canvases, any residue of the convention of foreground and background seems to be engaged with more frontally, even if the two notions are deftly confused, multiplied into various simultaneous backgrounds and foregrounds, and games of "now you see it, now you don't", notable for example in "Happy End", or "Bluntschli", both of 2005. In " Dunce" and "Woman", also of the same year, foreground and background are intertwined and deconstructed by the deft applications of multiple and complex layers. Deconstructed because the non-applied layers, as in the technique of removed duct tape, commonly (and erroneously) understood as negative, is made apparent, leaving rough and raw lines along the areas of paint so that it becomes visible that even lines on canvas are made of at least two lines. Patches of color refuse to be fully contained. In areas, they merge with other colors, dissolve in smoke or disperse into pixels.
[5]As I first entered the gallery, it took me a while to understand what was at stake. My initial thought, a trap, conditioned by installation and design, was one of skepticism, "why would anyone stay within the bind of a canvas when there is the whole world to play with?" And then, gradually understanding the method of the work, the stakes dawned upon me. As well as how potentially fertile the challenge of abstract painting had become in the hands of Charline - not an old wound - not an old world but a quiet complexity, achieved with confidence and dexterity. And here, I will once again revert to you, Vito, because I understand what inspired you in Charline's work. And in that light, I will cite your words on commitment, since really, to a certain extent, that's what we're talking about, Charline's commitment towards a field of action she defined for herself, one that you could understand and admire within the language or non-language of abstract painting. "Commitment stays private, while belief goes public. Commitment provides an example for others, for those who want it, while belief demands followers. Commitment occupies time, while belief claims space. Commitment is pre-belief that never grows up to grow old. Commitment is belief for the time being; times change". Or, in other words, as Geoffrey Been would say, "Elegance is a form of innocence" ("Beene by Beene", Vendome press 2005). And there is definitely both elegance and strength in the thrusts and drive of Van Heyl's exhibition.

Charline von Heyl, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, February 18 until March 18, 2006