Extra Time

More Painting on Other Supports

By Rafael Cippolini

Painting is figurative music.
NOVALIS

Painting is mute music.
DAVID BOWIE

Painting is frozen music.
WASSILY KANDINSKY

A painting is music you can see,
and music is a painting you can hear.
MILES DAVIS

Music is painting for the blind.
MIKHAIL KUZMIN1

I.

Painting? Of course, but how?

Some context. May 2013. Juan Becú’s exhibition ¡Viva la Resistencia! takes place at the Centro Cultural Recoleta. What do we see? Series of paintings and sculptures that take what Becú had been showing one step further. Images and shapes that boldly strain the sources as they unleash more or less unlikely—but always inspired—outgrowths of a sphere that bears identifiable marks of Informalism, of a certain New Figuration, of a studied gesturalism. Starting with its opening paragraph, though, the catalogue text formulates other sources-coordinates: “The act of painting today is not punk. It is not sophisticated or reactionary. The act of painting today is grunge. […] In the end, Leo Tolstoy and Neil Young—considered the godfather of grunge—are not really so different.”2

If we were to search for fundamental references, that is, precedents, we would soon come upon certain moments of Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, and Wols, or even of Emil Schumacher, as well as the more proximate nightmares of Jorge De La Vega, a certain Ernesto Deira, and other forms of Emilio Renart. Why, then, does the catalogue text refer to the founding slogan of Generation X (the notion of alleged honesty) as the precursor for this work and, hence, to icons of resistance (incorruptible, to use another slogan) like Tolstoy and Young?3 Read: nothing could be further from a postmodern turn of speech (a kaleidoscopic mix of high and low culture). Just the opposite: it is a question of pure and clear resistance.

II.

Resist? Struggle? It’s true that it was not Tolstoy but his countryman Chekhov who wrote in one of his notebooks: “If we think of each hardship as a battle to be won, it is because we conceive of life as a war.”4 What concerns us here, though, is less the struggle than honesty, as exemplified by the reference to Generation X.

In an attempt to contextualize, Becú states, “It’s a habit. I’m not sure where it comes from. It must be that my friends and I talk in these terms.”5 I ask him who his friends are and he lists “Villar Rojas, Bacal, Duville.”6 It immediately jumps out that all three are not only widely acclaimed visual artists but also musicians, or were before getting involved in art. In fact, music is a fundamental component of Bacal’s work. The title of Villar Rojas’s submission to the 2011 Venice Biennale was “The Murderers of your Heritage,” a line from a song by Ricky Espinosa, leader of the punk band Flema before he committed suicide and one of Villar Rojas’s explicit influences.7 For years, Duville has played lead guitar in his brother Pablo’s band, The Pupilos.

They also played music before becoming visual artists,” Becú adds. “And they never stopped playing.” He goes on, “In music, even more than in art, it’s really a question of aguante.”

Aguantar means not quitting, persisting, but at what? Why so much emphasis on honesty? An honesty, we must add, that is not at all spontaneous, but rather a brutal reflection of a careful strategy.

It was gallerist, collector, and adman Charles Saatchi who, a decade ago, stated “It is not that painting is coming back but, rather, that we are, once again, heading back towards it.”8 With these words, he issued a delayed response to Jorge Romero Brest—who, historically, lay painting to rest in the late sixties9—as well as an array of other critics (Arthur Danto, Nicolas Bourriaud, and Hal Foster, to name a few of the stars of theory who come to mind) who rejected the painting boom of the late seventies and early eighties, as well as every one of its consequence, either when it was underway or at some other time. “We must be left with something more than a touristic excursion through the clichés of Art History,” declared the author of Relational Aesthetics.10

Nonetheless, in the early 2000s, when Juan Becú decided to begin to circulate as a painter, two of the many options offered by the Buenos Aires art scene seemed to appeal to the artists he considered akin: the fifth edition of the Beca Kuitca11 and the group that would eventually form the staff of an alternative space that was beginning to get a lot of attention: Belleza y Felicidad.12

Becú’s approach was calculated, tactical, and explicit: “When all eyes were turned to Hirschhorn, I did not hesitate to focus on landscapes. My interest veered more and more towards another material, other references that might be called conservative. If there was one thing about the local art tradition that excited me, it was the discovery of its undeniable appetite for universal painting.”13

While in the 2000s in Buenos Aires installations and the “trash” aesthetic were everywhere, Becú—who had spent a lot of time composing, playing the guitar, singing, and performing with his band—chose from the outset other influences and formats. Significantly, he did not stop singing, playing guitar, or composing, but started to do so with fellow painter Nahuel Vecino, whom I will discuss later. From the margins of the rock scene (post-grunge aguante) to easel painting. What he really did was expand his artistic spectrum as a musician by venturing into the visual arts, that is, he took his aesthetic experience further and further, crossing influences and heightening potentials.

The rest of this essay is about these couplings of the electronicand the acrylic.

III.

Narrator and critic Luis Chitarroni once said that the greatest mythology of the 20th century was, indisputably, the mythology of rock.14 Of course, the word “rock” refers not only to a style of popular music of Anglo-Saxon origin, but rather—and more precisely—to a culture that encompasses many styles and ways of life. From this perspective, rock culture is, first and foremost, a crossing platform, a sentimental education, a way to begin to circulate in the contemporary milieu. Draftsman and painter Lux Lindner and I discovered that each of us had first encountered the work and figure of Albert Camus (specifically, his novel The Stranger) in statements made by Robert Smith (former memberof the band The Cure) published in a music magazine from the early eighties. In high school, I fell in love with Henri Fantin-Latour’s painting thanks to the cover of a New Order album (Power, Corruption & Lies, 1982), just as years before I had become a great fan of M.C. Escher’s images due to the cover of the album Invisible (1974) by the Luis Alberto Spinetta trio of the same name; in an earlier recording, Spinetta had recommended that we read Antonin Artaud.15 Rock culture cannibalized, metabolized, and multiplied a wide range of references, which makes sense considering the large number of musicians whose aesthetic took shape while they were studying at art schools.

Hence, it would be unlikely that the influences on Becú—who, like his friends, is the age of the children of the aforementioned musicians and their listeners—did not revolve around those coordinates. In other words, his is the first generation of Argentine artists whose parents are old enough to have been raised in rock culture.

When Becú formed his first band, Sexy Heidi, at the age of sixteen, the Spanish translation of Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X16 had been available for just under three years and the film Reality Bites had recently been released in video. It was a declaration of principles when, some years later, after his second group, Audire, had broken up, he decided to call his third band “1989.”

IV.

When asked about his classics—those precursors to whom he returns time and again seeking inspiration—he mentions an array of sometimes overlapping disciplines with irreconcilable affinities and divergences: Gerard Richter, David Bowie, all of Stanley Kubrick’s work, Agota Kristof, Víctor Cunsolo, the fourth episode of Star Wars (the first one released, in 1977), Radiohead, David Hockney, Víctor Grippo, Lost, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, Gorillaz, Francis Bacon, Piero della Francesca, Citizen Kane, Cándido López, Appetite for Destruction, Matthias Grünewald, Aguirre, The Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, TheFlaming Lips, E.T., León Pallière, Never Mind The Bollocks, The Velvet Underground & Nico, and Jorge De la Vega.

What determines those influences? How do those different languages behave? “I understand painting, above all else, as an approach to using a repertoire. I consider myself very reflexive, but reflection doesn’t lie, in my experience, in style as such, but in painting,” states Becú. “Approach is everything. What matters is the act of painting, now what you paint. I’ve always felt multi-discursive.”17

Let’s take a look at some emblematic examples from the 20th century—source of most of Becú’s influences and references—especially regarding ways music and painting interact. Ron Wood, who has been a member of the Rolling Stones since 1975, is a careful portrait artist who has built his career in the visual arts between tours and recording sessions. Don Van Vliet—better known as Captain Beefheart—old band mate of Frank Zappa who, after recording thirteen albums and spending more than two decades performing, decided to work fulltime on his gestural paintings and colorful drawings.18

Even before so many performed his songs, Morton Feldman19—an essential figure—decided to alter the equation that was the most important legacy of Romanticism. Whereas the Romantics considered music the ultimate form of expression, the heights to which all other art forms should aspire, Feldman turned things around, saying that painting was his ideal, even his guide. This vision turned into a discipline that, unlike a gesamtkunstwerk—Wagner’s term for “total work of art”—led to an extended and alert, rather than accumulative and compact, approach, a shrewdness and comprehension that multiplied the effect of each one of his compositions.20

Unlike Ron Wood, Becú concentrates on his painting, which he nourishes with, as mentioned before, ongoing work in rock. His trajectory has not mirrored Beefheart’s either: he has not given up music for the sake of painting, but rather—as stated above—he envisions painting as an extension of music. And, regarding Feldman’s vision, painting has not replaced music as an ideal, nor has the opposite occurred. Instead, the two give shape to a circuit along which to move in a twofold project where both disciplines compete with and complement one another. The heights of music and painting in mutual tension, a sort of bigamous desire where the pleasure of painting causes the pleasure of making music to shift, and vice versa. They are, undoubtedly, joint configurations. In fact, Becú makes use of examples from rock to speak of his pictorial procedures and pictorial references to discuss certain musical resources.

But there is something else. In both spheres (the sphere of vision and of sound), a single determining factor takes hold: the regeneration of time.

Let’s get back to Feldman, who stated: “Where in life we do everything we can to avoid anxiety, in art we must pursue it. This is difficult. Everything in our life and culture, regardless of our background, is dragging us away. Still, there is this sense of something immanent. And what is immanent, we find, is neither the past nor the future, but simply—the next ten minutes. The next ten minutes… We can go no further than that, and we need go no further.”21

Becú understood very quickly that those ten minutes are enough; it was just a question of knowing where to place them.

V.

Let’s trade the terms once again. Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote “Music is time experienced through sound,” and now we can say “painting is time experienced through the brushstroke.” On closer look, one statement is not just the parallel, but also the inverse, of the other.22

It’s something else again to wander slowly, by means of images, through the pasts that make up what we call Art History, to ask oneself time and again, in painting, how we construct what we understand to be the past, and even the future.

We don’t store pasts. We just paint them, the way we paint a wall or a landscape,” affirms Clóvis Carvalho.23 After all, the ten minutes that Morton Feldman speaks of have many pasts, “Extra time,” goes Becú’s song, “When we carry on not knowing / if there is extra time.”24

It seems like more than a formula: the act of painting today is, first and foremost, gaining time. What I mean by that is that painting is necessarily the most immediate way of reinventing and re-conquering a time. Indeed, until not very long ago—under the reign of Modern art—novelty, getting ahead of the rest, was a question not just of gaining time, but of defeating it. That is, to hurl (oneself) forward (the Madiis called for the denial of all melancholy).25

What, then, can be said about the verses of this song?

As I write above, Juan Becú’s band is called 1989. If we ask him why that date, that year, he tells us, “because that was the year I first started to connect.”26

In other words, 1989 is both a point of departure and a destination. It is a place of shelter, an arbitrary and magical date, like 1984 in the imaginary of George Orwell, or Cosmos 1999, a classic series from the seventies. A private code of those that enable time play in the dyschronic and the catachronic.

But, above all, 1989 is an aesthetic function. Function is, of course, a term that wavers between generosity and trickiness, since it has both a mathematical meaning (“one magnitude or quantity is said to be a function of another if the value of the first depends solely on the value of the second”), and other meanings bound to biology, architecture, chemistry, industry, public activity, language theory, and even music (the specific role of each note within a tonality). And, as if that weren’t enough, in Spanish the word “función” also means performance.

Months ago, at a presentation of a series of studies on key Argentine albums, editors Diego Esteras and Ezequiel Fanego asserted: “Rock is something more than music. Nonetheless, it has never been easy to define that ‘something’ extra. Hybrid of art, show and merchandise, liturgy and celebration, rock is itself a way of life, a culture.”27 At least provisionally, let’s call that something extra “function.” In Becú’s case, that function is the active nexus between painting and music, the place “where the value of the first solely heightens the value of the second” and vice versa. In the case of the other members of Becú’s generation, function is that something extra born of the imaginaries of rock that determine both a cultural disposition and a foundational value.

It is a factor—and a value—that diverges resoundingly from the academic archive of Art History and from the vintage catalogue of mass fashion.

That is why the act of painting is no longer punk. The act of painting is, today, grunge, for the same reason that the cover, back cover and inside flaps of an album by the band 1989 bring together images by Duville and Villar Rojas, along with others showing an exhibition held at the Louvre more than half a century ago being taken down.28

VI.

In the early nineties, krautrock—experimental German rock from the seventiesand classic industrial music began to circulate in a number of record stores specialized in progressive music from those years, as did the album Orion Awakes by Golem, an obscure band from the so-called Berlin School released in 1973. The source of Orion Awakes—which consists of space rock songs and acid jazz—was allegedly the archives of the independent, and now defunct, record label Pyramid 015. The album is actually a painstaking and contemporary exercise in style by British composer Genesis P-Orridge29 (leader of projects like Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV), who furthered a style at the very moment it was beginning to disappear.

There were plenty of precedents. In 1985, 25 O’Clock, the psychedelic debut album of The Dukes of Stratosphear—a pseudonym for the English post-punk band XTC—was released. The Dukes of Stratosphear’scompositionshad little, if anything, in common with the habitual repertoire of XTC. 25 O’Clock sounded like a record released in the mid-sixties, a catalogue of hallucinated sounds befitting past pop experiences with LSD.

It is entirely appropriate to compare those efforts with a collective project like Los Caballeros del Caballete, a teamof painters formed in the 2000s by Max Gómez Canle, Alejandro Bonzo, Nahuel Vecino, and Juan Becú.

Just a cursory look at the careers of those artists reveals that Gómez Canle had worked in video; Vecino was a composer and performer in the band A Tirador Láser;30 and Becú, as discussed above, had already worked in a number of music projects. All of them, though, engaged in making images decidedly different from most of what was being produced in their circles.

A recurring topic in contemporary historiography addresses the means and tactics deployed to remove painting from the artistic practices that have been in fashion for the last half century. Another—albeit less common—topic is the story of how painting reinvented itself to stay at center stage.

To look at it differently, an artist—any artist—not only creates an image (sometimes simply by asserting that he or she is its author) but also, indeed mostly, engrains on it his or her time. This is the first major difference from the situation before a whole set of displacements, from collage and objet trouvé to appropriationism, by way of the readymade, the détournement, found footage, and so on.

What, after all, is an objet trouvé if not a different time for an object inscribed in diverse coordinates?

This is the polar opposite of superficiality. Becú is a fanatical inventor of pasts, both his own and those of others. And, hence, of presents which soon strike us as disjointed.

As asserted above, the act of painting today can mean to defeat time or—and this amounts to the same thing—to reformulate the forms of our present—Morton Feldman’s ten minutes of future—such that what we already know becomes evident: if the future has passed,31 exploring, once again, the time of forms is still the most pleasurable of all imperatives.

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1 Novalis, quoted by Esteban Tollinchi, Romanticismo y Modernidad. Ideas fundamentales de la cultura del Siglo XIX, Puerto Rico, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1989; David Bowie, interview by Timothy Rush, Aladdin Sane Revisited, San Francisco, Sabotage Magazine, 1996; Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Barcelona, Editorial Labor, 1995; Miles Davis, quoted by Lilian Rodríguez, Music and Painting, To See and To Listen To (TRADUJE EL TITULO POR TENER LUGAR LA MUESTRA EN CANADA. NINGUNA REFEERNCIA EN LA WEB. ES LILLIAN? LILIANA?), Montreal, catalogue to the exhibition of the same name, 2010; Mikhail Kuzmin, quoted by Solomon Volkov, St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, New York, Simon & Schuster/Free Press, 1997.

2 Bacal, Nicolás, catalogue to Juan Becú’s exhibition ¡Viva la Resistencia! at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, May-June, 2013. He writes: “This painting is resistance. A spurt of resistance. […] In a world where originality is so impossible that it no longer concerns us, restoring (or, rather, recalling) the virtuosity of the authentic strikes me as more and more appealing and novel.”

3The term Generation X usually refers to people born after the “baby boom” that took place in some Anglo-Saxon countries after World War II, between the forties and the end of the sixties. Although there are no exact dates for “Generation X,” it usually refers to those born from the early sixties through early 1986. Source: Wikipedia. (EN WIKIPEDIA EN INGLES NO DICE NADA DEL AÑO 1986)

4 Chekhov, Anton, Notebook, Buenos Aires, La Compañía, 2008.

5 Interview with the author.

6 He is referring to Adrián Villar Rojas (Rosario, 1980), Nicolás Bacal (Buenos Aires, 1985) and Matías Duville (Mar del Plata, 1974).

7 Espinosa, Ricky, verse from the song “Recitado,” recorded by the punk band Flema.

8 Interview by Lourdes León, Charles Saatchi defiende el triunfo de la pintura en el siglo XXI, Madrid, El País newspaper, January 2005.

9 Romero Brest, Jorge, Primera Plana magazine, Buenos Aires, May 13, 1969.

10 Interview with the author, March 2004.

11 Programa de Talleres Para las Artes Visuales Centro Cultural Rojas – UBA /Kuitca 2003-2005.

12 Gallery founded by poet and translator Cecilia Pavón and visual artist and poet Fernanda Laguna in April 1987. The gallery was open until 2007. (CREO QUE LA FECHA ESTÁ MAL)

13 Ibid. (Ibid se usa cuando se repite la referencia de la nota inmediatamente anterior, que no puede ser el caso aquí)

14 Feiling, C.E., Con toda intención, Buenos Aires, Editorial Sudamericana, 2005.

15 Reference to Luis Alberto Spinetta’s solo album Pescado rabioso, released in Buenos Aires by Talent in 1973; Spinetta had also been the leader of a band of the same name.

16 Coupland, Douglas, Generation X, Ediciones B, Barcelona, 1993.

17 Ibid. (DE NUEVO, DUDO QUE SEA LA CITA DEL LIBRO DE COUPLAND, ES UN OP. CIT. AL TEXTO DE BECÚ?)

18Don van Vliet nacido como Don Glenn Vliet y conocido como Captain Beefheart (15 de enero de 1941  17 de diciembre de 2010) fue un músico de rock y pintor estadounidense originario de Glendale, California, Estados Unidos.Fuente Wikipedia.

Known as Captain Beefheart, rock musician and painter Don van Vliet (January, 1941  December 17, 2010) was born Don Glenn Vliet in Glendale, California.Source: Wikipedia

19Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was an outstanding North American composer known for unique instrumental pieces composed on the basis of long-lasting isolated sounds and unusual combinations of instruments. Source: Wikipedia.

20 Cippolini, Rafael, Variaciones Morton Feldman, Buenos Aires, Ñ supplement to Clarín newspaper, January 2013.

21 Feldman, Morton, Vertical Thoughts, Buenos Aires, Caja Negra Editora, 2012.

22 Cited in Cippolini, Rafael, La velocidad de la vida, in 4400 veces vos by Nicolás Bacal, 2009.

23 Carvalho, Clovis, A cultura que nos olha, Sao Paulo, Arché, 1997.

24 Verse from the song entitled Tiempo de más [Extra Time] composed by Juan Becí in 2013 for his band 1989.

25 Kosice, Gyula, in the magazine Arturo, Buenos Aires, Summer 1944.

26 Ibid.

27 Prologue to ten Argentine rock albums presented by ten writers, edition under the care of Diego Esteras and Ezequiel Fanego, Buenos Aires, Editorial Paidós, 2013. NO ESTA TRATADO COMO UN TÍTULO EN LA VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL, POR ENDE LO TRADUJE

28 1989 (band), undated album of the same name.

29Genesis P-Orridge (Neil Andrew Megson, February 22, 1950 or May 22, 1949) is a British musician and writer. His first public appearances took place in the late sixties and early seventies as part of the artists’ collective COUM Transmissions. He then performed with the seminal industrial music band Throbbing Gristle, which caused a great stir by addressing delicate issues like prostitution, pornography, serial killers, and the occult. Source: Wikipedia.

30A Tirador Láser was an Argentine pop-rock band started byLucas Martí and Nahuel Vecino in 1994. The members of the band changed a number of times until it broke up in 2004. Source: Wikipedia.

31 Libertella, Héctor, El árbol de Saussure. Una utopía, Buenos Aires, Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2000.