Wednesday, 7 May 2014

In the Beginning is the Touch


"Vision loses its pre-eminence in the very area in which it is dominant, in painting"



Peter Ravn, Wroclaw Detective, Oil on canvas, 30x 30 cm. 2012.
- sadly Blogger gives the painting a brownish hue
It can be seen in its original colors here


The words by Michel Serres comes to mind when seeing the full frontal portrait Wroclaw Detective by Peter Ravn. Full frontal as if someone was being exposed to us. Yet his face remains shrouded, or to use the words by Serres, veiled.

Serres refers in Les cinq sens to two paintings by Pierre Bonnard of respectively a woman barely covered and in the nude, both in the intimacy of their boudoirs. And yet they are never naked. Their skin is dotted, speckled, oscillated, shimmering, mottled, studded and layered with colors and tones. The whole canvas constitutes a screen or veil to us.

Our detective is certainly not a voluptuous model, with whom his artist teases us with the sensuality of revelation, or non-revelation as it is. But he too consists of layers of layers, being defined by not being defined. Peter Ravn has used broad, bold brushstrokes of white highlights, which would be the downfall of most artists. White tend to create a greasy texture, leaving the canvas in a greyish nothingness. But here we have before us a strongly textured portrait, we see the density of the brushstroke, structuring the background as well as his features, covering the colors with which his face is based. He is of no specific form, he is the whole canvas. All the while it is as if the surface dissolves in front of us.

Presence of the white plane on an existential level is an opening on how to address one of the basic means for cartooning too. We love the tale about the Chinese artist, who spent 20 years learning to draw a rooster using only four lines. A rooster so lifelike on the paper, it might be an actual one. Only we tend to forget that there is a surface at play every time. The surface is an active instrument to the whole, not just a passive solid. It creates the room, the light, the air. The line is never on its own, but takes part in a duality. In fact, artists often incorporate the structure of the paper as an effect of the texture of the line, just as Peter Ravn has created a structure onto the canvas. Only in this case the white constitutes the uppermost layer.

The painter adds on, whilst the cartoonist removes. Serres goes so far as to call painting a tactile art. In the beginning is the touch, the painter carresses or even attacks the canvas, before the eye can see. The eye imprints nothing. The canvas is covered in canvases, veils pile up, If one surface is peeled off, there is still another surface underneath, a subject always active beneath the surface...

And just as the painting is never unveiled, there is no such thing as a final analysis.


The painting is shown courtesy of Peter Ravn and must not be reproduced without his permission.


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