Thursday, December 13, 2012



Four Paintings by Poet Guy Beining


         “Evening colors linger on the mountain path”
         -Tu Fu

The ideas of “perspective” and “dimension” in art are points of embarkation of the modern tradition.  During the Renaissance, paintings of objects were done in a new mathematical way in which the artist was able to divest the mind of an ingrained image and portray that object as it appeared  in common observation.  Though the artist—and everyone—knew that two sides of a street were in fact long and at every point parallel, the artist portrayed them with converging foreshortened lines, capturing the visual impression of looking at a real street as it vanished into the distance.  In this way, painting advanced into three dimensions—a momentous breakthrough in humanity’s understanding of itself.
Perspective, dimension might be called the birth of realism.  These are notions that continue to evolve.  Perspective surely must have something to do with the style of painting called “trompe l’oeil” (fool the eye).  Perspective is an expedition into terrains of visibility.  It is the guiding principle along the labyrinthine corridors of impracticality and deception.  In one early 1900s painting, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painted a portrait in which the face was viewed in profile with colors and features similar to Egyptian painting.  In doing so Kirchner probably was criticizing the world in which he lived as incapable of modern compassion and understanding. 

A 20th Century experimental painter such as Henri Matisse might paint a street differently and more fancifully than the streets and squares and churches of the Renaissance.  The lines of the depiction might be naively curved and nonmechanical.  The lines of each side of a street might get farther apart as they vanish into the distance rather than closer together.  The colors might be whimsically altered and stars might appear all around the object depicted.  In this way, Matisse and many other painters place their artworks in no “naturalistic” but rather a quantum or a timeless abstract, imaginative realm in which the barriers between the mechanical and the poetic have disappeared. 

The Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s paintings invariably consist of two panels with a horizontal line between.  Viewing them in series, one realizes that each painting is a version of an archetypal setting of foreground and background.  Rothko’s repetition of the image leads the way in showing us that this foreground and background might be considered symbolic.  The pictures waver between the flatness of the canvass and the three dimensionality of landscape.  Rothko’s artworks become a model of our ability to view and estimate the problems of society, our need to distinguish symptom from cause, to place a specific  action or event in the larger context from which it takes its true meaning and effect—in short, to distinguish for ourselves a variety of degrees of realism.  Andy Warhol’s paintings are similarly about perspective in that the shocking “unnaturally” colored  iconography is a foreground without a background—devoid of perspective. 
The advance into abstract painting brings into art and literature a new “dimension” that is as significant and notable a breakthrough as the advance into three-dimensions made during the Renaissance.  This new dimension is the inexhaustible virtual and conceptual dimension of thought and mind, so that the visible and the literal are no longer the exclusive purveyors of “realism.”  A definition of the word “perspective” is wisdom.  The scene of modern or, perhaps, Post-modern artworks is the discourse of visibility.  It is a fourth dimension of permanence, knowledge and measurement.  This new perspective and dimension comprises a collage of qualitatively diverse components—photographic images, mathematical symbols, verbal fragments, visual fragments, actual objects, blank space, historic evidence, naturalistic representations, mass media data, scientific diagrams, stream of consciousness, text, types of fabric.  Most importantly the “objects” in these types of paintings are presented, via a deconstructive aesthetic of freedom, in their meaningful substantiveness rather than their superficial physical impenetrability.  The resulting works are a conceptual ensemble that presents a credible, transcendent type of reality—a psychic representation with a more varied, insightful, moral, reliable, far-reaching and creative “perspective.”

It’s been quite a while since I first viewed the work of artist and poet Guy Beining in such neo-Dadaist Xerox  ‘zines as PhotoStatic and Raunch-O-Rama.  Perhaps the centerpiece of his new work is a four-by-six pamphlet Out of the Woods into the Sun from Kamini Press, Stockholm, Sweden/Hydra, Greece.  The book has a small rudimentary color artwork on the cover—similar to the cover artwork of Jack Kerouac’s Poems All Sizes—a color thumbnail painting of the author by Henry Denander and orange endpapers.  The contents are reproductions of fifteen of Beining’s color artworks, each of them, imbued in surreal and symbolic color, depicting suggestively but attentively—gently with quiet understanding—what might sarcastically be called the actual human form, in extreme philosophical nakedness.   Forbidden to add on anything outside the empirical, the line drawings and water colored spaces contain flabby protoplasmic bodies of indistinguishable gender, nudity deformed from the inaccurate yellow of adamant lipstick, garbled foreground-background both producing and inhibiting formal development, geometric spaces between people, confusingly extra-complicated polluted freedom, the seductiveness of the intentional. 

These fifteen small works convey what occurs as the arbitrary mythical justification of Mankind’s Ptolemaic self-conception endures the unavoidable disasters of infinite foreground-background. These are the instances that require humanity to search for more well-founded explanations of itself.  Science with its uniquely impartial methodology is invented.  Metaphysical events begin to take shape, such as life’s  origins.  Reasons have to be found for every occurrence and every law.  The problematic of pleasure—of what is acceptable behavior and what is “sin”—arises.  Essentially the word “sin” is thrown out as arbitrary.  The language of individuals begins to carefully avoid presumption and exaggeration.  Objects begin to be scrutinized and questioned in systematic detail.  A marvelous picture, based solely on unbiased truth, of humanity and the physical setting in which it dwells, comes into being. 

Beining’s pictures are of humanity from an anthropological perspective, without predisposition toward humanity’s value or worthlessness.  In many ways, Beining’s portraiture of human reality is similar to German Expressionism.  In content more than form, Max Beckmann’s famous painting The Night, with its cluttered pastiche of abuse and criminality, has the same philosophical resonance as Beining’s amorphous, indeterminate blobs.  The theme of Beckmann’s paintings is inner structure in transition from the the religious to the philosophical.  Though they patently don’t appear so, the people in Beckmann’s The Night are as unformed as those in Beining’s paintings.  Much of German art at the beginning of the 20th Century is similar.  In Brecht’s slapstick morality play, Threepenny Opera, the underworld characters sing such lines as, “Or is it only those that have the money/Can enter in the land of milk and honey?”  And “So gentlemen do not be taken in/ Men live exclusively by mortal sin.”
The world is poor and men are bad
There is of course no more to add

What Brecht is asserting is that the iron-clad ideals surrounding good and evil have been replaced by a more ambiguous and lenient, less arbitrary standard for judging human actions.  Depicting what is hidden, the mistakes and failures, the baseness of humanity—rather than those times that it achieves the impossible and conforms perfectly to inhuman expectations—increases self-knowledge and realism.  Rather than excusing crime Brecht is laying the foundation for its elimination.  A pre-determined imposed iconic visibility is replaced by a subjective style of virtue; unquestioned formal behavior is replaced by the unaided, intense “technologies of the self.” 

The title Out of the Woods and into the Sun indicates this transformation—parallel with the shift in Christianity from the repetitious sacrifice of Mosaic Law to the solitary suffering of individuals.  In Beckmann’s paintings, in Beining’s paintings, without referencing anonymous structure of pre-established authority, the raison d’etre of the artwork has to find a derivation in new, less arbitrary, more vigilantly grasped sources.  It has to apply its discoveries and insights.  It has to observe and rely upon other support for human action—curiosity, imagination, utility, application, thought, living together.  It has to answer difficult questions.  In saying that “Man is nothing other than what he makes of himself,” Sartre emphasizes absolute freedom, but he acknowledges in this freedom the possibility of a deeper sense of the divine.  The only axiomatic ground rules are “death and taxes.”  Everything else has to be mined from beneath the windswept surface.  In some ways, initially art produced in this manner is “slower” and more clumsy, less precise and focused than the arbitrarily justified work—which is what Beining’s artworks in this chapbook especially portray.  But eventually the new work demonstrates a deeper and more immense, a more powerful  and persuasive efficacy.  Donald Kuspit, in his article on Beckmann’s “Psychotic Realism,” writes that “Modern means to strip away superficial social appearances to reveal existential reality.”   The whole of the 20th Century was permeated with this desire for greater perception and involvement, more penetrating and generative understanding.  Karl Jaspers writes of the artists of his time:
They wanted to take themselves seriously; they searched for the hidden reality; they wanted to know what was knowable; and they thought that by understanding themselves they could arrive at the foundation of their being.

The removal of unquestioned, unquestionable support in humanity’s conception of existence—such factors as predisposition toward moral precepts—gave rise to the movement of the Modern aesthetic endeavor of revealing in comprehensive terms the circumstances surrounding human existence.  It has made our species into voyagers in the dimensions of our own understanding, the discoverers and inventors of our own spiritual purpose.  What’s interesting about Beining’s paintings is that he seems to depict this endeavor as in its early stages.


Tom Hibbard has had recent work published in the Australian issue of Jacket, and the current issue of Moria. He also has a new collection of poetry, Sacred River of Consciousness, from Moon Willow press. He is currently involved in the political struggles in the U.S. and world against mindless far-right extremism.

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