Lode Laperre


Lode Laperre's pictorial sample cards

The French word oeuvre – for which there is no satisfactory translation in either Dutch or English - is an essential concept in the language of art criticism. It even facilitates – and this is quite a feat in an era of TV programmes such as Belgium’s “De Canvascollectie”! – distinguishing between professional artists and amateurs. Amateurs do not produce an oeuvre, they merely practise art by drawing inspiration from the oeuvre of professional artists. Indeed, oeuvre stands for the entire body of work of an artist, where each work of art is linked to every other in such a way that one can discursively detect coherence. An additional and significant characteristic of oeuvre is that it does not merely imply a discernible evolution from beginning to end – which may well include some art-critically justifiable breaks – but also that a reversible meaning from back to front may become apparent. In short: later work causes us to look differently at earlier work.
The reason behind my opening with a footnote drawn from art theory is that the creation of Lode Laperre’s oeuvre occurred in a most unconventional way. Typically, the analysis of an oeuvre amounts to exploring how the work developed over time, according to a personal artistic interpretation. Often, it will then be observed that certain works almost appear to be studies for what later turns out to be the signature works of a given period. Additionally, an explanation for the way one period evolves into the next may surface. And should all that fail, the interpreter can always turn to the field of psychoanalysis...
In Lode Laperre’s case however, none of this applies. It is as though he has only made one single painting, and he intends to continue working on it forever. His oeuvre is, as it were, the outcome of a single drawn-out breath. To describe that creative process I would like to call on a metaphor: the silkworm moth. His oeuvre literally emerges. Lode Laperre liberally applies paint to his surroundings, blurring the boundary between the walls of his studio and the canvas. Nothing in the pictorial diarrhoea of his colour fountains gets lost. His paintings develop like honeycombs, albeit with differences in hue, into his hive, the existential universe of his own making, his world. Here he is eager to let the audience in; it is an invitation to an experience of painterly cocooning.
Indisputably, there is no place for the word "diarrhoea" in writings on the subject of art. Despite the existence of art history’s landmark works, such as Duchamp’s Fountain (which turned out to be a urinal) and Manzoni’s Merda d’artista, this did not lead to scabrous usage of scatological vocabulary by cultured art critics. But Laperre brought it upon himself. In his obsession not to waste even the tiniest spatter of paint, he has taken the by-products of his painter’s urge and turned them into paint sculptures. Imaginatively, he has named these creations coprolites: literally “shit stones”. In archaeology, coprolite is the name given to fossilized excrement. Freud would probably steer us towards a fixation on the anal stage. Which is not an insult; after all, art collectors have also been bestowed with that particular diagnosis.
I could just as easily have referred to a pictorial logorrhoea, an out of control deluge of words, however, in Laperre’s case with paint. Conversely, “out of control” here suggests having instead a hidden order, much in the way Ehrenzweig sought to give meaning to Pollock’s criss-cross paint drippings. The title could then have been "Pellet" or “Hairball”, or if you allow me a Latin neologism: “Pila vomitus”. It would have been an alternative to coprolites worth considering.
Clearly, when trying to place Laperre’s oeuvre it is tempting to categorize it under “matter art" based on what I wrote earlier about his work, namely a deluge of paint applied to canvas, supplemented by a residual clustering of dried paint into sculptures that came into being without the use of hammer and chisel, or moulding fingers. Matter art emerged in the mid-fifties as an offshoot of (the somewhat lyrically labelled) abstract expressionism. Often, in addition to thick layers of paint resulting in a crust-like texture, other materials were selected for their physical properties and incorporated to create certain effects, thus adding a tactile dimension to the visual. In this context, Sartre refers to the term "ontology of matter", i.e. it is raw material that makes the work of art what it is. Critics of Sartre’s philosophy take his idea even further. Drawing from the domain of semiology, they emphasize that matter “speaks” and thus produces meaning beyond the author’s control. Matter can attain “degree zero”, freed from any ideology whatsoever.
Yet, classifying Lode Laperre under matter art would be inaccurate, mainly for a reason highlighted before when I reflected that his oeuvre materialised organically. Laperre creates a kaleidoscopic world through the lavish application of paint, allowing his own pictorial microcosm to spiral out of control, but intentionally so. This action makes him stand apart from matter art, in which the raw material practically slips away from the author’s control during the process of creation.
For a better understanding of his work I would like to turn to the palimpsest concept. Centuries ago, because it was costly, parchment was reused by scraping off the previous text. Obtaining a true tabula rasa was not essential, and therefore fragments of the old text as well as evidence of the scraping often remained noticeable. Consequently, most palimpsests are markedly polychrome. In Latin the relevant term is “codex rescriptus”: a re-written writing tablet. From here, perhaps through the introduction of “vela repicta” or re-painted canvases, it is just a small step to Laperre’s oeuvre. The connection is not just that many of Laperre’s paintings look like palimpsests: there is also a conceptual element to the association. Since his aim is to create an oeuvre based around a foundation of continued pictorial production, located under each painting one will find, hidden with varying transparency, the rest of his oeuvre.
Still, all in all this remains a rather formalistic (relating to form) application of the relationship between the palimpsest and Laperre’s oeuvre. However, there is also a deeper meaning that we have the French literary theorist Gérard Genette to thank for. He decided on the title Palimpsestes for his book in which he expounds “intertextuality”, a concept Bulgarian philosopher Julia Kristeva brought to Paris in the sixties, inspired by Mikhail Bakhtin. The notion, emblematic of the success of structuralism in that era, claims that a text is not a unique artefact that stems purely from the mind of an author closely in control of his sources. The opposite is true: a text always conceals one or more other texts. Text is, like textile, a result of interweaving, a tapestry of inspirations, which can only be unravelled with difficulty.
This is well reflected in Laperre’s paintings. Time and again he resumes his search and exploration in the art of painting. He is not looking for something with the idea of doing something else with it, say painting landscapes. Something of a cosmic nature perhaps? Indeed, this is an enticing path of interpretation, but it is a religious option I prefer not to consider. Neither do I wish to entertain an atheistic line of thought. Laperre’s are not Mondrian paintings, behind which a theosophical God is hiding. It is just painting, or if we insist on a label, “fundamental painting” would come closest. Laperre renders the picturesque, and he does so in a continuous stratification. In this context, the avant-garde movement has adopted the words “laboratory” and “experiment” from the field of science: these apply here, too. Sometimes Laperre halts the process and lets the painting dry, then restarts his carousel of colour. His works bear a resemblance to sample cards, on which Laperre has painted the art of painting.
Interestingly, sample cards originated in the tailors craft, but they were also used by the American philosopher Nelson Goodman in a reflection on the question whether abstract art can produce meaning. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, for one, strongly doubted this. Goodman did not. He made a distinction between giving meaning (denotation) and being an example for something (exemplification). In the case of denotation, the image refers to something in the real world. In exemplification, the relationship between symbols and the real-world objects they represent can be compared to the relationship between a sample card and that which it is a sample of. A red stain then, for example, stands for that which is red. But a colour can also express something more, not an object from the real world, but feelings, emotions. Red can therefore refer to joy or warm-heartedness. Therefore, a colour can be a representation of a real object, but it does not need to be. Red could also simply be a reference to blood.
I believe this is an interesting thought to keep in mind when savouring the paradise of colour that Lode Laperre conceives every day for himself and for the admirers of his work.

Willem Elias