Lode Laperre


Lode Laperre as homo ludens

Among the anthropoid primates, the hominids, those whose structure is almost the same as present-day man, were soon labelled as ‘homo sapiens’. This ‘cognitive man’ was also a ‘homo faber’; a working and ‘making’ man. The objects, especially tools, he deliberately created, were intended to be useful.

But we also found creations, in Europe about 40,000 years old, that did not have any immediate useful purpose. Handprints were found, made by spraying red ochre around a man’s hand held against a rock. It will have been deduced from this that other means of imitation were also possible. You can also imitate real creatures, particularly animals, with scratches and lines. In addition, we can also see figures that we would now call ‘abstract’: bands, circles and even ‘stars’. In my opinion the hand-prints and abstract figures are above all an indication of the pleasure men took in creating ‘forms’. This is also the case in that other art form that consisted of adding to useful objects a decoration, such as geometrical figures on jars and tools. Since all these forms of ‘artistic expression’ were not useful in themselves, we can only declare them meaningful by saying that what we have here is also a ‘homo ludens’, a ‘playing’ man.

Play, which we encounter among higher animals, is biologically explicable by the fact that young animals in particular can, by playing, learn about their sensory and motor possibilities in complete safety. The fact that this play gives pleasure is also biologically meaningful, because it prompts the young animals to practise as much as possible. Homo sapiens, who is characterised by a long youth, will also have derived so much delight from this playing, this ‘non-useful activity’, that he repeatedly has need of it in his adulthood too.

A feature of many play activities is that they possess an element of ‘repetition’. This is also biologically meaningful. Carrying out a new task requires an exceptional effort, but after repetition the action goes increasingly smoothly, which brings about a feeling of pleasure. A second observation is that one can gear individual actions to each other: an action with a particular structure, such as throwing or catching a stick, can be applied to a wide range of similar activities. So a source of pleasure is also to be found in the recognition or application of similarities and structural resemblances. Both repetition and depiction (structural resemblance) are part of the essence of play, and in my view therefore also of art.

In short, the concept of redundancy, or ‘superfluity’, as found in Shannon’s information theory, is very important to the understanding and evaluation of art. A message is redundant if we are in any way able to guess it. In the visual arts this may be the consequence of the fact that the form reminds us of another form; e.g. a drawn horse reminds us of a real horse, but this other form may also be an abstract figure which in terms of perception is quite evident: e.g. two lines intersecting, a circle, square, curve of a wave, etc. When we are very frequently faced with the same form, its redundancy can also become monotonous and thus tedious. This is why the ‘informative’ aspect, meaning the element of ‘surprise’, is important in play, but above all in art.

In figurative art it is quite easy to distinguish the redundant and the informative elements. In certain forms of abstract art, such as the work of Lode Laperre, it is not so obvious. Which is why I would now like to make clear why this approach – through the interaction of redundancy and information – is also applicable here.

Let’s take a few of Lode Laperre’s works at random: Broadband (2005), In-Formation (2007), Coagulum (2009) and Dot Matrix Painter (2013).

The first form of redundancy that strikes one immediately in a given work is a substantial commonality or similarity of tonality in the colours. If you divide each painting into a top and a bottom, and then a left and a right, you will see that either in two parts, e.g. top and bottom or left and right, or even in all four parts, the range of colours is clearly related. The range of colours in any of these parts will also clearly differ from any other painting. The agreeable thing about this sort of redundancy, which we experience spontaneously, is the restfulness it exudes. A completely random accumulation of colours without any structure would be so chaotic that it would be tiresome and even uncomfortable. However, in the work of a painter like Lode Laperre, this redundancy does not lead to monotony: it contains sufficient ‘informative’ variation in each part of the canvas. And even when you view it as a whole you see some surprising differences. But there are also some other types of redundancy in addition to this colour tonality. In Broadband we see a structure of vertical and horizontal streaks – which we have previously come across in rock paintings – and in addition shapes like craquelure, and white patches. In its turn, the uneven distribution of these elements provides the informative aspect. In Coagulum you can see the aspects I have mentioned to full effect by comparing the four abovementioned parts with each other. In Dot Matrix Painter one is immediately struck by the overall common tonality, but on the left you also see the grid structure, which slowly dissolves towards the right, while the range of colours also gradually changes. In In-Formation, the touches of colour in the top and bottom parts are fairly symmetrical, and thus redundant, while on the other hand the contrast of left and right is again informative.

This is of course an initial approach to these works from the angle of my theoretical position on information, but within each part you can also compare the separate touches of colour and their figurate aspect with each other and thereby check the degree to which gradual transitions and contrasts contribute ‘redundancy’ or ‘information’.

It is not my intention to claim that this sort of analysis is essential to the viewer’s overall aesthetic experience. But I do think that the general impression he receives is determined in part by these aspects, whether conscious or unconscious.

It is naturally impossible to express the very personal reaction each of us will have to these works in a general rational discussion. After all, both the specific colours and their combinations, as well as the way they are structured, evoke associations and feelings that are related to our previous contacts with images and even with our state of mind. The number of possible interactions between information and redundancy is of course virtually unlimited. It falls to the gifted artist to make choices that continue to captivate not only himself, but us too.

Etienne Vermeersch