Lode Laperre


With time as a basso continuo

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats


T.S. Yeats, from The Waste Land


The mystical soul in the depths of the painter will never tell the secret of the doubts contained in the hortus conclusus of the picture frame. Nor can any hint of his ‘stormy, stormy nights’ be discerned under the skin of the dried pigment. Artistic knowledge is an expressive understanding that is exchanged in a whisper between the masters of the past and the present. Your scribe appears naked beneath his clothes when faced with the work of Lode Laperre at the moment I sidle into his studio. I encounter a man who thinks with his whole body and smears paint with his mind. I spend time with all that is invisible in his pictorial field.


Michelangelo once wrote the following in a letter to the Florentine historian Benedetto Varchi: ‘Io intendo scultura quella che si fa per forza di levare, … l’altra scultura quella che si fa per via di porre, è simile alla pittura.’ In other words, the sculptor removes something from the marble, while the painter adds something to the canvas. Michelangelo, influenced by Neoplatonism, assumed that the concetto of the image that he would create was already present in the hidden core of the marble. When we hear Lode Laperre talking about his fundamental act of painting, he describes this process as an alternating addition and removal of paint. So, in other words, both a via di levare and a via di porre. And he does indeed paint an abstract painting and then remove plastic elements from it, which in their turn form a three-dimensional composition. He calls them coprolites: piles of petrified waste, paltry lumps of paint, fossilised faeces... as if the ash and lava from Vesuvius had struck twice, this time in his studio. With the painting as if in a state of low entropy, the coprolite in a state of high entropy. It reminds me of the elephant dung in which I repeatedly trod during one of my unfortunate attempts to greet a gorilla face to face in the jungle of Gabon – in the Black Africa of my yearnings. In vain, however. But one can hardly call these moulded colour mixtures of coprolites composed by the artist platonic Forms.


The material they are made from is obtained from a specific surplus that the painter perceives on the canvas. Because, for example, he wants to let the undercoat show through. In an unceasing struggle involving scraping off, reworking, colouring in, covering over etc., a colourful butterfly emerges, as if out of the proverbial caterpillar that has fed greedily on the artist as if he were a plant. And the Creator saw that it was good. It may be that an artist today, following the announcement of the death of God, behaves differently from the Creator who, when he surveyed his worldly accomplishments, turned away in shame from all that went wrong and gave it up as a bad job. However, the art of modernity and postmodernity appropriates an autonomy that owes everything to the all-seeing eye of the artist-creator, who only sparingly leaves anything to chance. It’s true that such movements as the Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism of the last century did of course fully integrate chance influences into the working process itself. But the modernist always kept a watch on the final result, just as a top model keeps an eye on her appearance on the catwalk. But things are different in the work of Lode Laperre. It is not only the support, the paint and the artist that play a significant role in the creative process, but a specific dimension of time also comes into play: time as a basso continuo. So which dimension of time is this?


In terms of method, this means that Lode Laperre occasionally opens his window, sometimes turns on the heating, or at other times lets his canvas dry exceedingly slowly, or – will we ever forgive him? – unashamedly exposes the painted canvas to the voyeuristic gaze of sun-drenched light. In other words, the Old Father Time of art history has officially made his joyous entry. Lode feels like someone who is challenging time and – at the same time – is manipulated by this very same time. It is not so much a matter of chance playing a part, but more of the passage of time as an input that gives shape to the work. The artist says expressly that it is not a question of chronological time. So which time is it? I hear him saying it is the duration of time. Out of occupational habit I am reminded of the French philosopher Bergson’s concept of la durée. Bergson made a distinction between the scientific, measurable, chronological, objectifiable time on the one hand, and on the other time as it is encountered in the subjective experience, as a continuous flow, becoming irreversible. However, it seems to me that what Lode Laperre means by the ‘impact of time on the artwork’ is of a different order. On this point, I consult the philosophical analysis that Martin Heidegger sparked off in his Sein und Zeit (1927). In this instance I distance myself from the controversies surrounding his political slip-up. What does Heidegger have to say to us about time? He posits an original temporariness that is misconceived by the common view of time. In the common view of time we assume there is a definite time: from then to now, from now to then, from then to then. But what is now? A ‘now’ moment is what passes in time. The now is a Being that comes and then goes again. What this common view of time as passing now-moments misconceives is the ecstatic nature of time, as for example occurs in waiting. In waiting, the approach of possibilities is implicit in ‘letting it take its course’. The then, now, at that time etc. are derivatives of an original temporariness that exists. In this way Heidegger tried to open up the temporariness that forms the origin of Being.


Lode Laperre also wants to make time have an impact on his work. We can locate the artist’s intention in the precise statement that Heidegger gives in Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes (1950): ‘Das Werk soll durch ihn zo seinem reinen Insichselbststehen entlassen sein. Gerade in der grossen Kunst … bleibt der Künstler gegenüber dem Werk etwas Gleichgültiges, fast wie ein im Schaffen sich selbst vernichtender Durchgang für den Hervorgang des Werkes.’ In other words, the artist creates by grace of his withdrawal from it. Remarkably enough, Heidegger’s view of artisthood appears closely related to the doctrine of Tzimtzum in the Jewish mysticism of the kabbalah. Heidegger states that Being conceals itself from us by withdrawing. The way of being of Being consists precisely in being absent, sinking down, vanishing. An absent presence. Rabbi Isaac Ashkenazi Luria developed the idea that God can only create by withdrawing far away from everything. It is true that in the beginning God was ubiquitous (as is being), but to make the world possible he had to withdraw within himself. God, severely battered, has crept away to the farthest corner of the scullery... so that the house could come to life. His withdrawal has released space for the world to be able to exist. In other words, Being is prey to Seinsvergessenheit, so that his people could exist. By withdrawing, the artist allows the work to develop. Lode Laperre describes his method literally as a form of subtraction, the removal of paint, so that something new can appear. In this criterion of withdrawal, this artist is equally influenced by oriental philosophy, specifically Taoism and Buddhism. They are both traditions of thought and ways of living that he knows so well from the Taiwan of his dreams. The art of non-action, wu-wei, is deeply rooted in Taoism: ‘The carpenter does not act when he is working with wood, but he is acting when he uses the axe’ (Feng Yu-lan). Paradoxically enough, non-action is a technique that one has to practise actively. A second criterion to which Lode Laperre subjects himself is that his work has to be interesting both from close up and from a distance, captivating both in its details and its totality. He emphasises the aesthetic importance of the alternating performance of this back and forth movement between detail and the global. Here too we find ourselves in the company of Heideggerian phenomenology, whereby the hermeneutic circle counts as an interpretative precept. Understanding the meaning of a text, a visual work, a piece of music, etc. exists only by grace of an interaction between part and whole.


Meanings reveal themselves in a circular process between part and context. And here we again come across Taoism. The contrast between this and that is mentioned in the Zhuangzi. This contrast is indexical in nature, meaning that it is dependent on the position the subject occupies. While the this refers to something concrete, the that looks at everything, the whole universe that surrounds us. It is a difference of spatiality, specifically in a back and forth between proximity and distance. The back and forth between the detail in the work and the surrounding totality in which the work is located.


When speaking of details in Laperre’s work, we cannot of course ignore the significance of the craquelure, the small cracks in the paint. In the course of art history they have been considered a defect resulting from inferior paint or an incorrect proportion of pigment to binder. In Laperre’s work they appear as icons of a past. And that is what they are. Time has left its traces. They are jewels of loss. But Laperre creates his craquelure, he creates a past, a fragility, a weakness. It is the endearing side of deterioration, the beauty of transience, the wrinkles in the face of Kronos, as the patron saint of melancholy.


Nowadays we see that Malevich’s original black square (likewise an exceedingly melancholy work) is also covered in craquelure. Time has had its effect. The yellow and blue of the underpainting is visible through the cracks. Art historians using X-rays have found several overpainted layers under the black. And in one of these layers there is a verbal inscription. Once it had been deciphered they found it to be Negro fight. This is thought to derive from a novel by Alphonse Allais called Combat de Nègres dans une cave pendant la nuit. I am not concerned with its literary content, but with the fact that this find is a metaphor for the personal, linguistic signifiers that lie concealed beneath every visual work. And indeed Lode Laperre ended our conversation triumphantly by exclaiming ‘Panta rhei!’. We find the sublime phrase ‘everything flows’ in one of the river passages by the Greek Presocratic Heraclitus. Fresh water flows unceasingly into a river, yet the river remains the same. Eternity here is constantly changing, which is also an image for the unity of opposites. At the very moment of Lode’s exclamation, the signifier of his own name occurred to me, the sound image ‘L’eau de la père’. It should be possible to read this through his craquelure. Although the article used for père is not correct and the shift in sound from ‘perre’ to père might only be audible in the Provençal dialect, this signifier seems to me to be expressive of the combination of his father and mother within himself, to which, incidentally, he himself attests.


These are aspects of the optical unconscious first spoken of by Walter Benjamin and more recently by Rosalind Krauss. But whereas Benjamin reserved this notion for the technical eye of the photographic camera (whose merciless, optical recording objectifies our familiar perceived world), the psychoanalytical tradition broadens the concept to include the obscure, inevitably hidden elements in our field of vision. Our unconscious desires and physical states go against the illusion of the full consciousness of our gaze. Look at the anamorphic mark in Hans Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors, where the truth of imminent death creeps into the painting from an unexpected angle. Look at Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr. and Mrs Andrews, where an empty space appears in the lap of the eighteen-year-old beauty (?) just where her pubic area would be. Or read what Hopper has to say: ‘All I wanted was to paint sunlight on a wall’. In this way, when we scour our field of view, a detail of a work, when analysed, tells us more about the context of the work than all the iconographic overload could yield. And so we see that what happens in that icon of the death of painting – Malevich’s Black Square – is the appearance of the wounds of time. In the tradition of modernist abstraction, Lode Laperre will wholeheartedly incorporate these cracks, these caesurae, these defects, as evidence of the impossibility of achieving absolute transparency. In this way, the aesthetic strategy by which abstraction aims to create an ultimate purity is transformed into its opposite. Laperre’s visual idiom is not thereby in any way reduced to one or other Rorschach test, but rather incorporates the motif of emptiness from the Kleins and the Rothkos of this world into the actual plastic texture of his work. There is a third way between per via di levare and per via di porre, that of per via di vuotare: the aesthetics of Lode Laperre analyses our gaze.

Joannes K├ęsenne