Marking the passage of time in space[1]


Lucila Nalvarte Maddox





The belief that one can paint beyond what one can see—is at one with the world of paradox and ambiguity that exists before any reflection contained within the painting process begins.[2] Merleau-Ponty


Can painting, in its very failure to adequately represent the invisibility of the limitless passage of time in space, paradoxically become a suitable vehicle for communicating the impossibility of the task?


This project aspires to investigate and demonstrate how painting, as a register of process, and painting articulated as a theoretical operator, can work hand in hand to offer models for understanding critical philosophical concepts about space, time, visibility, invisibility and limitlessness. Various propositions are drawn from theoretical research and research into the strategies adopted by particular painters which are then tested through a series of experimental procedures designed to activate new ways of envisaging the invisibility concept of the limitless passage of time in space. This interaction is grounded in an open-ended and speculative relationship, and between the immediacy of reason, imagination and sensory channels, with a view to experientially revealing the challenging and thought-provoking notion of invisibility of the limitless passage of time in space. Given that painting can only aspire to providing a momentary account of reality and, therefore, cannot represent the ever-changing limitlessness of all of time and space, this self-conscious failure must exist as an exhibited feature of painting, in which these momentary accounts of reality are displayed in series in relation to the whole.



The aim of this project is to experientially articulate the incomprehensible enormity of the idea that time passes without end through limitless space. Just as the universe holds time within an open-ended cosmological container, this project demonstrates how the canvas, by extension, presents the vehicular medium of painting in an open-ended process of transformation by means of experimenting with painting materials and strategies. Significantly, painting can only represent a transitive register of fragmentary moments within this limitless process of transformation, and as a consequence, my studio-based work outcomes are displayed in series in order to invite the viewer to contemplate them as a whole. Finally, this studio-based research project is proffered as a significant contribution to framing painting’s ongoing potential for building a pictorial vocabulary for communicating the invisibility notion of the passing of time through the visible materiality of painting.


The evolution of pictorial representation of time in space


In experimenting with painting processes, I began by examining the evolution of spatial representation—and by extension the dialectical play of limits and limitlessness—as was first indicated by Pythagoras’ mathematical estimation in 600 BC that the sun was the centre of the universe. Significantly, this estimation marked the beginning of an ever-transforming sense of spatial implications of reality.[3] By reviewing a series of significant scientific discoveries, I set out to investigate and then pictorially interpret and trace time passing in space through concepts such as illusion and depth, experiential dimensions, shifting sensations and multiple perspectives.


Illusion and depth


In tracing historical conceptions of limitlessness of space—through to the fifteenth and sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance—we arrive at the moment when artists applied mathematical perspective to the task of better conveying a sense of spatial illusion.[4] Tommaso Masaccio’s (1401-1428) use of ideas of atmospheric shadows[5] in his Fresco Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1427),[6] for example, revealed a more accurate sense of spatial placement and depth. Similarly, in Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) voluminous depths in Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1490),[7] space was infused as atmospheric flotation, and appears to hover before the eyes or in the mind. In returning to these conceptions of illusion and depth through the lens of twenty-first century painting in my series Esoteric (2007-2008), I pictorially reimagined limitlessness of time in space as floating masses of light seemingly both disconnected and yet presumed connected— for they cannot be literally substantiated. In this sense, the parts which are not visible were incorporated in relationship to the visible whole.



An illusion of depth was perhaps more profoundly demonstrated by Baroque painter Michelangelo Caravaggio’s (1571-1610) use of ideas of extending perceptions in his painting David and Goliath (1609-1610)[8] in which Goliath’s head is presented as emerging from the picture plane and into the beholder’s space.[9] Here, the profundity of fiction reaching into reality—as understood within the context of displacement in space, and by extension as reconstituting the most essential attributes of existence—unlocks new possibilities for depicting the limitlessness of time in space.[10] This concept of displacement as analogous to Newton’s seventeenth-century conception of gravity becomes a force determined by the laws of motion and mass that was later attributed new meaning by Einstein’s famous reformulation of space, time and motion in his idea of the fourth dimension.[11] Caravaggio’s idea of extending perceptions underpinned my conception of time passing through space in my Tongues of Fire series (2012-2013) as clouds of smoke and fire reaching into the viewer’s space and in doing so, linking illusion with reality just as painting becomes a vehicular medium with which to link the idea of painting to the painting itself. I believe that this notion of extending perceptions can potentially unlock optical illusions that imply movement, and therefore sensations analogous to the passage of time.


Experiential dimensions


New forms of spatial representation were implied in eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) reframing of experiential dimensions. Significantly, Kant maintained that experience—being a combination of both sense and thought in the act of perceiving—radically disputed Descartes’ mind/body dichotomy.[12] As German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) later articulated, experience grows and evolves as the mind reacts to its environment.[13] By analysing what the mind does in response to external data, we might begin to see how the stages of the painting process develop in relation to experience.[14] Significantly, conceptions of experiential dimensions are also demonstrated in some eighteenth and nineteenth century Romantic artists’ ideas of space. German painter Caspar David Friedrich’s (1774-1840) use of emblematic visions in Monk by the Sea (1810)[15] evokes a sense of distinctive boundlessness, English painter J. M. W. Turner’s (1775-1851) use of atmospheric horizons in Sun Setting over the Sea with Garnets, (1836)[16] conveys expanses of luminosity. American Fredrick Church’s (1826-1900) use of concealed worlds in The Andes of Ecuador (1855)[17] also reimagines space as atmospherically dispersed. Notably, Friedrich, Turner and Church experienced nature as manifestations of the mind, discovering not only that mimesis can be transformed into a meditative conduit for inimitability, but also that atmospheric movement can form a pathway for revealing the passage of time in space. [18]


This broadly conceived notion of the experiential, arguably a consequence of proto-modernity’s futuristic projection of art’s incoming flight from literal representation (perhaps best applied within Friedrich’s emblematic visions), triggered my conception of the passage of time in Ephemeral series (2008-2009) as an almost indiscernible light. This retreating light, which conveys the eradication of existence whilst still holding embers of life is inferred through minimal use of colour in order to reveal the invisibility of the passage of time in space in its starkest simplicity.


Shifting sensations


Although certain intellectual developments of the fifteenth century had trickled into the art of the seventeenth century, later advances strongly influenced numerous fields of speculative inquiry. Concepts such as non-Euclidian geometry (the idea that space beyond our perception could be curved), and Einstein’s hypothesising of the fourth dimension (space-time-motion concept of simultaneous coexistence in more than one dimension) transformed both art and science.[19] By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, an increasing desire for novelty in artistic creativity would inspire artists to explore spatial representation with a sense of movement.[20] In this respect, movement presented as shifting sensations was in part pre-empted by French post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) in his work Mont Sainte-Victoire (1902-1904) in which the landscape was presented fragmented through the use of multiple frontal planes.[21] This idea was further employed by German-American expressionist painter Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) in his work The Gate (1959-1960)[22] to demonstrate an alternating sense of push and pull motions and evoke power and visibility to his subjective world.[23] The simultaneous portrayal of flatness and depth in the one painting can be analogised through Einstein’s conception of the fourth dimension—in which movement is described in terms of the relationship between time and space.[24] Hofmann’s idea of push and pull motions suggested by placing planes of contrasting colours next to each other was clearly influenced by Cézanne’s aforementioned separation of planes.[25] Hofmann indicated that space is not static, and consequently, it must be expressed by forces and counterforces that vibrate with colour, light and form “in the pace of life.”[26] For Hofmann, “life does not exist without movement and movement does not exist without life. The continuation of movement throughout space is rhythm. Thereby, rhythm is the expression of life in space.”[27] This notion of shifting sensations was also later explored through Newman’s use of the zip, an idea that gave the indisputable credit to his startling binocular effects. Whilst Pollock’s distinctive painting drips helped him to develop configurations that reject any traditional focal point, Richter’s use of accelerating intervals generate spatial animation analogous to motion pictures.


Among these artists’ examples of spatial representation Hofmann’s idea of push and pull effects inspired my conception of time passing in Sinuous series (2009-2012) as undulating mounds that seem to mirror sine waves typically seen on an oscilloscope[28] These sinusoidal waves, when described mathematically, represent repetitive oscillations that can create illusions of rhythmic effects that play spatially within the picture plane, and although they are not literally substantiated, they are assumed to be connected. The liminal spaces between rhythm and stillness are suggested by the dynamic flow of line and colour against a static monochromatic background. While the interlocking of flatness and depth in Hofmann’s painting The Gate seem to converge into a single entity, the spaces in Sinuous—being inspired by non-Euclidian geometry and quantum fluctuations[29]—were conceived as infinitely flowing beneath the grids, resembling a sense of continuity associated with the passage of time in space.


Multiple perspectives


In the second half of the twentieth century, artists continued to be preoccupied with spatial motion, and began to incorporate ideas of multiple perspectives through fragmentation and uncertainty[30] as inspired by new concepts that had emerged from Einstein’s theory of relativity,[31] and Planck’s theory of quantum mechanics[32]—as linked to vacuum fluctuations.[33] These scientific discoveries, which were built upon ideas of non-Euclidian geometry and expanded by renaissance objectivity, would inspire modern, postmodern, and contemporary artists to invent new approaches to painting.[34] For example, American postmodern painter David Salle (b. 1952) interpreted this idea of multiple perspectives in his painting Dual Aspect Picture (1986) as colliding images to demonstrate that unrelated units of information can be randomly presented in a manner reminiscent of the changing world, a world of fragmentation and uncertainty understood through ideas of quantum mechanics.[35] Crucially, both quantum mechanics and Salle’s analysis of time in space, reject the possibility of a fixed meaning—preferring instead to emphasise the apparent omnipresence of paradox.[36] In a decidedly different manner, multiple perspectives were also achieved through Hockney’s employment of multiple views of the same subject and subsequent implication of observational movement, together with Richter’s gradual removal of the explicit mark making on a sliding scale towards invisibility which will later be expanded.


Salle’s conception of colliding images has motivated the conception of time passing through space in my Flickering time series (2010-2011) as informationally fractioned yet reassembled as a whole. Accordingly, the spaces between the pictures become frames in which temporality is maintained in terms of continuous limitless voids. Here, difference and repetition between fractional units become central to apprehending the operation of registers—not only between illusionism and depth, but also within experimental dimensions, shifting sensations and multiple perspectives—all directed towards revealing the invisibility notion of the passing of time in space.


Unravelling ideas of invisibility


The belief that one can paint beyond what one can see—is at one with the world of paradox and ambiguity that exists before any reflection contained within the painting process begins.[37]  Merleau-Ponty


The concept of invisibility—a quality of not being perceivable by the eye—is explained by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology which shows how the mind interprets the unseen by using imagery drawn from the observable world and the body to reveal it through experimenting with painting materials, techniques and strategies. Accordingly, Merleau-Ponty suggested, that in transforming our view of the world, there is always more than one intention underpinning the process of signification.[38] Although the paint remains dormant inside the tube, it is yet to be meaningfully activated into the painter’s vocabulary of line, shape and colour. It is therefore only through the transformative process of painting that paint is reconnected as part of the continuum of reality. Accordingly, this sense of a continuum demonstrates that while time is revealed as passing, space is inferred, yet not literally represented. In this respect, the continuum acknowledges that which remains unseen is incorporated in relationship to the whole through the materiality of paint that distinguishes from the metaphysical properties of philosophical ideas.[39] For example, when we look at Vincent van Gogh’s The starry night (1889), we do not see some reality to be grasped but rather the unseen whispering wind being materialised. Here, the artist’s gaze was only a part of a continuum that is connected with his artistic vision. In this instance, I am reminded of Hubert Damisch observation in Theory of Clouds (2002) that, “if our vision halts…let the imagination pass beyond.”[40]


Cézanne’s embodying invisibility


To see is to enter a universe of beings, which display themselves…thus every object, is the mirror of all others.[41]Merleau-Ponty


Merleau-Ponty effectively demonstrates how in Cezanne’s embodying invisibility in Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue (1885-87),[42] the visible materiality of paint applied with a brush as an extension of the body, can interact with the mind[43] and not separately, as Descartes suggested.[44] This idea is also demonstrated in Piet Mondrian’s (1872-1944) Composition with red, blue, yellow, black and grey (1922)[45] in which the act of thought is revealed as a pictorial process in its starkest simplification. Similarly, the potential of embodying invisibility suggested in Pollock’s Guardians of the secret (1943)[46] and Autumn rhythm (1957),[47] might be considered as examples of emblematic interpretation of unpredictable pictorial strategies that can reveal his hidden worlds. In a very different manner, French conceptual artist Daniel Buren’s (b. 1938) use of serialisation, as evident in Within the frame (1973),[48] Beyond the frame (1986)[49] and The two plateaux (1986),[50] might also be considered as examples of art’s potential to embody invisibility in series in which its parts are displayed in relation to a whole.


Merleau-Ponty suggests that in perceiving the complexities of our surroundings, we can simplify our objective by focusing on “something” significant the moment we open our eyes.[51] This “something”—an “indefinite” vision”[52] of an object experienced as a vision of “je ne sais quoi” or “I do not know what”—is brought back into existence within the painter’s own speculation.[53] This act of assumption employed by Cezanne in his Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue, based on a belief that objects are not flat, nor are presented in isolation but rather in relation to each other and to their surroundings, inspired the conception of the passage of time in space in my Encounters series (2010-2011). This underlying principle of artistic composition was employed to develop alternating concealed and revealed peaks and valleys in order to demonstrate how something invisible might be inferred without being literally substantiated. In Encounters, roads appear and disappear through an intricate maze of mountains as observed on a personal journey throughout Lima’s rocky and sandy coastal landscapes. Although the roads seem to meander in front of the mountains, it is assumed that they continue behind, around and beyond them. Hence, the mountains are not presented independently but rather in connection to the sea and islands behind, the roads below, the sky above, and other unseen objects surrounding them—all connected through a continuity of time in space. Accordingly, this compositional arrangement can also be applied to the act of painting in which colours are not processed in isolation, but rather in relation to each other, just as the background and the middle ground relate to the foreground, all painting processes unfolding as a whole. As Merleau-Ponty proposed, if one is going to paint something indiscernible, one should not only link mind and body but also remove unnecessary information that might rob the continuity of perceptive freedom.[54] In Encounters, the concept of the continuum acknowledges that which remains unseen behind the hills is incorporated in relationship to the whole. The invisibility notion of the limitless passage of time thus is revealed through the visibility of paint.



 Signifying invisibility within strategy


I venture to depict matter as it takes some form, as the birth of order through spontaneous organisation.[55]  Merleau-Ponty


Although Pollock’s pouring of paint[56] at first seems chaotic, its structure was built in a manner somewhat analogous to Cezanne’s spontaneous organisation. Both, Cezanne’s and Pollock’s pictorial strategy yearned for a meaningful signification of reality in favour of unravelling new truths of spatial representation.[57] Such a strategy, in which perception is aesthetically anticipated in terms of sequential steps of the painting process, could therefore embrace an emblematic representation that is anchored in experimentation rather than in a finished work.[58] Inventiveness, as exemplified in Pollock’s Autumn rhythm therefore occurs—as in a game of chess—at the point of intersection between thought and imagination, at a precise moment in which each rhythmic spattering of paint succeeds the next, in turn both sequentially and precisely where it is needed.[59]


A longstanding appreciation of Pollock’s pictorial strategy implicitly underpins my own conception of time passing through space in my Ripples series (2009-2011). Here the unseen trajectory of time is traced as undulating mirrored lines that converge and separate in order to elicit motional effects—an idea triggered while observing the movement of water on a windy day in a lake. Each movement of line is manifested as temporal succession, and the ebb and flow of the ever-changing and never ending continuum of the passing of time in space. The individual paintings and the intervals in-between are therefore effectively operating within a grid, partitioning wholeness in which the next move indicates infinitely changing yet connected moments in space. As a result, the painting process is inextricably linked to a metaphorical extension of the predictive process of transformation through experimentation with painting materials and techniques to strategically structure new ways of conveying the invisibility notion of the passage of time in space



Displaying segmentation of time in series


When the painter can paint while he is looking at the world…he thinks he is disentangling, deciphering or spelling out nature at the moment he is creating.[60] Merleau-Ponty


Given that the entirety of the passing of time in space cannot be portrayed, this project attempts to demonstrate how fractionally and sequentially displayed parts can meaningfully project an illusion of wholeness. Accordingly, each pictorial segment is presented as a part of a language of thought and imagination that is coherently shown as a unified body of work.[61] For example, French conceptual artist Daniel Buren’s installations such as Within the Frame (1973), Beyond the Frame (1973) and The Two Plateaux (1986), effectively display a compound of connected idiomatic patterns that invite strategic associations between paintings via arrangement on the wall.[62] Since pictures displayed on the wall are fractional in terms of information provided, they nevertheless convey a sense of spatial continuity and progress towards something yet to be known.[63] As Hegel suggested, in order to understand the “whole” it is first necessary to acknowledge the parts from which it is formed.[64] Buren’s serial practice attempts to elaborate decisive ways of thinking through the work’s exposure—which also functions as a paratextual invitation to the exhibition.


Buren’s conception of serialisation inspired the projection of time passing through space in Slices of Time Fragmented Space Series (2010-2012) as progressive fleeting segments of light that resemble motional effects. In this succession of chronological events, each pictorial moment is selected frozen and displayed in series in order to anticipate a fictionalised sense of the passage of time. This serial representation of temporal motion can be understood as one way of aesthetically historicising the passage of time within static imagery that entombs its memory. Here, the dialogue between grids and intervals allows fractioned units of information to operate within a sense of wholeness. Hence, visualisation in series offers a model through which each painting becomes part of a conversational vocabulary of thought.



The idea of invisibility and the sublime


The distinction between form and matter can no longer be given any ultimate value.[65]  Merleau-Ponty


The sublime as a conceptual frame opens a broader questioning of the invisibility of the passage of time in space. It reformulates a modern sublime regarding the notion of vastness with horror vacui[66] (horror of the void) through the works of Turner’s ideas of formlessness as sensual responses to paint. Whilst a postmodern sublime—concerning the notion of absence/presence or indeterminacy—is analysed through Newman’s floating depths, a contemporary techno-sublime—involving the notion of blankness or immediacy—is explored through Richter’s vanishing perceptions. This sublime (being part of an expanded role of art) is understood in dialogue with the phenomenon suggested in Lyotard’s The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) “as something of a paradoxical nature which can be conceived and yet can neither be seen nor made visible.”[67] This conception of invisibility is still debated in painting today.


Invisibility of vastness


The modern conception of the sublime has its origins in eighteenth and nineteenth-century aesthetic theory, in which the sublime is manifested in terms of sensations of the mind that extend beyond the mere physicality of the landscape. A conception of the sublime that presents vastness as horror vacui assists in revealing the invisible as having a relationship with sensations linked with time that passes without end.[68] For Kant, somewhat one cannot represent the power of infinite vastness within time and space—because this is finally only an idea, and therefore, something indeed can at least be alluded to it by means of a negative presenceor formlessness.[69] Thus, in Kant’s formulation of aesthetics, as laid out in Analytic of the Sublime (1790), although the beautiful delights in form incited by the senses, the sublime delights in formlessness incited by the mind.[70] This idea of formlessness is particularly exemplified in Friedrich’s Arctic Shipwreck (1824)[71] and Turner’s Snow Storm (1790)[72] as sensual responses to paint possessing a potential to overwhelm the imagination with grand ideas that are both limitless and abstract.[73]


In part, the complexity of nature’s vastness conveyed in Turner’s Snow Storm as something dispersing and dissolving, inspired the conception of the passage of time that underpins my Unfathomable series (2010-2012)—a series in which the viewer is directed to contemplate suspended landscapes that may evoke the threat of falling and the uncertainty of not knowing where the sky meets the earth. Here, the appearance of an eerie feeling of simultaneous emptiness and fullness underscores an illusion of space that stirs sensual responses in painting presented as a register of the immateriality of the passage of time in space.



Invisibility of indeterminacy


The postmodern sublime, a conception variously developed in the second half of the twentieth century, was manifested as sensations of the mind that extended beyond tactile signifiers and towards dialectical notions of absence/presence or indeterminacy and sought a way out of nature through language.[74] An interpretation of limitlessness that originates from nature is now surpassed by technological influences that imply progress and yet uncertainty. Newman demonstrates how this uncertainty of indeterminacy of the zip in his Vir Heroics Sublimis (1950-1951)[75] is hypothesized as floating depths that seem not to advance or recede but rather to hover imperceptibly and limitlessly in a middle ground of vast reds.[76] This sensation echoes Martin Heidegger’s implication that painting is a matter of the return of origin at the end, and as an end.[77]  What is particularly interesting in Newman’s floating depths is that there are no traces of the ground, yet at the same time, within the ‘zip’ we experience a dialectical play of absence/presence of roughness, presented within its simplicity of form.[78] American art historian Richard Shiff has described Newman’s application of the first colour, and subsequent placing of tape over the painting, as an act of subdivision through which Newman engaged the temporal being at once subtracted and replaced.[79] This conception of the temporal is therefore linked with an idea of the limitless passing of time across space, in which entities appear as either suspended or superimposed on vast spaces that dissolve into a void.[80]


This sublime—seen as floating depths in Newman’s Vir Heroics Sublimis—which implies something absent yet present triggered the conception of invisibility of the limitless passage of time through space in my series Orchestrating the Invisible (2011-2013). Here, I envisaged fleeting plumes of smoke camouflaging a physical observable world, yet not without first revealing a memory of its existence via its openings, through which new plumes of smoke were modelled to consolidate new assemblage of parts in relation to the whole. As Hegel suggests, new outcomes will contain new conflicts in which further changes will occur and, for this reason, nothing remains the same.[81] This indeterminacy of the sublime therefore cannot hold specific visual characteristics, primarily because it occurs as something undetermined, yet at the same time, as something instantaneously subtracted and replaced.



Invisibility of immediacy or blankness—the instant or the vanishing


Contemporary recalibrations of the sublime now rely directly upon sensory perceptions as synonyms for acceleration.[82]  The passage of the sublime from the Victorian to the modern and beyond is therefore one that led from horror vacui to a contemporary sublime offering immediacy or blankness—that is, the instant or the vanishing.[83] Meaningful discernment of the phenomenon of invisibility of the passage of time in space has therefore been broadened through a paradoxical approach within which perception is observed as infinitely segmented, yet infinitely connected through multiple signifiers between the intersection of difference and repetition.[84] It is therefore in the blank face of the technological era that one finds immediacy as a hyper-acceleration through the instantaneity of electronic forces invisible to the naked eye. In this respect, an image of the tundra in which one is presented with an emptiness and freedom to move, has been replaced with the knowledge that invisibility itself is now filled with electronic signals.[85] Our state of permanent immediacy is therefore one in which the message is already there, and thus, presents as a set of continua that include what has happened a minute ago, or is happening now and has not yet happened.[86] The notion of blankness or immediacy in painting therefore becomes a contemporary version of an approach to formlessness that can be conveyed simply as a signifier for absence or invisibility.[87] A blank painting is not simply an empty canvas but rather a symbolic representation of the presence of blankness formed through the application of paint.[88] Consequently, where the Victorian sublime covered up blankness, and the modern sublime employed transparency, the contemporary sublime uses blankness as something associated with an instant within which the electronic replaces the mechanical.


Blurring the invisible


New approaches to constructing painting surfaces associated with the notion of immediacy or the instant are employed to portray the invisibility notion of the passage of time in space. This is perhaps most evident in Richter’s use of vanishing perceptions. The instant, as a manifestation of the mind grasping a process of erasure, in turn involves denial of that which is conveyed through a sense of either incompleteness or formlessness.[89] Whilst Richter’s vanishing perception of “terror image” in Uncle Rudi (1965)[90] was gradually blurred, in January (1989)[91] it was effectively rendered all at once, and therefore obliterated to the extent of total annihilation. These surfaces are both examples of paradoxical contingency—in that neither the prototype image nor its manipulation of paint accurately represent its literal subject. Significantly, painting (as both idea and medium) can reflexively inhabit this apparent inability to fully represent either sense of origin or end.[92] In this regard, Richter’s vanishing perceptions in Uncle Rudi are conveyed by an image partially blurred in order to register an “un-paintable” terror[93] camouflaged and re-presented as an ethereal frailty of what was the real threat.[94] Richter effectively shows us that he has tempered the effects of superficial blurring in order to convey the abrupt changes to reality.[95]


 Richter’s vanishing perceptions demonstrated as a process of gradual erasure of a terror image motivated the conception of time passing through space in my Invisibility/visibility series (2013-2014) as concealing and revealing the destructive effects of drought on the land. By the same token, painting was presented in its fluidity of form to indicate time in space continues beyond its literal register as a potential reminder of how this fluidity of painting processes might bring forth the invisible through experimentation with painting materials, techniques and strategies. In revealing time passing in space through the use of in and out of focus configurations of the temporal, the invisibility of the passage of time in limitless space is offered in the form of a series in order to make this projected sense of passage, accelerate to a point where perception cannot come to grips with the speed at which this content is conveyed.



Obliterating the invisible


Richter’s use of vanishing perceptions is further demonstrated in January 1989, as a work in which form is annihilated beyond the point of representation. Where the form of Uncle Rudi is blurred towards transparency of ghostly appearance via thin layers of paint,[96] January is effectively reduced to formlessness via saturated layers of thick paint toned down towards tertiaries of black and grey.[97] This technique of obliterating form through the multiple layering of paint generates a sense of immediacy of execution (just as segmenting time creates fictional moments of sensorial perception). In this context, rapidly obliterated surfaces not only incite vanishing perceptions of reality, but also operate to conceal original images and transform these into new and laboriously constructed surfaces. As a result, painting becomes a vehicular medium through which to convey our inability to fully represent the invisibility notion of the limitless passage of time in space.[98]


The way in which Richter’s vanishing perceptions constitute a process of the obliteration of reality directly inspired my conception of the passage of time through space in Vanishing nightmares series (2010-2014) portrayed as myself seen as a child hiding from a painful memory and slowly vanishing it, just as the mist hides our observable world on a very early cool winter morning. This threat of annihilation, which remains concealed through incompleteness of form, is designed to demonstrate how the inadequacy of representing the invisibility notion of the passing of time might unfold unnoticed in such a way that can be conveyed as an almost blank surface made with paint. Vanishing nightmares was gradually built towards obliteration—yet not without leaving a vestige of its existence—portrayed through the use of a dim light enough to achieve indistinctness of the surface and prevent the beholder from bringing it into focus. 



Through the aforementioned process, invisibility was embraced in accordance with Lyotard’s view of the sublime—an awe inspiring or wonder only found in secret places, and although invisible, felt as certain “presences.”[99] Given that these places are marked by blankness or immediacy through the hyper-acceleration offered via electronics, they might instead become visible in the mind of the artist. In this sense, the invisible becomes visible as pictorially suspended memories of pleasure or threat. In the case of the latter, although not positive, a relief of an unspecified nature is inferred through pictorial ambiguities. This seeming absence of form invokes the notion of immediacy of the passage of time in space, or as Lyotard describes it, an enigma. In short, we might ask ‘is it happening?’ This sense of immediacy becomes one with perception of technological advancement, leaving the work of art to both extend and consciously reflect the contemporary sublime of no return.[100]





I assert that painting can be employed as a vehicular medium with which to speculatively elucidate the invisibility notion of the passage of time through the literal visibility of pigment: I paint therefore I think. Since this project was grounded in an open-ended and exploratory relationship between the immediacy of thought and imagination, it focused chiefly upon painting as a laboratory for experimentation with the philosophical limits of thought and the reality of painting materials, techniques and strategies for revealing the passing of time across space in pictorial terms. As time and space cannot be divided, it is analogised by considering that the handling of paint cannot be separated from the thinking process. Although time and space cannot be wholly accounted for, they can nevertheless be evoked via their temporal fragmentation as fictional segments of sensorial perceptions. I therefore propose that painting is beautifully capable, via its inherent indistinctness of form, to represent our inability to fully convey the invisibility phenomenon of the limitless passage of time in space. For this reason, this project has suggested that although time passes intangibly, this very uncertainty can however be glimpsed through pictorial ambiguities, which in turn, play a role in revealing the invisible to us. Notably, painting as both idea and vehicle, can reflexively inhabit our apparent inability to fully represent either sense of origin or end. This project employed various features of painting, such as the dialogue between grids and intervals, in order to demonstrate how segmenting the invisibility of the passage of time might be articulated in the form of a series presented in relation to the whole. Serial visualisation can therefore offer a strategic model within which each painting becomes part of a conversational vocabulary of thought. Merleau-Ponty suggests that this conversational vocabulary of thought also engages the mind and body in the act of creating, such that the painting in itself becomes the idea. It is this very materiality that distinguishes painting from the metaphysical properties of philosophical ideas. The philosophical idea of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception—that one can paint beyond what one can see—is at one with the world of paradox and ambiguity which exists before any reflection contained within the painting process begins. This interplay, in which perception is developed through a process of separation, division and deferral, is finally understood only through hard work that seeks to transcend the limitations of the painter’s hand.


In stressing process over product, pictorial invention in this project was grounded in chance-based procedure rather than in premeditated design. Painting is an intellectually demanding activity, and significantly, one that Hegel aligned with a capacity for subjectivity and an uncanny ability to evolve as if it had an independent life. In this context, painting itself is seen as somehow able to think. Just as Damisch suggested, if our vision halts, we can let the imagination pass beyond, and in doing so, allow painting to become a tool for thinking. Finally, we might acknowledge that this process itself is an implicit subject for painters. In this way, it is the painting itself that instructs the artist. Consequently, a series of various playful conduits for potentially perceiving notions of the invisibility of the limitless passage of time across space were envisioned and presented. This play, presented in my work via the seemingly incompatible processes of reasoning and poetic intuition and employing experiments with painting materials, techniques and strategies—is arguably a key raison d'être for art itself.



[1] This exposition is an adaptation of parts of my PhD dissertation Instantiating ideas of limitless space:

  Thinking through painting, (Newcastle: University of Newcastle, Australia, 2015).

[2] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945, “Preface”, trans by C. Smith (New York: Routledge

    Classics, 2002) pp. vii-x.

[3] William V. Dunning, Changing Images of Pictorial Space (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991), p.1.

[4] Dunning, pp. 35-38.

[5] Michael Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art (London: Cambridge University Press,

   1986), P.1 and Dunning, pp. 65-67.

[6] Dunning, p. 66.

[7] Kenneth Clark, Leonardo da Vinci: An account of his Development as an Artist 

    (Baltimore: Penguin, 1958), p. 77 and Dunning, pp. 71-72.

[8] Dunning, p. 98.

[9] Horst De la Croix and Richard G. Tansey, Gardner’s Art through the Ages (New York: Harcourt Brace

   Jovanovich, 8th ed., 1986), p. 569 and Dunning, p. 97.

[10] Edwin A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (New York: Anchor, 1954),

    pp. 93-96 and Dunning, p. 90.

[11] Burtt, pp.30-33 and Dunning, p. 106.

[12] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1781, trans by J. M. D. Meikeljohn, 1934, Vasilis Politis (ed) (London:

   Orion Publishing group, 1993), pp. 21-22 and Dunning, p. 121.

[13] Robert Audi, (ed.),The Cambridge dictionary of Philosophy, second edition (New York: Cambridge University

    Press, 1999), p. 367.

[14] Jack Kaminsky, Hegel on Art (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1962), p. 11 and Dunning, p. 121.

[15] Joseph L. Koerner, Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape, first edition

    (London: Reaktion Books, 1990), p. 168.

[16] Michael Lloyd, (ed.), Turner (Canberra ACT: National Gallery of Australia, 1996), p. 168.

[17] Dunning, p. 48.

[18] Kant, pp. 21-22.

[19] Linda D. Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton: Princeton 

    University Press, 1983), p. 345 and Dunning, p. 166.

[20] Norman Bryson, Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancient Regime (London: Cambridge University Press,

   1981), p. 121 and in Dunning, p. 123.

[21] Hajo Duchting, Paul Cezanne (Koln Germany: Benedikt Taschen, 1994), p.213.

[22] Otto G. Ocvirk, (et al), (eds), Art Fundamentals, Theory and Practice (New York:

    McGraw-Hill, Higher Education, 2002), p.220.

[23] Dunning, p. 165.

[24] Henderson, p. 345 and Dunning, p. 166.

[25] Irving Sandler, The New York School, the Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties (New York: Harper and Row,

    1978), p. 6 and in Dunning, pp. 165-166.

[26] Hans Hofmann, Search for the Real and Other Essays (London: MIT Press, Cambridge, 1967), p. 66 and

    Dunning, pp. 163-165. 

[27] Hofmann, p. 66 and Dunning, p.166.  

[28] Sine waves typically seen on an oscilloscope (8/02/2014).

[29] Quantum Fluctuations: A Review of the Universe - Structures, Evolutions, Observations, and Theories, (13/03/2014).

[30] Dunning, p. 212.

[31]Tom Siegfried, Einstein's genius changed science's perception of gravity. (05/10/2015).

[32] Quantum theory. (n.d.) from theory (01/02/2016).

[33] Quantum Fluctuations: A Review of the Universe - Structures, Evolutions, Observations, and Theories, (13/03/2014).

[34] Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth Century Art (New York: Oxford University Press,

   1972), p. 82 and in Dunning, p.222.

[35] Kristin Olive, “David Salle’s Deconstructive Strategy”, Art Magazine 60, (Nov), (1985), pp. 82-85 and Dunning,

    pp. 219-229.

[36] Dunning, pp. 230-232.

[37] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945, “Preface”, trans by C. Smith (New York: Routledge

    Classics, 2002) pp. vii-x.

[38] Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor, (eds), The Merleau-Ponty Reader (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern

    University Press, 2007), pp. 257-258.

[39] Taylor Carman and Mark B. N. Hansen, (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty (New York:

    Cambridge University Press, 2005), p.302.

[40]  Hubert Damisch, The Theory of Cloud, Trans by J. Lloyd (California: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 299.

[41] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945, p. 79.

[42] Dunning, p.147.

[43] Carman, p.302.

[44] Carman, p. 291, cites Merleau-Ponty’s Eye and Mind, 1961, pp. 42, 171, 132 and in Daniel T. Primozic,
    Merleau-Ponty (Belmont CA: Wadsworth, 2001), p.5.

[45] Ocvirk, pp 8-9.

[46] Laurie Schneider Adams, A History of Western Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994), p. 452.

[47] Hal Foster (et al), (eds), Art since 1900, Modernism, Anti-Modernism, Post-Modernism

   (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004), p. 359.

[48] Gill Perry and Paul Wood, (eds.), Themes in Contemporary Art (New Heaven: Yale University Press and London

    in Association with the Open University, 2004), pp. 97-98.

[49] Foster, p. 42.

[50] Perry and Wood, pp. 98.

[51] Primozic, pp.47-48.

[52] Carman, p. 81.

[53] Primozic, pp. 9-14 and p. 53.

[54] Bois, p. 247.

[55] G. A. Johnson and M. B. Smith, (eds.), The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting (Evanston:

    North western University Press, 1993), pp. 63-64, cited in Carman, p. 299.

[56] Foster, Jackson Pollock painting Autumn rhythm, 1950, photograph by Hans Namuth (1915-1990), p.373.

[57] Foster, p.373.

[58] Bois, pp. 245-54.

[59] Bois, p. 254.

[60] G. A. Johnson and M. B. Smith, (eds.), p. 93, cited in Carman, p. 306.

[61] Phillip Armstrong, (et al), (eds), As Painting: Division and Displacement (Columbus: Wexner Centre for the Arts,

    Ohio State University, May-August Exhibition, 2001), p. 29.

[62] Perry and Wood, p. 98.

[63] Armstrong, p.47.

[64] Audi, p. 367.

[65] Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1945, p. 433.

[66] Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Beauty and the Contemporary Sublime (New York: Allworth Press, 1999) p. 112.

[67] Chris Murray, (ed.), Key Writers on Art: The Twenty Century (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 200.

[68]Gilbert-Rolfe, pp. 112-113.

[69] Tony Schirato and Jen Webb, Reading the Visual (Crows Nest Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2004), p. 128.

[70] Schirato and Webb, p. 127.

[71] Koerner, p.221.

[72] Lloyd, p. 33.

[73] Andrew Wilton, Turner and the Sublime (London: British museum, May-September exhibition, 1981), pp. 9-10.

[74] Gilbert-Rolfe, p.51.

[75] Foster, p. 363.

[76] Peter Plagens, Zip: Another Magazine Article on Barnett Newman”, Art in America, 59 (Nov / Dec), (1971), pp. 62-67.

[77] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 51 and Audi, p. 371.

[78]Gilbert-Rolfe, p.51.

[79] Richard Shiff, Verbalising Visual Time: Barnett Newman as Writer-Painter, lecture delivered at the

     International Association for Word and Image Studies Conference (Ottawa: Carlton University,

     August 1993) and in Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 51.

[80] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 53.

[81] Audi, p. 367.

[82] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 112 and p. 119.

[83] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 112 and p. 119.

[84]Gilbert-Rolfe, pp. 54-55.

[85] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 54 and pp.109-112.

[86] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 55.

[87]  Gilbert-Rolfe, p.10.

[88] Charles Harrison, Conceptual Art and Painting (London: the MIT Press, Cambridge, 2001), p.143.

[89] Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 99.

[90] Perry and Wood, 2004, p. 106.

[91] Perry and Wood, 2004, p. 131.

[93] Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Painting after the Subject of History, (PhD diss.),

     City University of New York, 1994), p. 78. Cited in Darryn Ansted, The Un-paintable Image: Gerhard

     Richter, Ethics and Representation, Curtin University of Technology, 2010, p. 9.

[94] Rosemary Hawker, Blur: Gerhard Richter and the Photographic in Painting (PhD diss.),

     University of Queensland, 2007), cited in Darryn Ansted, The Un-paintable Image: Gerhard

     Richter, Ethics and Representation, Curtin University of Technology, p. 10.

[95] Gerhard Richter, The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, edited by Hans-Ulrich

     Obrist and Trans by David Britt, 1993 (Cambridge: the MIT Press, 1995), p. 74.  

[97] Perry and Wood, 2004, p. 130.

[98] Gilbert-Rolfe, 1999, p. 33.

[99] Daniel Mafe, Art and the Sublime: The Paradox in Indeterminacy Unknowing and Orientation in the Presentation

     of the unpresentable (diss), (Queensland: Faculty of Creative Industries, Queensland University of

     Technology, 2009).

[100] Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Sublime and the Avant-Garde, trans by Geoff Bennington (Stanford: Stanford

     University Press, 1991), p. 93 and in Gilbert-Rolfe, p. 54.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox, Ripples, 2009-2011. Wax sticks on paper, 13 x 20 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox.  Tongues of fire, 2012-2013. Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox. Unfathomable, 2010-2012. Oil on paper, 23 x 18 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox.  Vanishing nightmares, 2010-2014. Acrylic and charcoal on paper, various dimensions.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox.  Invisibility/visibility, 2013-2014. Oil on canvas, 24 x 29 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox. Orchestrating the invisible, 2011-2013. Oil on canvas, 92 x 76 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox.  Sinuous series (2009-2012). Acrylic and pastel on canvas, 15 x 18 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox. Flickering time, 2010-2011. Oil on canvas, 19.5 x 25 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox. Encounters, 2010-2011.  Acrylic on canvas, 24 x29 cm each.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox. Esoteric, 2007-2008. Pastel on paper, 14 x 17 cm each.

Jackson Pollock in action.

Lucila Nalvarte Maddox.  Ephemeral, 2008-2009. Pastel on paper, 14 x 17 cm each.