Lars Strandh or, the game of the object

Look at a painting by Lars Strandh, and it appears very simple: just one figure, in just one color, on one canvas. But this simplicity is not, of course, “naïveté”. It sends us back to the very principles of painting itself.
To shed some light on his work, it might first be necessary to detour through a short history of the idea of “limits”. Starting with the Greeks, the civilization that gave us our system of reasoning.
For Platonists, “limit” is the term (peras), the outline of the form. This is a concept that is the object of their philosophy, which is essentially concerned with Ideas. In effect, the idea of a square is that of its outline. It is shape reduced to its outline. And this is at the bottom of what is important inside the square, whether it’s painted red or consists of a framed canvas. This idea of the “contour limit” shaped the Greek esthetic, which gives great importance to the periphery, the line of demarcation. It’s the moment a statue comes into being, an entity that essentially considers the surface of the shape that is released from the stone. It’s also the moment when paint hits ceramic, founded on the idea that the line is the term, the boundary that determines the figure. At base, it is a tactile-optical (1) universe, one that turns the eye into an analog for touch in grasping the Idea.

During the same era, the Stoics, from Asia, did not agree with this concept of limit. They give the forest as an example: you go for a walk in a lush forest. Everything is the intense green of the leaves. And behold, as the intense green fades and lightens, you’re at the border, the limit of the forest. But is this its outline? Rather, isn’t this the limit of its power to bite into the land? We are no longer in a tactile-optical universe; rather we are in a concept of the world that is deeply vitalist, which teaches that objects are bodies that exert power and action. This concept of the power limit is of great antiquity. Someone like Plotin, in fact, does not believe that light resolves itself as a line that goes from a start point to an end point. He feels that light carves shadows, carves the space that it conquers in the dark. This concept can be found in the principle of cathedral architecture, which makes much use of stained-glass light to carve the edifice from the inside. It can also be found in low-key painting, from Caravaggio to Rembrandt, for whom divine light carves the truth out of indefinable darkness.

If we deploy this hasty panorama of the problem of “limits” in Occidental art, it is because it seems to us that Lars Strandh’s work re-formulates its questions. In fact, Lars Strandh paints squares or rectangles of just one color. The periphery of the figure is affirmed by the brush, which determines its profile. But the paintbrush is not content merely to trace the perimeter of the figure, it overflows to the inside and colors its entire surface. For that matter, this color is not spread around uniformly. The paint is stroked to and fro onto the canvas, leaving the color which becomes more and more intense each time it passes. It affirms is power over and over, becoming stronger each time, like the forest crossing from transparency of the glade to the density of its heart. This way, with one movement, Lars Strandh’s paintbrush confronts the notions of limit that we have defined: the contour limit (which affirms the idea of the square), and the power limit (which affirms the action of the color that bites into the blank canvas).

But we have another, concomitant problem. The colored square or rectangle does not occupy all the space in the canvas. It is smaller. As though this little square copied the larger square of the blank canvas. As though it competed with it in an insane pretense. This pretense is a cardinal notion. Platonists have said that the copy was a good image insofar as it resembled the model. But they hasten to add that in order to resemble, participation was necessary. This means that the pretender to this resemblance must comply with the idea of the model. To put it simply they said that “the copy is a good image insofar as it resembles the idea of the model.”(2)

We have seen that Lars Strandh’s paintbrush, if it appears to comply with a primary intent, to trace the outline, that is, to affirm the idea of the square as a copy, hastens to pervert this image by coloring it from the inside, and thus affirming that the idea is not essential, but that the color and the power of the color matter as well. So it’s not a proper image, a wise image. We can see it clearly, for that matter; its outline is not rectilinear. And the line sweeping to and from, betraying the hand’s gesture, lays bare the method, the work and the confrontation of the material with the support. In this way it is an image that affirms importance of sensations, of the effect produced by what the color becomes as it tends towards saturation. This rebel image, which contests the model, is not a copy. Rather, Platonists would classify it in the imitations category.(3)
And if we agree with Daniel Arasse and say that “from the 16th to 19th centuries, painting took place under the principle of the imitation of nature”(4), that is, that is more dominated by the concept of copy, we may observe that since the turn of the 20th century, art has contested this supremacy, and instead stresses the questioning of its similitude, by breaking down the images and bringing to light the codes that govern their creation.

In short, Lars Strandh sends us back to the foundations of the pictorial image, of the problems that are at work inside every painting, ever since Maurice Denis was able to define that a painting is “essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled with a certain amount of order”(5).

A.H. PIERAGGI artist painter and essayist

1. G. Deleuze, Cours sur Spinoza, Vincennes, 17/02/81
2. G. Deleuze, Logic of the senses, Minuit 1969, p. 296
3, Plato: “The best copy is the one that reproduces the original. (..) That which may appear beautiful, but which does not even resemble the original that it claims to resemble, by what name should we call it? Would we not call it, because it claims it resembles, but does not really resemble, the name of imitation?”, in The Sophist, 235e-236b, Garnier-Flammarion 1969, p. 78.
4. D. Arasse, Stories of painting, Denoël /France Culture 2004, p34
5. M. Denis, Theories, Hermann 1964, p33