On the Politics of Abstraction. Pure Visuality in the Paintng of Caroline Corleone.
In the age of ‘post-medium condition’(1) pure painting has a somewhat peculiarly anachronistic position. Ever since the triumph of conceptual art, which has been influencing our discourse on art for over 40 years and is, according to Peter Osborne, the dominant paradigm of contemporary art (2), we have gotten used to an artistic expression that is based, a priori, on the medium of language. In other words, conceptual art generates constellations in which visual media (painting, drawing, photography) no longer appear as independent elements, but always refer to an implicit verbal-ideational nucleus. Therefore, our perceptual habits have developed in such a way that we find any artistic practice that solely refers to the medium of painting annoyingly lost for words.
Caroline Corleone’s abstract paintings are void of the language which usually captures the phenomena of our daily environment with infallible certitude. The uncompromising affirmative sensuality of these paintings is also reflected in the sheer impossibility of describing them adequately. In Corleone’s delicate compositions powdery-translucent mists of colour waft across opaque fields of pulsating brightness; shimmery, softly melting nestling fields of colour are next to playfully prancing ‘taches’; sometimes the paint assumes the shape of stencilled and sharply outlined formations and other times it runs like a highly fluid liquid freely across the unprimed canvas.
Based on the great painting traditions of Europe and North America, Corleone’s visual sensibility quotes and reactivates various inventions of painting in the second half of the 20th century: abstract expressionism, colour field and, of course, Jackson Pollock’s ‘drippings’. The performative gesture the artist uses to treat the picture surface (instead of traditional painting tools she often uses pesticide sprayers, sewing machines and eggs filled with paint) also suggests an adaptation of the legacy of those artistic movements that tried to radically change the medium of painting through iconoclastic processes, ranging from the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana to the ‘shooting paintings’ by Niki de Saint-Phalles. In her paintings, Corleone articulates a peculiar kind of awakening, breaking loose and suspense.
Corleone’s painting also demands a new orientation of our viewing habits that have been surfeited by the flood of pictures in the mass media: Contrary to the appeal-driven rhetoric of advertising, Corleone’s abstract paintings confront us as ‘images without a message’. And yet, our searching gaze cannot help but detect the recognisable elements in the abstraction. Due to this ‘visual automatism’ (an anthropological constant), we tend to interpret the fluctuating lines drawn by the sewing machine as an ECG or stock charts, or even as letters dissolved in pre-semantic scribbles like in Cy Twombly’s works. Colourful drops of paint look like graffiti, and crypsis-like colour formations reminiscent of negative images seem like remnants of posters that have been ripped – a very familiar sight from urban spaces (keyword: décollage).
The fact that Caroline Corleone’s paintings trigger so many visual memories based on our individual everyday perceptions, is due to the evocative power of her images that conjure up those after images that we carry around every day in the image memory of our unconsciousness. Caroline Corleone uses this disposition of the human gaze in an intangibly subtle way and at the same time with masterly precision: We don’t just see red and green, but rather ‘toothpaste turquoise’, ‘nineteen-eighties purple’ and ‘flamingo pink’ – thus integrating our cultural connotations into what we see. In a series of paintings, which the artist has been creating since 2013, she basically focuses on the loud, activist/activating potential of the colour pink.
If we let go of our image analysis habits that we have learned in the course of mass-media image consumption, and adapt a slower and more intuitive perception, Caroline Corleone’s paintings will reveal to us echoes of the old, avant-garde promise that already animated early abstract painting at the beginning of the 20th century: Abstraction as emancipation from the determination and constrains of instrumental rationality; as a musical and rhythmical composition; as liberating, pre-cognitive and pure sensuality.
(1) Rosalind Krauss: A Voyage in the North Sea. Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, London 1999.
(2) Peter Obsorne: Anywhere or not at all. Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London 2013.
Text: Katharina Weinstock