To Capture the Uncapturable

Foreword to the exhibition in Galeria Chimera, Łódz, PL, 10.04 – 04.05 2008


By Grzegorz Sztabiński

In contrast to the intertextual approach, which has dominated the art world for at least thirty years, Anders Liden’s painting focuses on the consequences of a direct experience. For Liden, it happened to be the impression of a black square. The sensation had not simply been prompted by seeing the black squares painted in the twentieth century by Malevich, Reinhardt and other adherents of geometric abstraction; however, the influence of their works on the resulting experience cannot be excluded altogether. The existence of the black square was independent of any material medium; it was the type of being which appears suddenly and startles the viewer with its presence. Thus, arguably, the incident could be discussed in terms of the intuitive experience described by Jung (an abrupt appearance in the mind of a fully shaped, concrete notion which is not subject to visual perception). Many of us are familiar with such occurrences; however, for Liden it acquired considerable significance. It became a starting point for a series of actions, as well as acts of reflection. Through this experience, his painting acquired a sense of direction and became singularly monothematic. Looking at his works, one might come under the impression that Liden continues to produce different versions of the same motif, attempting to capture something which is uncapturable – something which probably lasted a mere moment, but was apparently important enough for the artist to focus his attention on it for many years to come.

Anders Liden is an avid traveler, who does not restrict his itineraries to the European continent. He maintains a variety of contacts with artists, critics and art theorists not only in his native Sweden, but also in France, Poland, Vietnam and China. He is, therefore, the sort of person who feels at home in the contemporary global reality. He is an erudite – the scope of his reading encompasses publications on a number of religions and a host of philosophical concepts, as well as texts concerning art history and current artistic issues. Given such wide personal contacts and the extent of his knowledge, his own painting may come as a surprise. It is far removed from eclecticism, it does not involve the blending of various traditions or succumb to the stimuli of the contemporary iconosphere, all of which are customarily treated as expressing the awareness of someone who inhabits the “global village”. One may be led to believe that beside the Liden who gives stimulating lectures in various parts of the world, the brilliant conversationalist and charming participant of informal gatherings, there also exists another Liden, completely engrossed in contemplating the meaning of one experience.

What is the direction of his painterly considerations? The reference point which instantly springs to mind is Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square. In a 1922 commentary, the founder of suprematism wrote: “ … I availed myself of the form of the square and exhibited a painting which depicted only a black square, set against a white background”. Thus, the source of the work may have been a particular vision, as some scholars suggest; it is also possible that the black square was merely a deliberately selected, most appropriate means of expressing the sense of objectlessness. Malevich produced several versions of the black square painting, none of which differs markedly from one another. He treated the basic form as canonical and in the subsequent works he rather focused his attention on its consequences – the various ways in which further suprematist shapes could be derived from it by means of translocation and decomposition.

In the case of Liden’s painting the course of development has been different. The artist’s thought continues to revolve around the primary experience. For Malevich, the eponymousblack squarewas the primary, basic form assumed by the concept of suprematism, whereas for the Swedish artist no primary version of the black square exists. What does exist is only a series of approximations of the basic, i.e. the internalized intuitive experience. The subsequent paintings are further imperfect attempts at its perpetuation and interpretation.

Looking at the artist’s works from different periods, one may discern the directions taken by his efforts to capture the primary sensation. They do not constitute a logical, linear sequence. They are not easily categorized as a series of systematic attempts at ordering particular aspects of the problem. Rather, they are so many approximations, in which details are altered, where painterly hypotheses – virtually impossible to verify – emerge. After all, how does one verify a situation which constitutes the starting point of Liden’s artistic output? It seems that both the artist and the recipients must rely on their assumptions.
Uncertainties already arise when one considers the basic shape, i.e. the black square. Essentially, in Liden’s paintings it never appears in its perfect, geometric variety. It is not the Platonic ideal form. The figures which the Swedish artist introduces most often are rhombi. At times they resemble squares which are not perceived directly, but at a different angle or in perspective. Frequently, however, the deformations cannot be accounted for in this way. They suggest the occurrence of random disturbances which engage only one of the square’s sides, whereas the rest remains untouched. At other times, straight lines are curved towards the center of the figure. The arcs appear especially when the black form is painted against a bright background which illuminates the shape’s edges. This peculiar halo surrounding the figure creates the impression that a source of light is hidden behind it. It may then be assumed that the disfigurement is the result of radiation.

Exciting implications may be found in the gouaches produced between 2003 and 2004. Instead of concentrating on the relations between the square and the light, the interactions here address the figure’s relationship to the background. The black square (or rhombus, to be precise) is disturbed by freely applied streaks of paint, which encroach on the figure’s territory by covering its surroundings. The background is done in grays; now and then a patch of blue or green will appear. The resulting effect is that of the basic form being surrounded by nature. Certain fragments of the square / rhombus’s surroundings even resemble the portrayals of nature encountered in the late works of Monet.

The output of Malevich, Mondrian and Reinhardt was characterized by rawness. It left no room for deformations of the basic geometric shapes which were used or for creating light effects. If associations with luminescence occurred while viewing their paintings, they were caused by the value relationships in the employed colors. The relations between black and white, between yellow or orange and dark blue could provoke associations with brightness or shadow. This idea was aptly expressed by a critic who stated that, in his later works, Ad Reinhardt had decided to “switch off the light”. For Liden, the effects of brightening and darkening play a key role, which is perhaps attributable to the fact that in the initial vision the black square did not lead to a total annihilation of the visible. What transpired was an instance of overlapping or a rapid succession of intuitive “extrasensory perception” and genuine visual data. Possibly, the inclusion of certain elements of visible reality in the Swedish artist’s work is part of a painterly reconstruction undertaken many years after the primary experience.

One other important aspect differentiates Liden’s works from those of Malevich or Reinhardt. The founder of suprematism emphasized the role of liberating oneself from the personal aspect in art. He wrote that his black square would never be visited by “the sweet smile of Psyche”. Ad Reinhardt remarked that in the early sixties his works which were exhibited in galleries or museums had to be fenced in because “too many visitors couldn’t help touching the surface of the paintings and left their fingerprints there”. In this way, the recipients tried to “tame” works which transcended the personal. Furthermore, the American artist wrote that during his exhibitions “few viewers were able to remain in the rooms for a long time, even if seating space was provided”. Liden’s paintings do not produce a similar effect. They invite the viewer to enter their world. They are viewer-friendly. They do not require touching in order to dispel the sense of alienation. Instead, they encourage the recipient to follow in the artist’s spiritual footsteps, to seek traces of a sensation which is continually present in his work.

Translated from Polish by Krzysztof Majer

Grzegorz Sztabinski, Ph.D., artist, professor of philosophy at the University of Łodz, Poland