Aki Kuroda by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, 2009
A great painter can be recognized by the fact that he is consistent: he says exactly what he does because he does exactly what he says. It will be objected that this is true of any great artist. Without a doubt. But for painting, nothing is less obvious. Firstly because it is an art that does not lend itself well to discourse, we have repeated it enough. (I'm obviously talking about painting itself, not about what comes under representation, images or illustration.) Then, because unlike architecture or music, for example, painting is difficult to “theorize” (it is not ordered, or ultimately very little, to the “matheme”, in the Greek sense). Finally, it is an argument that we often hear, because the painters do not know how to express themselves or, otherwise, in a confused way. They have the reputation of being the least "intellectual" among artists and when they venture to speak, we are wary or we listen to them politely: we fear their references - philosophical, literary or scientific - "wild" (their on the "self-taught" side), they are judged incapable of "phrasing", they are barely credited with a certain knowledge of the history of their art and a certain recognition, all the same, even if it on the "intuitive" mode, of what painting is .
However, this does not correspond to reality: painters (by which I mean those who precisely do not know how to do anything other than paint and have no other desire than to gain access to painting), painters, in general, just speak. Or rather they are telling the truth. They know what they are doing.
I see for the first time, in his studio, paintings by Aki Kuroda (I know who he is, what he does: I have read a few articles, seen reproductions or photographs, here or there, and a few drawings ). These canvases, which I see for the first time, are his last canvases, the canvases of the present exhibition. I am here, in principle, to say something about it. I don't really know what to say about it. (And it's always like this with – in front of – painting: it never fails to fault speech; and even, in fact, judgment.) So I rather want to listen to it. I know he knows. And I know this quite simply because the paintings are immediately impressive.
From what he told me, I basically remember two things:1. His experience of painting is (sayable like) the experience of a typhoon or a cyclone: there is the first passage of a raging storm, which devastates everything – it is the time that precedes the act of painting, but it is also the moment when one enters into painting, without knowing what is happening, but with the clear knowledge that something is happening and that it is a disaster; then there is suddenly, miraculously, the "eye" of the cyclone: strange calm (the storm is raging all around), we see the blue of the sky, nothing moves: syncope in the devastation - and it's time painting, just that time; finally the storm returns and confirms the disaster: time for observation and a look – from him or from others, it doesn't matter. There was this moment of grace in the catastrophe: that is what happened, basically, the event of which the storm was the announcement. But what remains is devastation.
As a result, the event as such is doubtful: no one knows if anything has happened, except that there are disaster areas and that the discourse of the survivors, in the end, retains only that, as it is normal. If the painting took place in the “eye” (and where else could it have taken place, happened?), then it remains as this dubious event.
And the canvases, we must believe, are the disaster lands.
This apparently only says his experience, not his painting. However, make no mistake about it, the eye of the storm is, each time, the canvas. One could well say: the work.
Before or after, around, there may well be the ravages of worry or fear; the whirlwind, above all, of uncertainty and indecision. And apprehensions, disappointments, doubts. Or even more serious: less the “missing of the work” than the fall into the decorative or the déjà vu, the threat of the insignificant, of the “failure”. The question – the only question – of an artist is: is what I do art? In short, if “making art” resembles a storm, something devastating, it is because in art there is no sanction.
And especially not today.
The storm, however, has its empty center or its middle of calm: this zone of low pressure (it is called the "cyclone area" from which it is organized since it is this which attracts and unleashes the wind ). But the wind circulates around it. If he moves it, he does not touch it. A cyclone in no way destroys what gives rise to it. As long as it lasts, on the contrary, it preserves its origin.
This is what the canvas (the work) is each time: this space of impressive calm, but which is only such as to suggest, all around, a violence. It has been said that there is something hieratic in Aki Kuroda's painting, in the sense of a kind of frozen immobility. In some of the canvases, not all, it is in fact what strikes first: the large monochrome flat areas (but we had better think twice), the rigidity (or rather the decision) of the lines and outlines. And that is what gives them all their strength: a strength obtained, as is fair, with the greatest economy of means. Basically, in the eye of the storm, when he, Aki Kuroda, is no longer himself, that is to say the being in the grip of torment, he is no longer afraid: he goes straight to the essentials, as they say, and without the slightest hesitation. He knows that the storm will return, but he fears nothing. He saw (the blue of the sky). It is courage in painting.2. The formula: “courage in painting” is explained by the second statement.
He tells me that for him color is interior, or rather that it is inside. He means by this that the color is in him, that it makes, if you will, his very intimacy, like his most specific substance. But this color thus imprisoned, it must come out, manifest itself outside, that is to say simply manifest itself. Appear. And such an exit, necessary (without which there wouldn't be color, it would never be seen), is obviously, for Aki Kuroda, an exit outside oneself. It is itself, in its intimacy (as color), which must pass outside. It must, literally, express itself.
But here again, we must not be mistaken: it has no connection with who knows what “expressionism”. And for this simple reason that what counts is not that the color comes out or should come out (in any case it doesn't “express” anything, any more than Aki Kuroda “expresses himself” through it). It is that at the moment of the exit, everything wavers and becomes dangerously disturbing. Aki Kuroda says: when “I” come out (when the color comes out), space suddenly opens up: I'm going to fall, I'm afraid. The exit of the color is thus the threat of a fall, a pure vertigo. That is to say the pure opening of space.
When we say: the pure openness of space, it means that space is nothing – only pure openness. Or if you prefer: that space consists of nothing, that it is nothing – only the spacing where things come to be arranged, in constant reciprocal exteriority. It is this, this emptiness, in itself imperceptible (one never perceives space itself, but spaced things), which paradoxically let itself be apprehended, not in – but as – (the) vertigo. Heidegger writes, in "Art and Space", a late meditation on sculpture in which he thought, I believe, of Brancusi:
"Space - is it one of the "Urphänomenen" ("original phenomena") in contact with which, according to a word from Goethe, when men come to perceive them, a kind of fear that can go as far as anguish submerge them? Because behind space, it seems, there is nothing to which it can be reduced. In front of him, no dodging leading to something else. »
Because of this vertigo, this anguish as Heidegger says, before the nothingness of space, the exit (of color) outside is impossible. It is the fall, or at least the threat – and too serious a threat – of falling. And thereby, naturally, it is painting that turns out (yes, turns out to be) impossible. Always falling.
How, then, can the exit take place despite everything? How can painting arise or happen? Take place?
Aki Kuroda has an answer: by the face. The figure is what conjures up the bottomless depth of space (his canvases, if you look at them twice). But no, that's what we must immediately add, because the figure is what, in the imminence of the fall, we could cling to. If so, the response would be weak, and the paint with it. But it's a strong painting, clean – sharp, that's the word that comes spontaneously. We must therefore suppose something else and it would be, it seems to me, something like this: space is not nothing like a sort of prior void, abstractly given and thus calculable in its pure extension, within from which things would come to be placed, more or less arbitrarily or according to definite laws. Such a space is basically only a substance (that is to say the opposite of a space), and if we have a relation to space -, if space can give rise to something like anguish or vertigo is not at all as a given. This is because emptiness is nothing but the spacing of things. Space is not the possibility of the arrangement of things. The reverse is true. Because there are things and because, as things, they necessarily arrange themselves (otherwise they would be indistinguishable, confused), there is space. Things, beings, take place: it is always an event. And this is what causes vertigo. But this vertigo, as well, comes not from the fact that there is space, but from the fact that things (beings), in their simplest being-there (to take place), make space. Space is a consequence of “that there are things”. This is why vertigo before the outside is also vertigo before time. The paradox is without resolution: any experience of space is an experience of time, that is to say the very experience of the event, of the “there is”.
This is what Aki Kuroda's painting shows : the step taken outside by color and the advent of the figure. The color comes out only because the figure attracts it (it is it, the eye of the cyclone) insofar as it brings about the space according to which – and I will say: as which – the canvas is possible and the color may become visible. The figure is therefore, as well, the event of the color. It is for this reason, most of the time, empty – being, if you will, only the origin of the canvas. It matters little, under these conditions, what the figure is: it suffices that there is one; Sometimes it is indeed hieratic, in the strict sense this time (it is obvious that Aki Kuroda is haunted by the now indecipherable relationship between art and the sacred): something that recalls an Aegean idol or an archaic angel . (But the origin of these figures should not be looked for too much, even if lacquered colors sometimes indicate an Orient.) Sometimes, a rather Western tradition, especially in the large gray canvases (there are only the " colorists" to handle black-and-white with such virtuosity), elements of the studio (we are brutally in Paris, here and now), ordinary things, but also paintings where we see the previous figures: a bric-a-brac that comes from Matisse and Picasso, one would say, because what counts here is the extreme rapidity of the gesture, the violent capture of the figure, on the edge of the void, and the outpouring whole, all at once, color.
But Aki Kuroda does not quote – postmodern old stuff. It obeys a double postulation: archaic (Eastern) and modern (Western). It is divided according to time and according to space. This sharing, however, is in no way anecdotal or circumstantial. It is due to the fact, rather, that two readings are necessarily commanded by the canvases, that is to say by the advent of color from the figure: either we only see the flat areas (Oriental reading, but you have to look closely: the color, always frank, vibrates with immense depth); or else we stop at the cutting of the figures: and it is still depth, in the Western sense this time, not that the figures stand out from a background, but on the contrary because, creating a void in the canvas, they give to perceive, by an ultimate paradox, the space itself. This is why, when the two readings combine – and they have to combine, otherwise we have seen nothing – we are as if seized with vertigo in front of the canvases, with this very vertigo that Aki Kuroda says to conjure but that by conjuring, he communicates to us.
It happens to Aki Kuroda to say that his painting is "light". It's possible. Yet I know few who give the impression of the abyss to such an extent.
Would he suggest that he dance over the abyss?
Aki Kuroda by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, 2009