Only wonderment leads to true knowledge, concepts create idols
I unveiled this painting a few days ago and, almost immediately, the inevitable question arose:
– “Why this cross on the top of the lemon?” What kind of an idea do you want to convey?
Justified as the question may be and willing as I am to always answer it, I do not like to explain my paintings. What stands at the origin of the act of creation is not an idea but an experience. An experience looks like an encounter. It’s impossible to explain an encounter without depriving it from a part of the mystery it carries. In order to express itself, the experience takes a shape: the very painting! Somehow, the painting is the best answer to the question it raises.
The painter Nicolas de Staël wrote: “One never paints what one sees or believes to see. One paints a thousand of vibrations, one paints that which struck ones.” As I see it, the work of the artist is to put into a sensitive medium, the essence of an experience that is, by nature, non-sensitive. The more the experience is real and intense, the truer it is, the more the proposal to enter into “that which strikes us” is significant and persistent. To try and explain an artwork through didactic reasoning is, in a way, to keep oneself away from the experience suggested by the artwork itself. To reduce art to a concept is to cut it off from its origin and its purpose. Saint Gregory of Nyssa ‘s “Only wonderment leads to true knowledge, concepts create idols.” suggests anew the stance we should take in front of reality – that is, the one of a child. I believe this holds particularly true when we contemplate a painting, read a poem, or listen to a Sonata (and even more so when we create the
A work of art is the shape through which the mystery seeks to be actualized. Since the origins of the human race, the strength and the very reason of art have been to offer a conversation with the mystery. People do not go to museums and concert halls only to get more knowledgeable or feel ephemeral emotions. Much deeper, the expectation to find a meaning and a presence leads them toward artworks as to the locus where leaving meaninglessness and loneliness behind is indeed possible. The artwork is, at its roots, this “set-apart-reality”, this sanctuary, which opens the person up to wonderment by the mere fact that it exists.
Offering the world “a new piece of being
Interview of Frédéric Eymeri Reading time: 3 mn (Frédéric Eymeri is an author, poet and painter. Married and the father of three children, he is 47 years old and lives in the region of Anjou in France. He just recently opened up the small workshop where he paints for several exhibitions, and is making imself available for conferences and offering his works with a surprising concept at www.fredericeymeri.com.)
What has led you to painting as an art form?
As a child, I was surrounded by artists: my mother, but also my uncle, and my grandfather. One of my first memories is of my grandfather painting a portrait of my mother. I can see vividly again this white canvas, little by little, being filled with color and becoming “a person”. It was something that really came to life. Very early, this same grandfather taught me how to draw. Through the years I painted in my spare time, without being satisfied with the result, not daring to display my work, never really ready to take the next step towards actually becoming a painter. With neither particular method nor place, overbooked and stressed in every area of my life, painting seemed to me distant and inaccessible, yet the intense desire to paint was never far from my mind. For more than twenty years, I have waited for the door to open…
What happened that allowed you to begin painting seriously?
It was when I least expected it that things came together, almost without my being aware of it. These things were: the creation of a little workshop planned as part of the renovation of our house, my encounter with a genuine and excellent teacher (which is so rare) and the most unbelievable thing, the luck to have, at least for awhile, the time – the time to learn, the time to work, the time to create. Within several months, that which I had waited for since almost forever, that which I had tried to put in place a million different ways without succeeding, this thing which has not since ceased to amaze me, was given to me! Painting took on a life of its own, taking shape within my life, in the hours of my day, in the walls of my home, in the questions of my children and the gaze of my wife, in the encouragement of my friends! For all this I am immensely grateful…
Can you tell us in a few words what the act of creating means for you?
To create means to offer to the world a “new piece of being” which recalls us to the source of everything and directs each person to their ultimate end; it is something which helps us to stay in love with the world. The point of departure is an encounter with a wholly other reality, which you catch a glimpse of and perceive in all its depth, through its many and varied relationships. It is this something saying powerfully (but in a whisper) that it is hidden here in the moment as a word to hear, a door to open, and an offer of friendship with this world that surrounds us. To create is to respond to this invitation, to try to convey to as many people as possible the intensity, the tone and the urgency of this message. For me, this happens through the figure of things (which is why my painting is figurative), even if it’s an encounter which takes place beyond this simple appearance.
To synthesize the idea, the act of creating is the actualization, through the language of an indeapendent art form, of a new knowledge – a knowledge which is acquired through the experience of an encounter with “that which is.” The artistic work is in order to transmit this experience. The experience is usually liberating, a source of joy and exclamation. But all of this only encompasses my own experience as a creator and is, I imagine, not very exhaustive…
Create is precisely this attention which these painters have, which allows them to bring to life the simplest, most ordinary of things. Raising up something useful to the order of the spiritual is a noble task, a high calling, it is a celebration of that which is considered as having no worth. It is saying to tin: “you hold within you a degree of being which makes you the same material as gold!” To paint a spoon, is to make it come alive in a way, to give to it another presence, to make us aware that it is something valuable, to rescue it from trivialization. To paint those objects hidden in the shadows, I believe, is also reaching out to the men and women who use them. Wanting to say to each person: “You are part of the beauty and life shining within all things.” I wish with all my heart that my paintings of the week will reach as many people as possible throughout the world.
THIS IS ! (Reading time: 3 mn)
It would be impossible to quantify the number of things that a person has seen since the day of their birth – many are the things which have “caught our eye”: some beautiful and others less so, perhaps even occasionally something we can’t bear to look at. Only our sleep filled nights interrupt, just for a moment, the incessant projection of images. Continually awaiting us upon waking from sleep, is a vast collection of things entering our field of consciousness through our sense of sight which immediately demand our attention. Just thinking about the constant projection of images (like a long film) which we have seen since childhood, leaves us feeling a little numb. It’s possible that just the sheer quantity of images alone has dulled our ability to really see. I just learned the other day that visitors to a museum will not spend more than 40 seconds in front of a work of art (for a work to be considered as “appreciated”). To be able to see an object, a landscape or a face, is something so ordinary, something we do every second, that we have transformed this act of the highest grandeur into a undane routine whose only purpose is its usefulness. And yet…
Is it not extraordinary to be able to see something without preconception (calmly, attentively) and to see it with both an undivided attention and a limitless detachment? To thus receive an object with its original force, with the knowledge that it is thus given, in this particular way (under this particular form), in this place, in this precise moment in my life, and that this is not in vain, that it has a deeper meaning.
THIS THING IS! Isn’t it amazing to be able to spend your life reconciling the two terms of this equation: “THIS THING IS!” I spend most of my time looking at pitchers, vases, fruits and vegetables, and flowers – they are my crèche! My living contemplation, my daily bread – THIS THING IS! I see them as a precious gift, perhaps as the three wise men saw the Son of Man – “HE IS!” They saw the Child with their own eyes. They saw him in his tangible form, they were able to outline the contours of his small body, to consider his delicate face, to lose themselves in the shade of his skin – they saw the Child, and so much more… His gaze, his hands and even his swaddling clothes, were nothing less than the present moment touching an infinite reality, burning with tenderness. It is in receiving this “infinite present” with open hands that our treasures become a door through which our journey can find its deepest meaning – in every step we take, however hard it may be, there is the possibility of touching eternity.
Since the Incarnation, all created things are an open door to the “invisible fire” that the poets describe. “THIS THING IS!” Can there be another starting point? A pitcher, a bowl, a bottle and a piece of fruit – they become crèche extraordinaire in the intensity that is offered. Sometimes it’s almost as if I “pass through” the pitcher, the bowl, the bottle and the fruit, and, without leaving “THESE THINGS”, I can touch ever more profoundly He who IS…
I am well aware how much I am still learning, how much I am still like a child, nothing more than an apprentice. I see my clumsiness and mistakes left upon the canvas. But I am also aware of the journey that is mine. I am a painter of Christmas, of the origin, of the affirmation of the presence of things, of the original form surging forth, of that which is simple, that which is visible to those with simple hearts – but to them alone!
It is on this journey that I am seeking to paint “between the lines”. To see between the object and its source – to paint THIS THING, so that perhaps, that which IS may reveal itself ever more profoundly, so that the veil of appearances raises itself up by the sheer force of a deep respect, love and attention.