In the seminal work by Anton Ehrenzwieg, a lecturer in art at Goldsmiths College, London, The Hidden Order of Art (1967), he describes the dynamic mental processes which an artist undergoes in the creative act and the role the unconscious mind plays in this process. This is especially true in the process of creating abstract works such as those created by the artist Julien Porisse. This creative process often results in the development of a new visual language and often requires a new means of interpreting that visual language in order for it to be fully understood and appreciated. This new language often drawn only from the artist’s imagination and consisting of simply symbols, concrete forms and colours is frequently seen as mediocre or childlike in execution and the representations facile or awkward merely because they do not tell a story [iconography] that the viewer can easily understand.
The German art historian Wilhelm Worringer, addresses the issue of viewer response to an artwork in his 1908 essay Abstraction and Empathy. For example, the viewer response when looking at a Cezanne still-life painting would be the emotion of empathy because of the familiar objects within the composition… images already in their memories and experiences of an apple and an orange. Conversely, the viewer may experience a feeling of chaos when faced with abstraction…simple geometric forms of lines, circles and intersecting planes with no such familiar memories or emotions to refer to and no story to tell. This is a dilemma many abstract painters face and they must go within themselves to overcome. For Worringer abstraction is the first real expression of artistic will.
Artistic will defines the practice of Julien Porisse. His works are a visual autobiography culminating in the concrete forms and luminous surfaces which inhabit his current paintings, collages and constructions. But even what may seem as the simplest work of art to some has its complexity, however bare its construction may appear on superficial scrutiny. So, it is fascinating to examine what is the hidden order of art in Porisse’s abstract works and how he reconciles the chaos of abstraction bringing order to the seeming disorder. For Porisse, ‘there is nothing worse than common abstraction…paint here and colours there…no soul, no reason, empty…sometimes I think a single colour is amazing or a Rothko that causes you to imagine the story.
Julien Porisse began his early life as a young figurative painter, the son of an accomplished French painter and Irish mother living in Montmarte, Paris. He was trained formally both in France and England and his later years have been spent travelling between Paris and his second home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the ensuing time he has developed his strong yet contemplative geometric style of painting influenced by his multicultural experiences and surroundings. One may consider his style falls somewhere between the Neo-Concrete Movement, popular in Brazil between 1959-61 with Grupo Frente in Rio de Janeiro and artists such as Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica as members…it was popular because of its non-political message of rationalism which does not connote meaning outside of what it is…and the Lyrical Abstraction of France in the sense of a lyrical style moving away from the Cubist and Surrealist movements which preceded it and away from totally geometric or cold abstraction and towards the lessons learned from Kandinsky, where abstraction represented an opening to personal expression.
Porisse says, ‘I am influenced firstly by my surroundings. This sets the colours and luminosity of my work. For instance in Paris my colours are more earthy, darker, not as luminous but more in contrasts and clashes, oppositions instead of complementary. Then, there is subconscious imagery. Anything from derelict buildings to a cluster of palm trees. These are immediate influences. The secondary influences come from art I have seen and that trigger something. Pierre Soulages and the reflection of light in his canvases or looking at a Jasper Johns flag painting and finding his hidden letters that emerge from under the wax and paint not fully revealed. Let’s say I am a post-concretist with a French touch.
However, even though an admirer of many contemporary artists and masters such as Cezanne and Van Gogh he states ‘the past must be avoided but the influences are always there so maybe just renewed is a better way of looking at it. The object, the subject, the style do they matter anymore? Is painting dead?’. Well, Porisse’s paintings and collages are certainly not dead and in his current work what matters is the paint, the tactile surface, how it is applied and how it speaks to him through texture, light and confrontation of forms. Light and colour are central to his work and perhaps the importance of light in his work can be partially explained by the experience he had as a young boy of 6 when he had an accident on a farm in Ireland and lost the vision in his left eye. When 12 years old the right eye began to fail as well and for six months in 1974 he was blind. He could not go out of doors because the light was too strong and he had to be gradually brought back into the light. This trauma manifests itself in his work as targets in concentric circles charged with the vibrant colours of his palette. Sonia Delaunay, who is also an inspiration for Porisse, called her forms in Orphist works, electric prisms’ from the light beams of Parisian lamps. Orphists aimed to dispense recognizable subject matter and to rely on form and colour to communicate meaning, a lesson Porisse has taken to heart.
Today Porisse’s eyesight is fine in his right eye, but his conflict with realism and abstraction does play with his mind. On the other hand this metamorphosis of an idea from reality to abstraction also invigorates his imagination and thus this expands the scope of his work. He usually begins without anything more that a general idea taken perhaps from a shocking incident or a beautiful vision of nature. He starts usually with one colour and always puts on no more than two or three areas (as one would approach a realistic painting like the sky, the ground or the shade), then he does a structure for the work in dark grey, just like shadows for buildings, then adds curves, targets, and marks which have a particular significance to him... planes wings or fuselages which fascinate him…The background is the last thing he paints, sometimes leaving marks and little smudges to give life to the work and move away from totally hard edge abstraction. This is the gesture of the artist, the physical mark that the creator of the work was there sensitively and intuitively adding his ‘signature’ of sorts.
The result of Porisse’s act of will is a body of work which is at the same time completely personal drawn from his life experiences and training and universal in its appeal as object of great beauty filled with compositional harmony and juxtapositions of colours which take the eye on a journey in and out, around and about the canvas. There is ambiguity enough to engage every viewer on this journey to find out what his idea/image may have been. Can they discover the meaning in this visual language or does it really matter if they can enjoy it on another level without meaning? This is precisely what appreciation of abstract art and the work of Porisse requires, time to take a proper look. Don’t ask questions just enjoy the trip. Metamorphosis is the name of the game and the prize awarded to the winner is the living, often joyous harmony that radiates and resonates from the resulting picture.