The Parameter and Constraint to House the Infinite And as Autonomous Decision Making

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18th May 2020 Arts Reference this

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A painter is painting, not making paintings; the process manifests itself as a myriad of discrete residual forms we like to call paintings. Though to be clear I am talking about a certain type of painting, where the compass has pointed inwards rather than painting which sources itself from specific external reference material. There is a need for this type of painting, one of non-representation and internal cartographies to have a constraint and a clear Parameter which has been consciously decided by the painter, rather than one that is arbitrary. By focusing on the singular and generalised act of non-representational painting to understand the process and how, being an organism of its own, (much like a mycelium dropping its spores) it needs a home to repeat and proliferate. Paintings transformation from hierarchical structures of 20th Century rules regarding non-representational painting to a self-heterarchical system has provided painters with a platform to develop an autonomous decision-making process. According to Hoelscher, abstraction has let go of its formalist autonomy and is now reciprocal through ‘a networked framework of social and theoretical feedback relations’. [1] The objective of This essay is to show how the structures, parameters, and constraints that the artist decides autonomously can provide support and freedom for the proliferation of forms unfettered by paintings’ past. The rules and ideas of 20th Century painting put the medium under duress and ultimately seemed to have exhausted itself for a time.[2] But has now augmented itself within the contemporary setting. Instead of being an arbitrary part of painting, nothing is now assumed, which allows the painter an option to consciously choose the right angles to work within or to expand beyond that space. The autonomously directed constraints painters choose to use to contain the infinite belongs only to the artist of the work. To pinpoint what Parameters need to be considered is both a need to formalise subject matter but also a game to explore personalised ideas and meaning.

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Using a strategy to enable the action of painting is by no means new[3], and all histories and structures rise, fall and repeat. Something so simple and obvious such as the four right-angles of a plane is often overlooked as something to be chosen with full awareness rather than default. Using this constraint to carry the idea of holding within it something of the infinite, unbound and unknowable is a conscious choice.

I use the structure of physically constraining proportions to house as writer Isabelle Graw calls ‘vitalist projections’[4], which are both projected onto but also then emanate back something to the viewer. Painting is actually magic, they are spirit houses[5]. Or like Western occult magic squares[6], holding an intangible essence of something non-physical in a quasi-physical form. In Western hermetic traditions (and common-sense ones) the number four represents a supporting structure. 4 right angles which join together form a fairly solid structure, a plane to exist. The foundation stones, the roots, the four directions.  The idea of the four sides of a plane also illustrate ideas of time being taken out of its linearity. Time time itself can be seen like the many frames that make up a film, countless repetitions of the same plane with different images and are put together make the appearance of movie. From one point of view it looks sequential, from another it is broken down into many repetitions of the same constraint/format, each time with a difference. This is true in painting also but the sequence is not sequential but a more highlighted fragment. The finite measure of a constraining force of the picture frame holds the circle of all possibility. It creates a unique kind of tension within an artwork, as we are forced to wrestle between expansive abstract ideas and finite space. Working in the small constraint helps to direct and hold the infinite, the multitudes of directions one can go, and direct the focus towards making a thing rather than sitting with all things. The constraining of the picture plane supports the process of focusing on the paint, the affects and concepts that surround the practice itself it can hold all the messmates, such as in Jahnne Pasco whites recent work shows in her exhibition titled “Messmates[7]. The residual body that is her “messmate”, a singular expanded painting, fleshy in pigment and reminiscent of an actual singular body (FIGURE 1)  and covering the entire wall of Daine Singer gallery, it may not be immediately evident what her parameters are as the body of her painting spills and expands beyond constraint. Her parameters are thus: She paints the many, an ongoing singular act. The parameter then extends to a process of cutting away and reshaping. We re-shape ourselves, we create the form, what seems to be on first glance w meandering expansion is in fact highly controlled and edited. Helen Johnson states in her accompanying essay to the work that it’s a Regenerative process of re using offcuts and re-routing mistakes.[8] MORe


The non-representational painter isn’t beholden to the traditions of painting, that’s not why we should choose the frame. But now the artist decides on the structures, the formal and theoretical frameworks and the literal frameworks. It’s a self -organisation. This is key. Because this is in alignment of an autonomy of ones’ art making meeting other contemporary art value systems of creative exploration being free from modernism and also post-modern ideas. The reference points now are the internal cartographies and ‘messmates’ of ones accumulated experiences, rather than forcing them into pre-existing teleological frameworks which no longer are as relevant. The paint is enough. The materialisation of the object is now important again, but not the only thing. The painting exists again but is coming from a different angle. It asks the individual to dig deep and be authentic in where their making originates. The progenitor of the forms can be anything at all. From the existential to the absurd. Albert Oehlen exemplifies this very conscious decision making as to what parameters he is choosing when beginning an event of painting. He talks about painting in a light non-serious fashion and yet his process is deeply ingrained in awareness of self-determined parameters set before he begins. This is why his work comes across as so diverse. He isn’t going for a style, he is setting parameters and structures to see what happens.[9] This autonomy in the parameters and rules which he autonomously decides upon are what I am drawn to in his work. It appears at times like his paintings are a controlled chaos, but he has very distinct rules he decides upon. ADD ARTOWRK AND

DISCUSS . At the core of his practice are the limitations he imposes on himself as a point of departure, in order to have ‘something to push against’ and thereby expand and redefine our understanding of painting.[10]

Albert Oehlen is a master of ironic wit and his paintings are elaborate strategies of provocation. In Untitled, Albert Oehlen subverts the authority of the avant-garde, creating an abstraction of dumbed-down abjection. His painting poses as a deceptive icon of aesthetic contemplation, punctuated with flirtatious eyes returning the viewer’s gaze.[11]

Also comes across as a joker, hes merely rding the waves that he creates. Theres a punk rock attitude, theres anarchy in content but also as his work is wholly self-determined. He is very critical in his parameter setting. Hoelscher says that ‘operating in this way, within the condition of discursivity itself is less focused with the laying down of rules and more the articulation of parameters-on testing the boundary conditions of possibility space’.[12] Hoelscher calls this an ‘agent based system.’ [13]The agent generates the behaviours /parameters, these behaviours are emerging from amassed experience. Within this agency (agent-based system)[14] we must pay attention to the choices we make with supporting structures as contemporary painters. The constraints of the small can allow a more detailed exploration of the possibilities of paint itself. By working small as a starting point sets an environment up for repetition. Using the same framework for each means the forms can manifest in quick succession building and spilling into the next and yet always there’s a difference.  The differences are accessed by the repetition. There also is then an intensity with working small and these pockets of intensity take up the available space as if it wants to escape the boundary. The condensed space creates tension which builds and spreads, it is fecund in the way more makes more. Working with physical constraint and repetitive parameters also helps in training the eye in new ways of seeing, allowing one to pay attention only to the details in paint itself rather than focusing on large performative gestures. Although Jahnne Pasco-Whites are performative there are also these pockets of intensity of the small (Figure 2) which exist in her work as she makes the paintings which then make the painting. Her process curates what the viewer sees or doesn’t see through chopping out and accentuating these small ‘zones of intensity’,[15] reconstructing them around more vast projections of paint. Whereas in my own work the reconstruction process through layering and erasure happens solely with the paint. The layers in my painting events want to show what has gone before, I want to see the history. The constraints of the small set a basic logic or logos for which to work.  Whereas Jahnne needs to edit the actual support structure. But she is still using another parameter to begin with prior to expanding beyond right angles. All of these microorganisms and discrete events in her work and my own, make up the painting. The difference is that Jahnnes work then comes together at the end as one expanded work. She is showing the audience that the many are one and I am exploring the one as the many.

 The structure and constraint in a painter’s choices are not about nodding towards pre-existing heirarchies, what we are taking about is autonomous heteronomies. ‘Self-existing but interacting with the other painters as a hive of exchange.’[16] Haraway would say it is “becoming with”.[17] The constraints of using a picture plane allow a more focused material concern of paint. That alone is enough. It is enough to focus on what paint can do. A painting that focuses only on what paint can do still speaks to contemporaneity. The repetition and recurrent patterns of the format the paint lies within opens infinite possibilities. I am constantly drawn to a symbol. A circle within a square. Within the constraints of four sides of a rectangular/square shape, the infinite (circle) can be manifest. By using the constraints of picture plane we can just focus on the activation of the surface. Surfaces create a space of intensity, sensation and affect. [18] Also, paint is a hinge of the construction of a painting according to Andrea Eckersley. She reminds us that with non-representational painting Deleuze stated that ‘something is happening all the same which defines the functioning of the painting. The intangible, spiritual and atmospheric aspects of a painting is what is coming through from the aggregate’.[19] Eckersley asserts that ‘there is a distinction between painting conceived of as a static material artefact, a stable ‘given’, and painting understood as an active formulation, an always unfinished event of painting.’[20] These constraints and structures we choose to place on our painting practice activates the surface and creates different ‘zones of intensity’[21] which need to be be physically experienced. Rosalynd Piggott made mention in her recent Art Forum presentation[22] that a painting must be physically seen. I mention this because these discrete forms of painting which show up on the picture plane must be seen physically as they transmit something directly of their making, their affect and intensity, this isn’t transmitted through seeing them on an Instagram feed. Something is living in them. Perhaps its psychic bacterium from the ‘messmates’. The ongoing event of painting needs a home within which to reside. Eckersley says that the event is the totality of relations between actual things, bodies and happening.[23] This painting not paintings idea is also described in Eckersley’s text as being an event of experiences, in particular space and times, as a specific individual painting. It’s a temporally and spatially specific event, right here, right now.

When Edward Casey talks about ether in relation to the landscape he is referring to this all-pervasive presence that lingers over the land.[24] He says it’s like ‘a disembodied Host which is the owner of the presence’. It shows us the way in which we cumulate into ourselves this sense of place whether actual or astral and its affect on the artist. The way the painter receives it and take it into the body.[25] The sensorial/somatic absorption[26] and the subtle ether we take into ourselves as painters needs to be housed in something for it to take form. The paint is the ether that needs a home to then physically emanate outwards. The home can of course be an expanded representation such as Pasco Whites work, but when we choose the picture plane critically as a way to focus on the paint itself, the nature of the frame provides an intermediary space between a thing and the actual ether or invisible accumulation of our experience, not the actual physical locations of things, but the affects of the many impressions of life and lives that linger. The ghosts of things and also the astral bodies of things through dreams.[27]  These are best housed within the liminality of the 4 right angles of the plane.

The ether seeps into pores, but the ether needs a home for it to have a resting place. There is a constant yearning for a home for my ethers/the dense mass that is Painting.[28] The language of painting is the same as the language of dreams. I traverse all of these places and take them all in to be regurgitated when the body feels ready to give them up. The paintings aren’t a result of a place, but places. They may seem to represent something but are non-specific, they don’t actually represent an actual thing. The proliferation of forms in my own work are ways for the body to process the overloading of information that the body constantly receives. It influences the way in which information is processed and the way that I am drawn to watery emanations and impossible escarpments.

A composition of experiences leads to the composition of work. Like a disorientation of location, the picture plane gives an orientation, it can be in this sense a compass.

There is a connection with proliferation of residual forms and the need to process over and over again without it being about the particular. [29] It is a generality (not a universality) as it draws on the experience of that one painter, and then communicates what the artist ‘experiences, connects with and infuses with in nature rather than what they distinguish’.[30] The painting as paintings are a repetition of all others. Not in its specificity or as a particular kind of physical representation but as Casey says in its generality.[31] This isnt the same logic as the identical however and instead its the logic of the same which allows for inclusion of difference.[32] By using the format of the 30 x 40 cm panels, pushes the idea of working within the parameters of repetition. Four sides, not expanded beyond the picture plane. Expressing generalities of place and experience. The framework repeats and allows the multitudes of generalised expression of the body knowledge of the artist to express itself. The constraint and repetition of its substrate takes away the more nomadic meandering and creates a habitat for the proliferation of forms. The repetitious nature of beginning studio practice with many small prepared panels ready to paint is that it creates an environment of self-trust. I am often not actually knowing what the body wants to project but I trust that its logic is more authentic than any contrived idea I may have about what to project. This way of approaching art making is supported by these parameters which I have deliberately chosen to work within.

Painting is one continuous action and can be viewed as one corpus spread over an artist’s entire lifetime. Symbolically, these stages are forms that are independent and not focussed on the emanation of the actual painting. As a result, we come to understand painting practice as a singular body that is one action or an ongoing event. We then choose these parameters to work within, these parameters of repetitions. This is in contrast to painting a product that is made primarily for the market-place. Within this idea of an overarching understanding of the conglomerate body of a painter’s life work, we then view the artists’ choice of autonomous acts of repetitions, constraints, and parameters housing the mark-making (internal cartography). Painting and mark-making co-exist as a way of transmitting events, cultural/spiritual values and emotions, and will continue to do so. But as a contemporary art form more autonomous decision making for painters as painting will continue to provide transference of meaning beyond language.


Figure 1

Jahnne Pasco-White Messmates 2019 dimensions?

Figure 2

Jahnne Pasco-White Messmates ( detail)

Mixed media 2019

Figure 3

Albert Oehlen Untitled 1989

Oil on Canvas

213.5 x 162.5 cm 


  • Birnbaum, Daniel, Isabelle Graw, and Nikolaus Hirsch. 2012. Thinking through Painting: Reflexivity and Agency beyond the canvas. Frankfurt: Sterberg press.
  • Casey, Edward. 2005. Earth- Mapping Artists reshaping Landscpe. Minneapolis: Minnesota Press.
  • Eckersley, Andrea. 2015. Accessed April 3, 2019.
  • Eno, Brian, and Peter Schmidt. n.d. Stoney. Accessed june 5, 2019.
  • Haraway, Donna. 2008. “” xenopraxis. Accessed may 28, 2019.
  • Hoelscher, Jason. 2014. “Reciprocal Autonomy and contemporary Abstract Painting.” SECAC Conference. Sarasota,FL.
  • Johnson, Helen. 2019. Jahnne Pasco-White, Catalogue essay by Helen Johnson. March. Accessed may 26, 2019.
  • O’brien, Glenn. 2009. Interview Magazine. 24 April. Accessed June 2, 2019.
  • Rottman, André. 2012. “Introduction.” In Thining through painting, Reflexivity and Agency beyond the canvas, by Daniel Brimbaum, Isabelle Graw and Hirsch Nikolaus, 10. Frankfurt: Sternberg Press.
  • Samet, Jennifer. 2017. Hyperallergic. 8 April. Accessed June 2, 2019.
  • Soror, A. L. 1996. Western Mandalas of Transformation: astrological and qabalistic talismans and tattwas . Llewellyn Publishing.

[1] Hoelscher

[2] André Rottmann, Introduction to thinking through painting: Reflexivity and agency beyond the canvas p10

[3] Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies by more detail.

[4] Isabelle Graw Page?

[5] A spirit house is a structure made by Indonesian people to house non-physical entities see

[6] A Magic square in Occult terms is a visual symbol created by using numbers formulas in a square to house the essence of a planet or spirit. See A.L Soror, Western Mandalas of Transformation

[7] The word Messmates refers to an accumulated mass of all the dsdhahda Haraway messmates essay. GIVE INFO HERE

[8] Messmates essay.




[12] Hoelscher p2

[13] In an agent based model it is acknowledged that the artists still aquire aspects of their neighbours(other painters) this is the reciprocity bit I keep talking about. But exists the agents desire to then turn this to preserve autonomy even though the artists can still be influenced by various other artists and theoretical ideas. It becomes ones own. The artwork now becomes heterarchical rather than the old hierarchy of values in painting.

These heterarchical values set the parameters and constraints.

This heterarchic approach to art making is also reflective of digital and social media in that accumulated knowledges are collated en masse such as Wikipedia. Paintings tools come from this place in the sense that the knowledge sources which are accessed within the artists are a collated messmate of knowledge systems. The access is both the collective commons of our time and the collective commons of personal experience, both are operating in the agent based system.

[14] The agent-based system is intuitive and the parameters of logic evolve (the teleology changes, it is still there but is fluid). The parameters are generalised.

[15] Eckersley zones of intensity

[16] Hoelscher

[17] Haraway Where???

[18] Eckersley p 1

[19] Eckersley page? Or Deleuze. Direct

[20] Eckersley page 5

[21] Eckersley page 5

[22] Rosalynd Piggott presented at Art Forum presentation at South Bank in April 2019 NEED DATE

[23] Ibid p 7

[24] Casey chapter 8

[25] Casey Chapter 8

[26] Casey Chapter 8

[27] Dreams being another legitimate form of travelling and internal cartography.

[28] Casey Chapter 8 Painting isn’t a unique discrete occurrence, but a dense mass. A composite of experiences which then leads to the composition of a work.’

[29] Casey Chapter 8 p Casey speaks about how The painting is a defiance of the particular, ‘engaging with the elemental at an almost archetypal level, relying on the artists internalised, non discrete experiences.’

[30] Casey chapter 8

[31] Casey is talking about Generality in terms of qualitative order of resemblances and quantitative order of equivalences in Deleuze Difference and repetition. Deleuze is talking about “the generality of the particular” and so is not repetition of the universality of the singular. There is a difference. The painting repeated is like a singularity without a concept.

[32] Casey

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