Pierre Clerk - Pierre Clerk Out of his mind

Logic of vision

The law of closure of the Gestalt theory indicates that a closed form is more recognisable as a figure than an open form. An arc of circle will be more comfortably read as a figure if one can prolong it to perceive it as a circle (Crète II), or a serpentine shape, like a sort of cable, visible intermittently, running on a coloured surface (Interlock). Pierre Clerk's canvasses displayed for Out of his mind seem to explore the laws of perception of the visible with attention. The idea is not to create images with two interpretations[1], but it is however obvious that the painter?s work bases itself on a deep sensitivity to colour to question the shape as such. It is therefore the ability of the chromaticism to become form that interests the artist (cf. his admiration for Matisse and his cut papers). The colour acts a sort of matter, or better: as an ensemble of parts of a brainteaser that one has to bring together in a precise manner. Pierre Clerk elaborates a sort of mechanics of colour, in which the tonalities are as many pieces of a strange and infinite machine, in continual readjustment. And if the work of the artist is much more purely formal than that of Leger for example, for whom he has a profound admiration, he retains from the master's research the interest for colour that is at the same time volume, form, and capable of transforming bodies into cogs of the great chromatic mechanics of a work.

The painter looks to multiply and diffract plans. If Clerk is touched by Newman or Rothko's painting, it is not for the expressivity of their gesture, but for their ability to play on depth by working on colour. In a recent series of canvasses (exhibited in Couleur, Forme, Espace), the artist plays on the possibility of identifying forms that seem to be able to be diffracted on different levels. The paintings exhibited here, more recent ones, also show forms that give the impression of moving in a third dimension, but that at the same time deny this impression and lay all the colours out on the flat surface of the canvas. There is therefore in these images a work on depth, at the same time asserted and denied, taking into account the logics of the medium with which the artist works, to best make them play. To be clear: he brings back into the game the pieces of a machine that is too well oiled. From this point of view, Clerk's forms are like interlacing diagrams that hold in the same loop the body-perceiving subject and the world. The perception is not the pure contemplation of separate elements, which I would face like a disincarnate being flying over the rest of the world. But at the same time, one reaches things only through the distance with this perception, with this faith in perceptive illusion that the painter stages by playing on the flatness/depth of the canvas. There is an interlace linking the world and the subject, and at the same time a chiasmus that separates them, that brings them together whilst also separating them. We know that the categories are those with which Merleau-Ponty wanted to think the perceptive link with the world, this particular manner of being in the world that is that of Man, and that manifests itself from perception[2]. Here the canvas stages chiasmus and interlaces, baring the logics of perception.


Topology and geometry

It was customary, in antiquity, to draw on the ground the plan of a city that one wished to found, basing oneself on geometrical forms; the soothsayers, to decide on the right moment to launch an attack, cut out in the sky pure forms and read the curves that the birds made in them. Pythagorus, as we know, founded a mystical society in which figures and numbers had a magical value. Geometry and magic were therefore linked. Undoubtedly there is something very mysterious in this agreement between mathematics and reality; an agreement that magic attempts to tame as best it can. But there is more: geometry lays on the ground pure forms taken from the ensemble of Ideas - it gives rise. By its ability to randomly produce forms in space, it gives to the spaces it serves an appearance of necessity particular to all intellectual productions that obey precise rules. If many of Clerk's canvasses don't represent places, they borrow their names; the artist adds meaning to the staggered plans of colour. One thinks back to the series of works to which the painter gave names of Mayan cities, to their geometrical form, to the magical interest that this civilisation had for mathematics; and Palenque appears here not only as a possible diagram of extinct cities, but also as an implementation (more than a representation) of this magical power particular to form, of this ability to give rise to meaning when it seems to be just a ghost of reality - it implements geometry as a pure and magical form that arises in an indistinct space. The Dasein is there, at a given moment, and it has to bear this artificiality - it is thrown there[3], on the ground, without bearings; mathematics enables one to distinguish shapes that can be filled with meaning - and too bad if this meaning remains a projection. Whether it be Alexandria of Egypt or New York where Pierre Clerk lived, the city only seems to need to find its foundation in the ground by the magical act of geometry.


Abstraction and life

Abstract painting, as it name says, comes in a paradoxical manner from life. It can only be close to it, get near, by turning its back on it. And from this point of view, it isn't uninteresting to look at the experiences that the painter admits to being matrix-based for his work - and too bad (good?) if it means reconstructing a posteriori. Clerk talks of these « oriental » rugs on which he played as a child, and that were a first experience of colour for him. At ground level, one can build castles, shapes with cubes; small soothsayer, small architect, at the level of the colour already cut up into geometrical and repetitive forms, of which the law of composition remains difficult to make out for the eye, taken up in their meanders and interlaces, no doubt is there a matrix-based experience in this geometrical magic. At the same time, we know that Clerk was influenced by the tapestries of the Eskimo Indians of North Canada as a child. And the geometrical figures of these weavings also gave rise to a series borrowing their titles from the names of Eskimo or Inuit cities. Artist's childhood and the childhood of art, as one said (thankfully) some time ago: a craft that bases itself on the use of simple forms to build utilitarian objects endowed with magical strengths linked to their shape. A power also evocative, undoubtedly, of these cities set up in the great geometrical space of North Canada. Men establish themselves in the ground as best they can - Clerk using the means of colour and forms.

Guillaume Condello

[1] cf. Rubin's vase, the rabbit-duck, etc. of the Gestalt thory (founded by Koffka Wertheimer and Köhler at the beginning of the twentieth century).
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Le visible et l'invisible, Gallimard, coll. TEL.
Martin Heidegger, Etre et temps, 1927. Translation Martineau (not commercialised) available on internet.