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self portrait with raindrops
review by Stefan Beyst

A grimace that, full of dread, despair and pain, looms up from after a curtain with raindrops.

It is oppressively near. But at the same time more than life size. As if of a colossus that rises above us and continues to gaze at us from a distance with its horrified eye.

In my mind, it compellingly conjures up two kindred images. On the one hand the image of the Mona Lisa, who equally seems to rise like a colossal primeval being above a post-diluvian landscape from which mankind seems to have been washed away. On the other hand the image of that literal colossus who disappears behind the horizon of a landscape in which war-stricken mortals are fleeing away*. From the former image, the Piccart seems to be a version where foreground and background seem to have changed place, and where the youthful mother is replaced with her grown old son. From the latter image, the same Piccart seems to be another reversal: the body in full length that, heading to the background, turns its back on us, is replaced with a face that recoils with horror to the right above, whereas the countless anonymous dwarfs fleeing over earth's crust acquire a single face in heaven with the proportions of the colossus who disappears behind the horizon.

On the other hand, the comparison with these two images highlights all the more clearly the full screen nearness of the grimace. That oppressive nearness is further enhanced by the emergence of a cross: from the left to the right, a white lighting shine, that reminds of a razor, runs over the image, echoed in scratches that seem to be cut in the neck. At right angles to it, a beam of black light descends over the image - as it were the negative of the divine light from heaven descending over the triple crucifixion below. The beam of black light deepens into the sinewy hollows in the neck, to end up in a hole that discloses the fathomless void behind the canvas, from the evanescence in which the face seems to try to escape in vain.

The same hollows turns what merely appeared to be a background into the soft curves of a womb, against which the crown of the head seems eager to cuddle, as against a soft and warm pillow. Which turns the image inadvertently into a kind of pieta, a pieta, however, in which the moment of the laying out of the body on the womb of the mother is referred back in time where it comes to be condensed with the moment of the crucifixion. A pieta condensed with a crucifixion, hence, where the intertwining of bodies in full length is replaced with a dramatic reunion of head and womb.

Not just a portrait, hence, for, to begin with, condensed with a landscape into a double image. Not just a portrait, equally, in the sense that not an individual being is staged here, but rather an archetype who embodies the collective suffering that goes hidden behind the omnipresent glamour. Not just a portrait, finally, but rather a 'history painting' in the real sense of the word. For it reveals above all what it apparently only shows in its effects: the havoc wreaked by the colossus or by those who have been washed away from around the Mona Lisa after Babylonian times.

Beautiful hence - and beauty is the touchstone of all art - in the sense that here becomes visible in full, unequivocal presentiveness (Anschaulichkeit) what in the real world is hidden behind deceptive layers. Beautiful, equally, when you look through this first kind of presentiveness (Anschaulickeit) to that other: the vicarious matter from which the image is made - the medium. The image stands or falls with the beauty of the composition of that matter, all the more so since the dread of what the image reveals can only convince when also the composition of the medium succeeds in casting its spell on us.

Already the structure of the veil of tears that is laid over the image is a pleasure for the eye. But the formal richness of the arrangement of the raindrops is only one grade on a scale of three. For raindrops are three-dimensional, and, when projected on a plane, circumscribed by a marked circumference. As such, they are the strongest conceivable contrast to the rather hazy world behind the veil, where there are only gradual transitions between the light and dark shades of the skin that is stretched over intestines and skeleton. And, between these two extremes, nearly discernable, is interposed the mediating grade of the cross over the image: the elongated strips of the horizontal shine, and the vertical beam of black light. From the point of view of scale, the cross is the intermediary grade between the tiny drops and that over-dimensional face, whereas, from the point of view of form, it is the transition between the circumscribed drops and the graded shadows over the skin: even surfaces between edges. This results in the following scale:

Within the last grade of this scale, a new scale unfolds: from stains circumscribed by gradual transitions, over stains delimited on one side by rougher transitions, to stains delimited by pairs of still rougher and hence linear transitions. The latter can also be considered to be a transition to the intermediary grade of the larger scale: where the latter has the form of a quadrangle, the former contains only one pair of opposite sides. This results in the following composition of the medium:

An image, hence, into which you have to disclose layer by layer not only the complex structure of the representation, but foremost that of the composition of the vicarious matter in which it is conjured up. Only when that process is completed does the image come to rest in itself with compelling force.

All this complexity is enacted within the confines of a small rectangle of some 21 to 28 cm. Only seemingly does the modesty of these measures contrast sharply with the greatness of this image. It is best approached when it lies before you an a table, or, better still, when you hold it in your hands, like the hungry their bowl of rice. Also therein does it still tell something about what it reveals. For what screams in mega size from the walls is not what we should get to see under the criminal vehemence of those bunches of heaven-storming skyscrapers that are challenging one another over the oceans in the diverse metropolises of this our earth - geared for the final battle.

Stefan Beyst, November 2008

* ascribed to Asensio Julia

See also: 'The ways of history'

other works by Robert Piccart:


dark landscape

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