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Art Bathing
Online Only    Every Other Thursday    One work
The Body-Landscape
“I think portraits and landscapes should resemble each other because they are more or less the same thing. I want portraits in which description makes use of the same mechanisms as those used in a landscape – here wrinkles, there ravines or paths; here a nose, there a tree, here a mouth and there a house”.
Jean Dubuffet to Jacques Berne 13 January 1947
JEAN DUBUFFET, EFFIGIE INCERTAINE XXVI, 1975, Vinyl paint on paper, mounted on canvas, 25.4 × 18.1 inches (64,5 × 46 cm)
Pictorial metaphors can function as doorways that allow the viewer to visually enter a work of art in a multidimensional way. In front of the painting the viewer is being presented two choices: Taking the red pill and enjoy the painting as such or taking the blue pill which means going down the rabbit hole, actively engaging in its content through analysing its metaphors. Eventually providing a breeding ground for thoughts and ideas by activating the readers perception and imagination. A pictorial metaphor unites thoughts and actions triggering a potential change of conceptions by infusing them with new meanings.

Functioning as instruments of human orientation but also instruments of creative transformation, pictorial metaphors are active at the intersection of art, semantics, poetry and psychology. Generating an expanded mental universe through detachment.
Themes like love, death, decay, faith, love have been portrayed throughout the centuries as visual metaphors, establishing a connection between perception and emotion. Without using semantics, except for the title, the artist envisions a painting as a perceptive statement about the world in which the viewer can partake an active role enriching its semantics.

One of the most early and prominent examples that is literally pregnant with pictorial metaphors is the The Arnolfini Portrait (1432) by Jan van Eyck. The little dog in the front for example signifies fidelity but also lust, the mirror on the wall God's eye or the immaculate conception, the bed behind the wife Giovanna Cenami symbolises her role as caretaker of the house, the single candle symbolises the Holy Ghost, the burned-out candle on his wife's side refers to her early death (she died before the portrait was finished), the cherries stand for love while the oranges represent wealth. Its abundant use of pictorial metaphors contributed to its impenetrable and enigmatic aura offering new insights into the zeitgeist of that period.
Throughout the ages pictorial metaphors have provided food for thought transforming works of art into conversation pieces that intrigued, frightened, riddled and educated its viewers. Ranging from Hieronymus Bosch The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510) that depicts an elusive layering of visual metaphors to Paul Cézanne's Still Life with Plaster Cupid (1895) whereby the plaster refers to the humanist triumph of the Greeks and Romans and the birth of naturalism, while the apples and the statue signify the relationship between the natural and the ephemeral. In the same sense Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory (1931) ruminates on the function of time, dreams and memory as Frida Kahlo'sBroken Column“ (1944) depicts the artist as a column illustrating her mental triumph over her suffering, visualising new worlds and triggering creative thinking by infusing their works with the poetic visual expressive language of pictorial metaphors.

Detail 1
Detail 2
“People Are Much More Beautiful Than They Think: Long Live Their True Face.”
Jean Dubuffet
One of the oldest and globally widest dispersed metaphors is the body/landscape or landscape/body metaphor. Appearing already in the Sumerian and Akkadian semantics (from c. 3000 BC) the metaphor visualises the projection of the human form onto every aspect of the earth. The root of the word „world“ is „wer“ which mean „man“ and indicates a body or space made by man. When Renaissance humanism elevated man to the measure of all things, the human body became the rational reference for the concept of space using volume, dimension, structure, distance etc. Ultimately becoming a reflection of mankind's eternal search for himself in the cosmos. Much of the anatomical references are still being used today like „toe“ of a glacier“, „face“ of a cliff, „head“ and „mouth“ of a river and „face“ of the earth.
No other artist has explored the interplay between the body and the landscape so thoroughly as Jean Dubuffet. Like his portraits the landscapes that he created were anti-individualistic and anti-psychological establishing only a mere generalisation of the portrayed person or landscape. Fundamentally detached from place, time and personality his creative output follows the undifferentiated endless continuum of the world itself.

Effigie incertaine takes this interplay between body and landscape a step further by merging the two ultimately becoming a modular metamorphotic body-landscape. Created in 1975 and gifted to Ennio Navire in 1978, the anthropomorphic body Effigie incertaine belongs to the most comprehensive cycle in his oeuvre the l'Hourloupe cycle (1962-1974) in which the artist moved further away from the landscape as foundation. Based on random scribbles unintentionally made during a telephone conversation the neologism l'Hourloupe is an evocation of amoeba-like forms that, like a jigsaw puzzle, can visually be assembled and disassembled over and over again. There isn't a singular point of view in Effigie incertaine but rather a multitude of perspectives instead. The longer one looks at the work, the more perspectives are popping up but also disappearing again.

The word effigy signifies an image or representation, especially of a person. In an earlier sense effigy is a likeness of a person shaped out of stone or other materials. Derived from the Latin verb fingere which means „to shape“ the effigy was a common element of funerary art, depicting the deceased in a lying position. Effigy can also mean a crude figure that represented a hated person.
Effigie incertaine as the title already indicates is as fragile as the multitude of portrayed personages that just seemed to have fallen apart, physically as well as mentally. But also vague as the eye of the viewer gets lost in a net of lines and undetermined as the shapes dissolve into a landscape consisting of human forms that metamorphize into an otherworldly anthropomorphic landscape.
So, Effigy incertaine can be read as a visual poem shaped through uncertainty and written with ambiguous forms that instigate a confrontation between the eyes and mind. Presenting the viewer with a visual experience that celebrates the notion that uncertainty is the only certainty there is.

(Text by Drs. Quirine Verlinde)
Warm regards,

Laszlo von Vertes & Team
Bahnhofstrasse 16
8001 Zürich Switzerland