credendum: flux density without denouement

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For me, painting is a paradox; an act of faith and an exercise in deliberate control, an

investment. The oil paint itself seems to carry within it a great ability to bear weight;

flux density(1) without denouement.

I want to wax poetic about painting, the verb; stroking colour across the canvas can be

communion. And yet, I am somewhat suspicious of paints corporeality, its oily sheen

fresh from the tube, its lumps and clots as it grows old, its demands on my attention,

a body requiring care. There is something bodily about paint, hence the suspicion. A

painting is always suspect. The image seen is never the whole story; there is a surplus,

it is a code. “Materiality is not an end in itself, rather it is a way of signaling desire.”(2)

Too much desire is not always polite, but it is human, it is the trait,(3) desire remains

on the surface, extrinsic to the image. There is a certain necessary blindness between

paint and image, for it is impossible to hold both in your attention at once, one must

always be sacrificed or privileged.

The surface with its mere aspects and appearances is the most serious thing in the


It is perhaps the site of tragedy- in its very undecidability -and the site of tragedy of

painting...its vanity is its tragedy, the place where painting destroys itself.(4)

Paint is dirt and metals ground into oil, it is nature.

The images are counterfeit and implicitly acknowledge a debt to Modernisms lack of

overt narrative, they subsist instead through implication and extension. My process

involves taking between 24-100 shots of each person which gives me a large

photographic resource from which to edit and make selections. I have the choice of

how to define the subject, I choose the truth(s) to tell. I am interested in how we

define as real what we are willing to believe, and it begs the question, what reality,

whose reality? The paintings are fictions but also portraits, again, a paradox. I paint

alone, and work to conjure a presence from the photographic absence of a subject in a

fiction. We are not talking a “metaphysics of presence”, for there can be no ultimate

meaning or truth. Counterpoint is constructed geometrically, they are contingent

narratives. Painting is not particularly well-suited to telling stories anymore, we have

movies, video and t.v for that. “In a picture things are, they do not happen... ...the

business of painting is to reveal presences, not to weave plots.”(5) People rarely pose

together for me, I put them together later, sometimes my canvas is the first time they

meet. It seems difficult not to assign a narrative function to a figurative painting, I’m

guilty of it myself, but I tell stories later, in the beginning any one of a million stories

could be told. I am not always entirely comfortable with my enterprise, born of the

postmodern condition.

Images and representations are constructs, they are culture.

Painting seems to possess a unique ability to resist the nature/culture dichotomy, and

reconcile their co-existence in a single canvas without deconstructing or privileging

either. It is the viewer who must make the sacrifice, and sacrifice seems always

related to blindness,(6) and blindness to love. The people in my paintings belong, the

way people who belong everywhere and nowhere belong in the world, silent and with

cautious grace between the nature and culture of the scene.

penny eisenberg, 2001

credendum: flux density without denouement - notes

(1) flux density: physics: the quantity of a fluid or energy emitted per unit of time

through a unit of surface area.

(2) Kuspit, Donald: The Rebirth of Painting in the Late Twentieth Century, Cambridge

University Press, 2000

(3) trait: from french, trait or feature, or a line, stroke or mark; which see Derrida,

Jacques: Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and other Ruins. trans. Pascale-Anne

Brault and Michael Naas. The University of Chicago Press, 1993

(4) Marin, Louis: To Destroy Painting, trans.Mette Hjort. University of Chicago Press,


(5) Paz, Octavio

(6) Derrida: ibid