The Book in Your Hands
by Guy Brett
It has been a challenge, almost an adventure, for Jeanne Masoero to render her paintings in print. To offer them to the spectator in the form of a book. To translate them from canvas and pigment into paper and ink, via the intermediaries who collaborate in the process: the photographer who produces the transparency, then the operator who scans it, then the printer. The essential result of this chain of artifice lies in the way the painting occupies its new container – the page – and the way the white of the paper interacts with the coloured marks.
At some point the reproduction of a painting may tip over into being an autonomous art work in its own right. The images in this beautiful book are still reproductions of existing paintings, yet in my view the printed versions are not inferior to the original paintings. The book is not an illustration of the pictures. Both cope in different ways, and offer a different solution to a problem which is basically insoluble since it is a paradox. How does an art work which is a model of endlessness deal with the finite limits of the canvas or the page?
Much is implied in the words ‘model’ and ‘endlessness’. In many ways they encompass the drama of the development of abstract art in the 20th century. On the one hand there is the vastly expanded notion of space and time given to us by the new astronomy, physics and biology. On the other a sense of the inadequacy of the existing conventions of representation, of representation itself, to encompass such a reality. The result was the search for a new kind of art object which would stand in a new relationship to the world in the midst of which it was situated, would mediate between the world and the receiver, the spectator, in a new way. A work that is abstract is not a representation but something like an emblem, map, model, token or template. Its concreteness, its suitability to the human eye or the reach of the hand, is the paradoxical vehicle of its appeal to a notion of nature so vast or so tiny that it is beyond human laws and lines of demarcation.
There is certainly a deep paradox embedded here because our concept both of the measurable and the measureless must pass through our consciousness, our subjectivity. There must always be the relationship between universe and mind, between the ‘out there’ and the ‘in here’. The painter Ad Reinhardt seemed to be alluding to this when, in certain of his writings, he described the nature of the Asian tradition of art as he understood it. “The Eastern perspective begins”, he wrote, “with an awareness of the ‘immeasurable vastness’ and ‘endlessness of things’ out there, as things get small as they get closer, the viewer ends up by losing (finding?) himself in his own mind.” 20th century interpretations by scholars of Chinese art, specifically of Sung Dynasty landscape painting, offer a strikingly similar interpretation. James Cahill, for example, describes the aims of the painter-poets, in their compositions of mountains, trees and water, being “to give lodging to one’s mind”. Another modern writer, Wen Fong, titled his study of Chinese literati painting, Images of the Mind.