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A Journey through Time

Guy Levrier

08 Apr 2002

One day, shocked to discover how the white pigment in my paintings had yellowed, I resigned myself to taking them all back and restoring them to their original colours – a Herculean task, particularly long and tedious. Plunged into this gloomy exercise, I found my thoughts wandering down the most unexpected avenues, to-ing and fro-ing in time, with no idea who was controlling what anymore.

When my ramblings finally brought me to my abstract painting of 15th March 1988, with its practically infinite division of construction, its multiplicity of brushstrokes of all shades and sizes, it seemed to me that the difficulties of restoring such a work were practically insurmountable. I decided to abandon the project. But, without really knowing why, I left it on view in the studio, even though I literally couldn't stand to look at the dirty white-yellow colour. Several months later, having completed my work on all the other canvasses, I began to feel challenged by this last one, this recalcitrant, unqualifiable thing, which had failed, and left me betrayed by poor quality paint.

I decided that after all the result was the only thing that counted in this trade, and that time spent had nothing to do with it. I was going to try to do a partial restoration on a limited section of the canvas, just to see. I certainly did see something. So much so that I had to ask myself : here's something really unexpected, now what's happening ? I had discovered another work – and yet it was the same painting – in the restored section of the canvas. Was my mind playing tricks on me ? It wouldn't have been the first time with this style of painting ! And then I came to the most extraordinary conclusion that I have ever come to about any of my works : namely that I was not yet ready to paint that picture, it was something which I would perhaps be capable of doing later, but not yet, it was a canvas which was maybe located somewhere in my future, and even that was not sure ! It was devastating : by just whitening surfaces which should have remained white, surely all I had done was to restore the canvas to its original state, that seemed to be logically obvious.

But in fact what had happened was that my previous mental state (it was a painting from 1988 !) had suddenly, in 2001, while contemplating this work, become my possible future, virtual even, and with no reasonable guarantee. I needed a lifeline, the ground was caving in beneath my feet ! My only consolation was that many of our contemporary physicists consider themselves to be in a similar situation with respect to the irrational and inexplicable nature of quantum physics.

So, my perception of the situation suddenly became totally different and, once again, I tried to understand what was happening, looking to science for some assistance, though only in a metaphorical way, since as a non-scientific artist, this was the only type of enlightenment I could hope for. It was the same approach I have used up to now concerning the notions of uncertainty, of complementarity of " the only thing which is real is the real which is observed ", which seem to me to be common to quantum physics and abstract art, and which I have talked about in previous writings (1).

The artist and the scientist in fact both start from the metaphor, and frequently the same one, but whereas the artist uses the metaphor to enter directly into the creation of his work, the scientist will first have to transit through analogy, that powerful, everyday tool for reflection, leading to the development of a theory, and finally, to the validation of the theory, by experimentation. It is out of the question for the artist to confer on his metaphor the value of analogy, and he is not obliged to provide proof of anything at all.

So, in this search to which my painting from 1988 beckons me, it is again time which I am questioning, as I have already done incidentally, (2), as if this experience had already sent me on a strange return journey. I observe, in this respect, that two themes have provoked scientific research on this subject : time travel in the sense of general relativity, and the application of Schrödinger's equation to the prediction of the behaviour of the wave function in quantum physics. In this connection, Hawking talks about the " wormhole " (3) between two levels of space-time, between the past and the future. This is the pattern I experienced in the evolution of my creative process.

To the extent to which the mental field of artistic creation is without limit – and frighteningly so – I feel obliged, in order to facilitate things, to make a straight choice with regard to the shapes, the colours, the shades, the writing, the rhythm, the material, the visual connotations for myself and for " the others ", the general spirit of the work. And it is this choice which will condition years of work, of successive repetition, sometimes leading to a kind of lassitude induced by routine, to the point of exhaustion, leading to the feeling "I've no more painting left in me".

And yet, one always manages to make progress somehow, and realises that on the way, one has left new ideas dormant, new ideas which haven't been given their chance chance. So it would seem that my 1988 painting has remained at a kind of stagnation point all these years, during which the work of the mind has continued in the background, waiting for its resurgence in 2001. But was this resurgence inevitable ?

(1) Guy Levrier, 31/10/1999 The pathway between Art and Science, a painter's metaphorical journey

(2) Guy Levrier, 28/02/2001 Out of time

(3) S. W. Hawking, The Universe in a nutshell, Bantam Books 2001, p.110.