Pierre Coupey | Statements for Measures

Only the imagination is real.
–– William Carlos Williams

Three principles shape my practice and each emphasizes the open-ended process of making paintings and texts: development by transformation (Stanley William Hayter, Atelier 17, Paris); form is never more than an extension of content (Robert Creeley in Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”); the medium is the message (Marshall McLuhan).

A close reading of contemporary poetry and poetics, and of Canadian, American, European and Asian art, also informs my practice as a painter and printmaker. I work in serial runs of various lengths, clusters of work, each of which explores a particular nexus of emotional, conceptual, aesthetic and technical challenges. Sometimes the clusters break down into subsets of pairs, trios or quartets of paintings or prints, each subset exploring a tangent or angle suggested by the direction of the main group.

Sometimes I work in a diptych format or I’ll bisect a horizontal format with a vertical line to make a fictive diptych: both formats rime with the pages of an opened book. In addition, my preferred format in scale rimes with the standard 8 ½” x 11” letter page, which further proposes a rime between a painting and a manuscript. In one sense, each painting is a page from a manuscript, a book in progress. For me, painting and writing –– mark making –– are one activity, the basic work of the hand.

In the studio the search is for discovery through proprioception (sensibility within the organism by movement of its own tissue), that is, the intelligence of the body. In my practice it isn’t reason over passion, or passion over reason, but reason with passion. Not depiction of “the real” but re-enactment of the real through the proprioception of rimed experience, language, landscape and art. My interest is not in representation, but in presentation.


Art depends on resistance to bring itself into full clarity.
–– Eric Fischl

While working I write down all sorts of things in my painting notebooks –– notes on colour, what stage a painting is at, what the medium mix is, what poets or poems I’m thinking about, lists of possible titles, names of painters a given piece might be referencing, what landscape is urging itself upon me. What I’m fighting with.

So there’s a list of my subjects: colour, space, poets and poems, painters and paintings, landscapes and experiences, the past banging into the present moment, and vice versa, something struggling to emerge from the conflict, against the resistance, to make itself clear. And a list of words that re-occur: resistance, resonance, moments, and I could add transformation, metamorphosis, crisis.

It’s a given painting is about something, even if it’s hard to name that something, even if that something is impossible to name. Gerhard Richter likes to quote John Cage, who said “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.” And sometimes that nothing is a momentous something.

Sense and nonsense. Past and present. Sacred and profane. Thing and no thing.
Absence and presence. Mark and interval. Chaos and dance. Eros and Thanatos.

And looking back, the random titles that may or may not be poetic:
Beneath the Ribs the Heart Beats
Achilles’ Shield
Bones & Fractures
Imaginary Elegies

But I haven’t used them here: the majority of the works in this show are untitled and numbered –– to put the stress on the facts of the paintings themselves: how they were made: what forces went into their desire to be themselves. To relieve them of words. To let them be paint.

And now I know I will name this show Measures.


And now I know I will name this show Measures.

What was I thinking when I wrote that?

When I started this particular cluster the word measure was not in the forefront of my consciousness.

The word occurred as a consequence of writing the previous note. Just as words in a poem, and passages of paint in a painting, occur as a consequence of what preceded them, one perception, one hint, one suggestion, one rime, one glimpse, following upon another, leading to another, unanticipated, unexpected.

An endless succession of sequential yet simultaneous events. Which is what a painting is.

Back of that word, behind it in the paintings and in my experience, I’m sure the idea of dance was lurking, an archaic use of the word measure, which denotes a stately and courtly dance, a movement of bodies in space and in time to music. Space and time. A painter (a body) moving, day after day, sometimes for months, before a surface, there.

Perhaps I was thinking of the choreography of the physical movement of paint across the space of the canvas, that dance of the intellect so deeply embedded in the brush and hand hitting a surface with a colour, one colour after another, one colour on top of another, bodies of colour dancing with one another, to make a deep and convoluted and entwined space –– of intimacies and closures, gaps and intervals, touching and not touching, layering the spaces between.

There’s an intoxication in the dance, gathered energies. Energy, said Baudelaire, is the highest form of grace.

A poem, said Olson, is a transfer of energy. Which is what a painting is.

Think of these paintings as a choreography of energies, a series of transformations and transferences, across time, across space. Each offers its own particular measure of energy, its particular measure of its own solitude. And with luck, its particular share of grace.

September 2014