Indexing Notes on Painting (2019)

1: Notes on. Onto. Painting. Notes on, or about, or into painting. Edge notes and endnotes, retractions, clarifications or expansions. On the periphery, on the reverse, the marginalia of a practice scrawled over its surface. Painting as an annotated space, responsive, and open to modification.  


2: Notes on Painting might imply a declassification, so not painting but instead a proposition for painting. Painting production indexed as a note on painting. Can the notional aspect of note signal the value of speculative processes and abstract thought? In the logic of an expanded practice, a ‘combination of exclusions’ (1) provides a productive negativity; not painting, but also not not painting. 


3: Notes on Painting can be read as notes outside of painting or notes onto and into painting; painting as a storage surface that absorbs its own self reflectiveness, an internal critique made visible on its surface. Painting discourses enjoy riffing on positional words for painting, that place painting in relation to itself. The ‘on’ of Notes on Painting provides a familiar opportunity to speculate on position. Painting beside or beyond itself (2), prompts a visualisation of edges, maybe blurred but persistent, to be identified from the outside as well as from the inside. Taking up a position adjacent to, but outside, the volumes and capacities we might assign to painting varying in the mind’s eye. 


4: In the 2009 text ‘Remarks on Abstraction’, Hubert Damisch clarifies his use of the term ‘remarks’ (3). He makes the analogy to the sort of annotation, or remarque, found on the margins of a printmaking plate in response to a work in progress. A note in this context is a form of critique or commentary. Additionally, it can indicate a directive function, like the proof reading of a text: deepen the tone, increase chromatic value, sharpen the line, enhance contrast, cover over, erase. This might also capture the status of a text as a side note, an aside to the general thrust of an established narrative. Or it might be corrective, the introduction of an alternative thought, experienced as a gentle nudge that shifts an assumed trajectory further down the line. 


5: Indexing notes indicates the archive, and the equivalence of each entry or artefact. Does equivalence imply an inattentiveness to difference? Or does the distinctiveness of each entry become more apparent? In the 1970’s Gerhard Richter began a series of paintings generated by a systematic approach to colour mixing. The gridded notches of colour from commercial colour charts provided a framework for Richter to convey ‘the idea of a practically endless number of possible pictures' (4). Using the 3 primaries and 1 grey as the basis, a colour mixing system progressed through what Richter described as ‘continual subdivision’ and ‘equal gradation’. Mapped out by Richter with a straightforward mathematical rational, the 4 colour or shade starting point becomes ‘4 x 4 = 16 x 4 = 64 x 4 = 256 x 4 = 1024’. The limitation for the system was in the end the perceptibility of difference, ‘To use more than 1,024 tones (4,096 for instance) seemed pointless, since the difference between one shade and the next would no longer have been detectable' (5). Does this imposed limit claim a space for subjectivity, the subjectivity of perceptual capacity to distinguish one containment of painting from another? 


6: On a flyer printed in 1967, Daniel Buren, Oliver Mossett, Michael Parmentier and Niele Toroni, collectively stated ‘we are not painters’ (6). This statement was prefaced by a list of 9 reasons, all starting with an explanatory ‘because’. From ‘Because painting is a game’ to ‘Because painting is the representation (or interpretation or appropriation or disputation or presentation) of objects’ to ‘Because painting serves an end.’  The final reason rounds on paint rather than painting, or rather ‘to paint’, ‘Because to paint gives aesthetic value to…’ whatever it approaches. Even after their collective action dissipated the four artists maintained a reductive strategy of repeated motifs, identifiable but depersonalised, avoiding endless subjective choices and modulated material sensibilities. A note on painting based on exclusions.    


7: The index has the double move of intimacy and removal; the proximity to source through the press of what generates mark, the direct contact inferred by index as an imprint. Painting as a reference system that indicates something outside of itself, with index understood as the pointing finger as well as the fingerprint. As painting negotiates its opticality and its materiality, mimetic potential is still recognizable in the splat and the drag of malleable stuff on a surface. The compound meaning of index, pointing and imprinting, carries painting’s representational motivations, associations and likenesses. 


8: Painting categorised as both residual and dependent. In Notes on the Index Rosalind Krauss clarifies the index as ‘that type of sign which is the physical manifestation of a cause, of which traces, imprints, and clues are examples’ and ‘indexes establish their meaning along the axis of a physical relationship to their referents’ (7). The immateriality of a cast shadow and the stickiness of a hand print are both indexical.


9: Notes on Painting imagined as facsimiles of painting, and as a system of categorisation. In 1823 John Constable undertook the task of copying a set of etchings by Alexander Cozens, Various Species of Composition in Nature, sixteen subjects in four plates, with Observations and Instructions, made in the early 1770s. They were the visual component of a treatise on painting by Cozens which was left unfinished and is now lost. Demonstrating a mutual investment in the categorisation of landscape and natural phenomenon, rocks, foliage, clouds, weather, seasons, and by inference the categorisation of painting, the remaking of Cozens’ work by Constable was like a finetuning of equivalences. Constable was also familiar with Cozens as the author of A New Method in which Cozens had more radically systemized the potential of paint’s materiality. In Constable’s versions of Various Species of Composition in Nature he added the liquidity of a grey wash to the line-based depictions by Cozens, as though a nod to the older artist’s later innovations (8).   


10: Constable’s ink and watercolour versions of Cozens’ works include notes along the top of the images, descriptive and directive, and capturing perceptual response as much as content. Presumed as Constable’s transcriptions from Cozens’ intended captions for his treatise, the specific set of etchings that Constable copied are now lost. A partial set in the print collection at the British Museum are numbered but do not include any text. Constable’s handwritten note for his version of Number 7 reads, 7. A Large Object or Cluster of Large Objects or More than One Object or Cluster near the Eye, Number 11 reads, 11. Objects or Clusters of Objects Placed on Each Side, and Number 15, 15. A Landscape of a Moderate Extent: In Which No One Object is Predominate.  ‘Objects’ in this context are identifiable as a density of marks which might designate mountains, rocks, trees. Ground and water are interchangeable as seen in the captions for Number 5 and 10, 5. Flat Ground or Water Bounded by a Narrow Range of Forms or Objects Parallel to the Base of the Landscape, 10: A Road Track or River Receding from the Eye. The compositional elements of recession, balance, scale and proximity are delivered through landscape schemas. On Number 6 Constable’s note is less certain, with sections scored out, smudged and written over. As transcribed by the Tate, Number 6 reads, 6. A Single Object or Cluster of Objects [or More than One Object (erased)] [...(illegible) near the Eye (erased)] at a Distance (10). Notes on painting characterised by revisions and amendments.  


11: The indexing of Notes on Painting might offer a formal system that incorporates uncertainty and impermanence. Held by the considerations of a proposition, not coalesced into an assertion of or candidature for the cannon of painting. The logics of one after the other can be reordered endlessly, painting’s history of the singular image spread out as sequences and dependencies, frame by frame, while also compressed into close proximity. Hierarchies assumed and consumed, compositional configurations generated as a consequence of the system, despite itself.

text contribution to Notes on Painting II exhibition publication, September 2019


(1) Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, October, Vol. 8 (Spring, 1979), pp. 30-44

(2) David Joselit, Painting Beside Itself, October, Vol. 130 (Fall 2009), pp. 125-134  Isabelle Graw, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth (Eds.) Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-medium Condition, Sternberg Press, 2016

(3) Hubert Damisch Remarks on Abstraction, October, Vol. 127 (Winter, 2009), pp. 133-154

(4) Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 517

(5) Gerhard Richter, 1,024 Colours in 4 Permutations, text for catalogue of group exhibition, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1974 reproduced in Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 91

(6) Daniel Buren, Oliver Mossett, Michael Parmentier and Niele Toroni, Statement, Salon de la Jeune Peinture,

Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, January 3 1967, reproduced in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell, 1992, p. 850

(7) Rosalind Krauss, Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America. Part 2, October Vol. 4 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 58-67 and Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America, October, Vol. 3 (Spring, 1977), pp. 68-81

(8) A.P. Oppé, Alexander and John Roberts Cozens (with a reprint of Alexander Cozens’ A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscapes), A and C Black, London, 1952 pp. 70-71