Beat Wismer

Remarks on the Work of Rudolf de Crignis

Rudolf de Crignis is a radical painter. This simple assertion may seem banal 
but nonetheless we insist upon it as the starting point of these remarks, and 
we intentionally leave it uninflected with all the ambivalence thus implied: 
on the one hand, it is a general statement, an associative pointer, 
generalized and oversimplified; on the other, it addresses monochrome art, 
known since 1984 as Radical Painting. A particular of radical painting lies 
in its emphatic claim to autonomy, to its separation from language. It seeks 
to remain essentially inaccessible to the language of words and to make its 
intentions legible primarily through sensual visuai study. One of the most 
distinguished theoreticians of Radical Painting, Joseph Marioni, has 
repeatedly stressed the special nature ofthe beholder's role in such highly 
reduced painting, and when he writes that painting is by nature an 
experiential plase of solitude, he uses the word painting to mean not only 
the creation of the work in the artist's studio but also its reception 
through the viewers of an exhibition. Although the relationship between 
analytic language and radical painting, i.e. painting pared down to 
irreducible essences, is generally described as being strained (the two are 
often considered downright insompatible), secondary literature on the subiect 
has proliferated. The following remarks deal specifically with Rudolf de 
Crignis's painting, and do not intend to add substantially to the literature 
on radical painting.

Rudolf de Crignis is not a theoretician; his art is hardly a visualized and 
certainly not an illustrative rendition of a theoretical program. Instead, 
his work embodies the ceaseless effort to render an inner idea that is 
basically visual and cannot be rendered in words. The artist's comments on 
his own work are as emphatic as they are vague, yet precise and succinct, as 
suits his character; they are largely restricted to what can easily be put 
into words, to the describable procedure underlying the absolutely real 
build-up of his paintings. When I visited his studio in

New York last winter, he handed me a sheet of paper with dictionary 
definitions of five concepts that are central to his work. He had crossed out 
those aspects of the definitions that did not apply, though they were still 
legible. The concepts, not listed in alphabetical order, stake out a 
territory between depth and light and with the exception of the word surface, 
they all designate something immaterial.

The first and last concepts define the goal of de Crignis's work; the three 
intermediate ones, surface, blue and space, refer to the means by which an 
inner idea might be committed to the outward form of a painting. It is de 
Crignis's goal as a painter to achieve pictorial depth through purely 
painterly means, which precludes using perspective to create illusionist 
depth or combining colors that each have a different effect. Instead, de 
Crignis creates pictorial depth by applying several layers of blue paint to a 
radiantly white and luminous chalk ground. From the deepest layer to the 
topmost skin, a linear zone in black is painted over every blue plane; 
inserted, so to speak, between the lower layers, it has room to operate 
between each plane. De Crignis paints the lines with a very fine brush, only 
to smear them immediately afterwards with a broad brush, while the paint is 
still wet. The extreme transparency that results gives the top layer the 
appearance of a membrane or skin. As it begins to interfere with the 
separately applied layers below, the picture surface is quickened with 
delicate vibrations and gentle resonance. (The artist's textremely delicate 
and restrained pencil drawings are similarly structured and have a comparable 
effect despite the complete lack of color. The effect of the black fields of 
delicately drawn and subsequently smeared lines in the paintings is generated 
in the drawings by reworking the delicately penciled lines with an eraser. 
This process of adding and subtracting yields a vibrant relationship between 
line and surface on the paper that verges on invisibility.) Viewers, as 
seeing and sentient beings, are faced with a great challenge; they must move 
in front of the picture or rather the visual object, as if in front of a body 
or a sculpture. Only in that way will the painting reveal its richness, only 
in that way will they succeed in taking a look behind the mirror.

With his delicate and richly differentiated art- richly differentiated within 
the framework of highly restricted and reduced premises - Rudolf de Crignis 
manages to make compelling use of the inexhaustible potential of a painting 
that has been declared dead several times over in our century. Only with 
superficial bias couid one claim that the pioneers of monochrome art from 
Rodchenko and Malevich to Ad Reinhardt and in this context, especially Yves 
Klein - have exhausted the potential of radically autonomous and reduced 
painting. Such a stand undialectically fails to recognize that the reiterated 
declaration of the end necessarily contained a new beginning and, in fast, 
paved the way for profound expioration of previously unknown painterly 
avenues. Our century has seen a rampantly accelerating spiral of artistic 
expansion as art presses forward into ever new territories, but there is also 
another spiral that reaches down into deeper and deeper depths. This is the 
domain of artists, among them Rudolf de Crignis, who refuse to abandon the 
project of abstract painting prematurely, i.e., before its potential has 
indeed been expioited to the fullest. Their artistic agenda requires a 
willingness to address and commit oneself to the hard work and rewarding 
adventures of seeing with one's own eyes. As said before, language 
necessarily provides inadequate access to art of this kind, which is worked 
with a delicacy that lies on the brink of visibility (and reproducibility as 
well). The paucity of information in de Crignis's paintings is set off 
against their sensual impact and beauty. Instead of attempting to define what 
beauty is for those who ask, let us reply, with Goethe, "but I can show you!"