Les Fleurs d'Émail
Central Art Garage, Ottawa, ON
Clyford Still wasn’t much liked. Too much spleen and mysticism for the Cedar Tavern. Clement Greenberg thought his paintings were “too much of the spirit” (and not enough in the spirits). Still was convinced his paintings could rupture the worldly dimension to access another embedded in myth and timeless wisdom. Greenberg needed Still to be more physical, more of the world, more specific.

Formally, Greenberg wanted an approach both like and unlike the 18th century artist Alexander Cozens whose drawing technique was grounded in material specifics (okay) but extended into general ideas (not okay). Specifically, his Schematic Cloud Studies are surprisingly like mechanized line drawings tracing a cloud’s edges, which have been compared to a Cly2ord Still canvas turned on its side. (Is this what Still needed? To be turned on his side? Or turned on his head?) Generally, Cozens is better known for using “blots” or crude brush and ink forms assisting the artist to rationally invent landscapes from an empirical knowledge of nature’s inventory. A blot was not the drawing, in Cozens’ words, “but an assemblage of accidental shapes, from which a drawing may be made.”

There’s a correspondence between the mystical forms of Still and the rational but accidental ones of Cozens that draws me in. I’ve become attached to the idea of “correspondence” itself with its multiple meanings of association, communication, transposition, and translation. There’s a Baudelairean concept of “correspondence” that connects the artistic and the mystic through a desire to interpret nature. It’s a vision that gives the poet the transcendent skill of using language as an instrument to reveal hermetic meanings, while also making language a medium that imitates nature’s cryptic character through figures of speech like metaphor, anagram, and catachresis. When decoded, these poetic strategies of association can bend the artistic medium back upon itself causing cracks along its seams, like Still’s figurative tears in the canvas, and invite (as Rothko wrote) “a multiplicity of associations.”

Through a series of drawings and objects, Les Fleurs d’Émail pursues correspondences in the exchange of letters, mistaken meanings, accidental shapes, and the de-mystified blurring of means and materials.*

— C.L.