Jean Khalfa, Trinity College, Cambridge
Leaf through this book and look: it rarely fails, few are the artists, even
among those of the stature and renown of Maccheroni, who can seize the
gaze as he does, while using such a diversity of forms and media. What
is his secret? It reveals itself easily to a careful inspection: at the
edge of or within the shapes he plays with, this craftsman revels in the
proliferation of particles, of asperities, of singularities, which either
seem to call for a desired form or to prelude the loss of an existing one.
When he starts with well-defined shapes, what he shows is the grain: the
classical architecture of an imperial Roman villa is shot from angles stressing
both the geometry of its pure design and the texture of its decay; skyscrapers
in New York are seen in reflections on other skyscrapers, criss-crossing
their surfaces in patterns which will later evolve into a series of paintings
of minutely chequered surfaces or photo-montages where photographs of the
city slice grainy silvery-grey planes. Conversely, when focusing on the
apparently shapeless he keeps on revealing virtualities of meaning. Patterns
of bark on a tree trunk mesmerize, evoking the unfolding of a vulva or
the lacerated torso of one of his christs. When facing precisely the pure
proliferation of the organic – pli selon pli, fold by fold – in
one of the 2000 photographs of a vulva he famously pictured, even a gaze
hardened by all the avant-gardes of the past century feels moved (Maccheroni
took part in several of the French avant-garde movements since the Second
World War but always seems to have gone beyond them). In their astonishing
presence these images instantly defeat the doxa that absence is all that
is ever seen in this organ, an absence conveniently conceptualised by popular
psychoanalysis as the obsessive presence of a lack – as a wound.
The combined powers of sexual fascination and the only constant visual
prohibition in Western art are appropriated here not to shock but to enchant
us with the materiality of what is in front of us: Maccheroni’s subversion
is that of a materialist.
Why is what he calls his materiology so striking? Perhaps because for us, who
have been so trained to look for forms in art (what does it show? what does
it mean?), it forces vision to reflect upon itself. Using all manner of patterns,
textures and materials (from canvas, paint and photographs to sand, fabric
and industrial cardboard), he explores the ground or background of all forms.
Painting thus is not so much an ideology, an articulation of forms, as the
experience of the ‘flesh’ of the sensible, as Merleau-Ponty put
it when speaking of Chardin or Cézanne. The paradox of Maccheroni’s
learned and deliberate ‘archaeological’ gaze on what is not yet
gone is to give us back the present.
Excerpted from the forward to Maccheroni Book/Works,
Exhibition Catalogue. Wren Library, Trinity
College, Cambridge. May 2007.
(To read the complete essay or to download
pdf file, click here )