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A New Technique in Modern Painting

Walter Zanini

Paint is not the only technical medium with which an artist can produce paintings -- this is the thesis the young artist Abraham Palatnik defends with his light-projecting machines. His thesis is similar to that of revolutionary musicians who replace violins, cellos and basses by electronic sounds -- scientific discoveries as new set of artistic media. Palatnik's idea was born out of the desire to free the kaleidoscopic image, the values of which are always arbitrary, and out of the impulse to create "kinetic painting". The machine must be considered as a post-futurist realization and also as a new technological field in modern painting. Palatnik raises the following questions: Why do we have to subjugate ourselves eternally to traditional media such as paint, brush and easel? Aren't there other possibilities? Why leave science aside? After all, due to the coordinated motion of elements and to the luminous color obtained though prismatic light refractions, science allows us to project kaleidoscopic images in space and to shape them with conscious visual intelligence.

We know Palatnik's Blue and Purple in First Movement, which soon will become part of the Museum of Modern Art's collection. In 1949 he started to build this and other apparatuses, which would have been quickly left behind if he did not have sufficient knowledge of physics. Observing the kaleidoscope he built for his experiments, the young artist found himself facing a number of problems. For example: the perceptive-aesthetic sense. In this regard, he felt that personal factors will not always decide the visual aspect of the work, since many other elements play a role in it. Complex elements affect the work: spatial organization, possibilities of form and color, proportion between spheres, squares, etc., and the overall meaning as affected by the periphery. When he liberated the kaleidoscope, new questions arose: How would movement be articulated? How could he create a luminous chromaticity? He solved such problems with a mechanical system that transmits light, moving the light source in the desired direction. He uses gears of many sizes to control the movement and the speed of the light sources. Bulbs of varying voltages are focused on different forms, giving light a definite and disciplined character. The cycle of Blue and Purple in First Movement, thus called because of its basic colors, lasts fifteen minutes.

Palatnik wants to realize more efficiently, with movement as technique and style, what Futurists tried to do in the beginning of the century. He indeed realizes one of the distinguishing traits of Boccioni's school, i.e. "accelerated motion." His celestial bodies move in balance, with a beautiful sense of perspective, being born and dying at brief instants. Two to three minutes is the longest they last. Rarely do we see simple motions -- he prefers to give his spheres, triangles and other forms total freedom. The elements in his work have feverish individual moves, at times in gracious unfolding curves, at times in magnificent horizontal velocity.

This organization of bodies in space is a physical gestalt, because each of the individual movements has no value in itself -- its value comes from the influence of the surrounding actions. This work is not a mere sum of elements. It is a whole, it is a complex structure, and as such it should be regarded. This metaphysical galaxy invented by Palatnik requires, occasionally, a great nervous effort, since our eyes, as explained Wertheimer when discussing the movement of two lines, cannot follow them simultaneously. This could be prejudicial from the viewer's point of view.

All in all, this work should be incorporated into the permanent collection of our Museum of Modern Art. It is a great pleasure to see a young artist like Palatnik searching, inquisitive, for new forms of expression in open spaces, while limited academicians paint for the millionth time their proverbial grapes, very pretty, very well composed, very capable of embellishig the house where human spirit is perpetually absent.

Originally published in the newspaper O Tempo, São Pãulo, Brazil, 1952. Translated by Eduardo Kac.

Originally posted 1995.

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