The painting Five Ellipses, a conversation with Pia Candinas, 2009
The paintings of Peter Flaccus do not reveal themselves all at once. They hold our attention by seeming to be both spontaneous and inevitable, like nature itself. Or music. Our eyes move from left to right across rhythmical divisions. The paintings breathe and murmur; motifs chime delicately or ring out like bells, then chase each other’s tails, fugue-like.
Pia Candinas: It seems that your paintings, even though they are carefully handmade, evoke a reality that is not man-made. Are they about nature?
Peter Flaccus: We have the privilege – thanks to the technology of electron microscopes, scanning instruments, space probes and the like – to be the first to see images of tiny crystalline structures, luminescent marine creatures, cross-sections of our bodies, the surfaces of moons and planets, the rings of Saturn, and the turbulence of galaxies. Of course, fascinating as they can be, scientific images (for example, from the Hubble space telescope) are different from art. They are purely representation, without the allusions, simplifications, punctuation marks, and cultural DNA involved in artistic choice. Painting, too, can be a window, but it is a window upon artifice.
PC: The first artifice in a painting I suppose is its space. You have invented a very original picture space. I mean, we are not looking at a representation, we are looking at the thing itself, whose concreteness and presentness is underlined by its shiny surface and odor of beeswax, those scars, dents, pentimenti and other artisanal imperfections. Then there are those sort of plaques sitting on the surface like notices pinned to a bulletin board. How do you go about composing your paintings?
PF: Five Ellipses, for example, is populated by bursting forms that appear to have an organic or natural origin. I call them "events," since they result from the way I pour together different colors of melted wax. They seem still to be slowly expanding or pulsating, and have obviously not just fallen into the paintings any which way, but are organized into larger clusters. First you can see that the smallest of them are arranged around a long horizontal ellipse, then slowly the other ellipses become apparent: that of the black vignettes, the lighter gray circles, the blue and then brown circles.
PC: Why ellipses?
PF: Ellipses are interesting because they are the forms of circles seen obliquely. So the ellipse wants to dive back into the picture space, but then, which edge would be nearer? Unlike straight-line perspective, the perspective suggested by ellipses leaves the viewer’s location unspecified. The ellipse is also interesting because it is the route traced by celestial bodies in orbit. Boat hulls, rugby balls, the Colosseum, the Baroque! Unlike circles or squares, which are inert, the ellipse is dynamic.
The ellipse, we recall, played a starring role in the scientific revolution, to which we owe our modern world. Since Kepler discovered the laws of planetary orbits, and Newton demonstrated that their shapes resulted from gravitation, the ellipse reigns as the perfect emblem of the connection between mathematics and nature, of the intellect and the imagination.