Imaging the In-between: The Serial Art of Richard Tuttle

Since 1964, the American artist Richard Tuttle (b. 1941) has made approximately three hundred disparate series in the mediums of drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and painting. Although Tuttle’s commitment to serial art is unrivaled within the postwar period, his art has yet to be interpreted by scholars in conjunction with the concept of seriality, perhaps because it so deliberately confounds our expectations of the series. Unlike most serial projects in art, Tuttle’s series neither repeat nor progress in any discernible way, making his an artistic practice that provocatively resonates with various philosophical concepts of Gilles Deleuze, whose writings are contemporaneous with Tuttle’s development of his puzzling serial art.

Central to Tuttle’s unconventional seriality are the serial objects themselves. Constructed of common materials such as twigs, cellophane, and wire, these objects seem slapdash and incomplete, a sense of provisionality that is further complicated by the fact that these objects are highly abstract—devoid of overt subject matter and resistant to representation. When viewed in serial succession, these strange objects do not read as consistent or progressive but rather as disjointed and disparate, as if each object in the series signaled something different. What is more, the last object in each series appears to be an arbitrary end, an abrupt break in the series that would have continued, if allowed. Indeed, in viewing Tuttle’s series of art, we find them to be unresolved, incoherent, and amid a process of fluctuation. But to what end this curious seriality? Why might Tuttle continually make abstract series that refuse resemblance and identity and seem to only evince ideas of perpetual difference and fluctuation?

Drawing on Deleuzean concepts such as “difference and repetition” as well as “becoming,” this paper takes seriously Tuttle’s paradoxical reliance on the systematic method of seriality and considers Tuttle’s method with implicationsfor both for art and life. By focusing on two examples of Tuttle’s seriality (an early series and a more recent one), this paper examines how, in its resistance to and coherence and conclusion and its insistence on differentiation and fluctuation, Tuttle’s seriality manifests ambiguity and uncertainty, ideas that, in turn, challenge and upend the traditional conceptions of art as a fixed solution. For Tuttle’s seriality is always in-between beginnings and ends, imaging a process that is as if between a question and its answer, linking the experience of Tuttle’s series to our own meandering processes of thought and ongoing pursuits of knowledge.

The Philosopher as a Line: A Deleuzian Perspective on Drawing and ahe Mobile Image of Thought

What is important for Deleuze about images, whether a painting, drawing, or any other form of artwork, is not that they are visual representations, but instead that they make visible, a point inspired by the art theory of Paul Klee, to which he often refers. The question is, what is it that they make visible? To address it, I will follow a rather circuitous path, taking my own line of thought for a walk, through a rumination on the figure of the philosopher, or rather the philosopher as conceptual personae (as figure). In doing so one must also speak of the incessant glissement that Deleuze indicates between the image and the concept, which one could interpret as a relation of double-capture where art and philosophy enter into a zone of indeterminacy. A conceptual persona is an image of a philosophical system, a way of thinking, an overlaying that provides clarification to what Deleuze thinks philosophy itself is, the creation of concepts, and what he is particularly doing, providing a new image of thought. What is interesting is how he describes his own concept creation as a process of perpetual drawing and revision:

I argue that this description of thought, as drawing, gives us insight into Deleuze as conceptual persona—that is, what preoccupies Deleuze and characterises his layering upon layering of images in his own philosophy is the struggle to present an image of thought in motion, an image that captures thought as a spatio-temporal fluidity, and addresses the paradox of providing a concept that does not hypostasise itself—the point of a becoming predicated on aberrant nuptials: continuous variation. The necessity of the double-capture of concept and image is as follows: language as the method of expressing concepts captures thought within its wordy husks. Of course, this explains the need to move beyond mere logos towards the affectivity of the image. Bridging the space between thinking and seeing is fundamentally important to this paradox, as is, I will argue, the particular mode of the visible as sketch or drawing.

The project is to develop an account of a new conceptual personae that draws sustenance from Deleuze’s theory of becoming as an aberrant nuptial between heterogeneous series. Bringing together concept and image, being and practice, human and artifice, we shall attempt to conceive philosopher as line. In Deleuze’s work, the line represents the priority of passage over stasis. The line is moving, and always escaping; it is nomadic. The pouissance of the line, its frenetic movement is retained in a certain kind of image—that of the diagram, which is made most apparent in certain kinds of images, the sketch or the drawing. Drawing becomes the proper image or form of the philosopher, and not just a drawing but the act of drawing—the philosopher becomes an activity, a line of flight. But we can go even further. The kind of drawing defines the activity and Deleuze privileges the sketch or diagram, in order to illuminate the unfinished, even incessant process of drawing—movement.

These drawings are also connected to automatic writing, as the diagram is in-formed by cosmic forces; thus, there is a living breathing relationship between Deleuzian image/ philosophy making and the immanent, material conditions from which they arise. Thus, engaging with the diagrammic image is a matter of provoking a kind of affective, palpable thought, one that eludes the traditional form of the concept—an affect-event, thought in motion. This conceptual persona is a diagram that speaks to the infinitude of virtuality itself, never one with itself, never complete, it highlights the incessant force of becoming and the continuous variation that this conference has identified as genetic outcome of aberrance and indeterminacy: “This is what we are getting at: a generalized chromaticism. Placing elements of any nature in continuous variation is an operation that will perhaps give rise to new distinctions, but takes none as final and has none in advance (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).

Bacon and the Cartoonist: The Emergence of the Figure Through Two Opposing Diagrams

In The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze describes Francis Bacon’s practice as a constant struggle to avoid or surpass figuration, illustration, and narrative, all of which are central elements of the art practice most commonly known as “cartooning”—the drawing of comic strips, books, and graphic novels. This paper will focus on Deleuze’s use of the concept of the “diagram” and the “figural” in The Logic of Sensation to argue that comics create sensual experience through discursively articulated depictions.

Deleuze opens the chapter on the diagram by saying “We do not listen closely enough to what painters have to say. They say that the painter is already in the canvas, where he or she encounters all the figurative and probabilistic givens that occupy and preoccupy the canvas.” The probabilistic givens are the established figurative practices that surround the painter, a bombardment of imagery and methods of representation that threaten to pull the painter into illustrative cliché. So how can they be avoided? Bacon says, “make random marks (lines-traits); scrub, sweep, or wipe the canvas in order to clear out locales or zones (color-patches); throw the paint, from various angles and at various speeds.” Through this act of exorcism, the figurative givens, the clichés, are removed, expelled from the canvas. This process creates the diagram, which is not a painting, or an image, but a set of possibilities.

For comics scholar Thierry Groensteen, the cartoonist’s diagram is created through a process of “gridding.” Like Bacon’s givens, this process can pre-exist the making of any marks on the drawing surface. It is “a stage of reflection that is not always incarnated,” and operates as “a primary repartition of the narrative material.” Rather than avoid figuration, cliché, cartoonists must create their own set of clichés—a set of marks that allow serial recognition, potentialities that allow them to give form to the narrative material: this is the diagram of a cartoonist. And it is through this seriality, this repetition, that the figural—in the sense described earlier of a presence that is dependent on depiction but not contained within it—is created in comics. It is also through seriality that the figural, which Deleuze describes as a sense of presence and awareness of identity created by a work that, while dependent on depiction, cannot be located solely in that depiction.

If you take individual depictions of a character in a comic to be serial appearances of the same character pulling different expressions, then you have in mind a figure that is not contained within any of these individual figurations; this, I want to suggest, is comics’ equivalent to Deleuze-Bacon’s figural. Deleuze characterises Bacon’s creation of “the improbable visual figure” as a constant negotiation between free manual actions and the presence of a pre-existing visual whole. My comic Starts Out Vague magnifies the opposition of these pictorial and prepictorial acts in attempting to analyse the figurative regime operative in the act of drawing known as cartooning. It is built from sequences of figurative images produced using the following process: perform movements, copy these movements by manipulating a digital three-dimensional model. This process begins with movements that are transcribed in a medium that has no edges or surface, and ends with reinjection into the overdetermined surface of the comic’s page, where not only specific places but also a specific order of movement through those places are privileged by the constraints of gridding. Finally, the reading protocols that guide the navigation of a comic are fundamentally discursive: in comics, the figurative is placed into discourse, and through this interaction emerges the figural.

Deleuze, Flat Aesthetics, and the Diagrammatic Genesis of Art and Architecture

The notion of diagram, or abstract machine, was developed by Gilles Deleuze as a relatively consistent yet multi-modal concept throughout his oeuvre. The diagram obtained a-signifying yet generative capacities when discussed in relation to literature and art (as in Deleuze’s works on Proust and Bacon), acquired organisational capabilities when utilised in unpacking institutional apparatuses (as in his work on Foucault’s apparatuses), and developed topological tendencies when operated in the explication of ecological life (as in his geo-ontological works developed together with Félix Guattari).

In recent art and architectural discourse, Deleuze has become one of the primary figures whom architects and artists seek for theoretical support in their uses—and sometimes abuses—of diagrammatic processes of creative production. Despite the popular upsurge, however, the multi-modal nature of Deleuze’s diagram has been appropriated into academic and professional discourse reductively for legitimising unrelated formal exercises, for garnishing underdeveloped conceptions, and for allying artists, architects, and theorists with the so-called fashionable trends of French theory. Although effective in certain cases even with this myopic application—creative abuses are always welcome—the multifaceted notion of diagram developed by Deleuze has a lot more to offer for understanding and enriching the genesis of artistic and architectural production if pursued to the very limits of its radical implications.

This paper pursues a rigorous explication of diagrammatic operations embedded in a comparative analysis between Francis Bacon’s artistic assemblages, especially Figure with Meat (1954), and that of the Vogelkop bowerbird’s architectural assemblages, especially the sophisticated bowers of Western New Guinea. Using comparative conceptual diagrams, the presentation will unpack how certain architectural and artistic diagrams are drawn on paper and canvas, while others act upon individual bodies and variable operations and yet still others function through a developmental matrix composed of embodied perceptions of extensive landscapes and trans- individual affects of intensive fields. In the end, this paper is an experimental attempt to explore the possibility of whether Deleuze’s flat ontology—which excludes self-proclaimed supreme actors such as transcendent Gods and omnipotent humans, and defines an immanent Spinozan cosmos in which all individuals and assemblages are differential modes of a univocal substance on an equal ontological footing—can give birth to a flat non-anthropocentric aesthetics.