I see Nobody on the road
"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.
"I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!"
Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking-Glass)
One does not need supernatural eyesight to see what eludes others - what normally – remains hidden. A few paintings by Jean-Marie Bytebier are sufficient to lift the tip of the veil.
This veil is the Kantian gap between the world as it is: pulsating, enigmatic, vital and the world as we see it: conceptual, digestible, shaped by language. But when a sufficient number of sacrifices have been made on the altar of the Muses, an artist located at the other side of the looking-glass may sometimes be able to seize a gem, polish it and donate it proudly, as a modern Prometheus, to those who want to look, or want to add it to their survival kit.
In addition to the language of paint and canvas, Jean-Marie Bytebier uses an older language for this, the atavistic visual language of nature.
Inspiration will often come during a walk. Some detail will hypnotise: a shrub swaying in the wind, a striking change of hue in the evening light filtered through the leaves. Something will fascinate. The painter follows Robert Walser in his journey from the big city to the little known Griffin Lake to - like him - lose himself in that one scene that focuses the lens of our observation beyond the default mark of day-to-day perception. But ultimately, the intriguing details remain unreadable. Because much of what drives us is also invisible to ourselves. The experience is volatile and yet it points to a deeper truth.
So, what can this truth be? The fact that everything is flowing, that everything is moving? Analysis reveals telluric spectral lines indicating the presence of unknown dynamics. Nature is teeming and swarming, swelling and ripening, expanding and shrinking. You fancy that if you would put your ear against the paintings, you would hear the wriggling of insects, the rustling of leaves, the murmuring of water, but also the sighing of stones, and finally under all this, the buzzing of the swirling quantum foam of creation, the divine chord, the root of being.
Some paintings can simply be rotated half a turn without losing their message. They do not need a gyroscope to determine their position within the force field of meaning. Even more; when you cut them, fragment and recombine them - which is what the painter often does too - they just produce a new story within the same epic. They are fractals that show their relevance at every level. It is the eternal return contained in a fine-meshed colour scheme.
Or is the real truth the one of time as duration? It was Henri Bergson who taught us that our deepest consciousness resembles an experience of time without ending. Our feelings and thoughts are not neatly aligned with each other, but form a continual range of sensations that influence each other without interruption. Paradoxically, we can only apprehend this time experience if we get rid of the ‘economic’ clock time. By walking in nature for example, and hiding there in the draught holes of time, on the chthonic rhythms of seasons and tides. Or by walking in the paintings on display here, in which time is experienced in a myriad of ways. Like in the painfully slow battle between stone and moss, limestone and wind, or in the indifference with which the ancient tectonic forces rub over the fresh and delicate green of yet again a new spring. Where even a mayfly can dream in a chronology of centuries.
We won’t meet any people on this trip, for sure. If we do meet something in this forest, it will probably be Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. But there aren’t any people. It is not the case that they just stepped out of the picture either. There is simply no narrative. The paintings do not tell appeasing stories. Don’t they suggest that we should cherish nature as a source of life or inspiration? Maybe they do, but then again maybe they don’t. Outside, nature has become an intermediate space we cursory cross in the weekend on our mountain bike. Maybe we need an artist to see nature in its true form again. And precisely in this operation we can spot the ethical intent. By stubbornly following the siren call originating from the smallest of things, from that fascinating element that draws the eye and that suggests something of the obstinate housekeeping of our most private desires.
In this we find the respect for the source material, for nature, which has become fluid in everything, and as such empties itself in us.
And which will never get caught.
But the painter can try.