Sol Lewitt's Sun


This text came from an invitation of the editors of L+Arte Magazine to write an obituary for the artist Sol LeWitt - who died in April 8, 2007. It was published in the magazines issue of May in the same year.

"(...) Conceptual artists were intuitive rather than rational. In other words, to discover their idea -- the main idea, the instigator of whatever it is -- a leap of faith or a leap of aesthetics had to be made otherwise it was just another rational step. To avoid a rational step intuition is important. (...)"

Andrew Wilson, "Sol LeWitt Interviewed", in: Art Monthly, nº 164, London, March 1993

Im going to tell you a story.

There was a time I lived in the antipodes of the world, in Sydney, Australia. It was in an apartment building tower designed by an architect from Viena (who later become one Australian citizen), named Harry Seidler. Seidler had good taste and so he invited Sol LeWitt to make a wall painting in the entrance hall of the building. So every day, for two years, between 1999 and 2001, I would come home and each time I took the lift I would see that wall painting there, on the wall. And every day I was fascinated with the simplicity or complexity of that painting: a set of lines and stripes of several bright, smooth, opaque and vibrant colors, forming a rigorous, tight equilateral triangle. I was puzzled because I was questioning. What is painting? A flat surface covered with color. But that’s not good enough, its questionable, its subjective. I would then repeat the question: What is painting? Painting is decision making. First one decides the surface, the location, shape, texture, medium; then decides the color, the mixture or absence of color; then again one decide which brush (or non-brush) to use, decide the direction of the stroke, its purpose, its personality, character, impression, its impulse; one decide the form, composition, repetition, linearity, pace, story. To decide. To paint it’s to decide.

Sol LeWitt's intelligence and sensitivity understood the essence of these words in a period still dominated by a certain edgy avangard, deeply ego-centrical and vaguely sexist, were the painter-artist-hero, touched by divine inspiration, existential angst and many bottles of whiskey, would attack the pictorial surface, like a bull enraged by uncontrollable emotions. We were in the United States of America, with the Abstract-Expressionism movement at its peak, when a group of young artists working in casual jobs at MoMA, including Dan Flavin, Robert Ryman and Robert Mangold - all of them artists relevant in the development of the new movements that emerged in the History of Western Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism. LeWitt, who appreciated the Russian Constructivists and the photographs of Edward Muybridge, decides to start from scratch. That is, reducing art to its essence. But what is art? Art is what a group of people decides to call art. This is a cynical but realistic definition from a Portuguese art critic. But searching the Net, I read in Wikipedia: “The term art is used to describe a particular type of creative production generated by human beings, and the term usually implies some degree of aesthetic value”. And later I read: “Art is that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind and or spirit. An artwork is normally assessed in quality by the amount of stimulation it brings about. The impact it has on people, the number of people that can relate to it, the degree of their appreciation, and the effect or influence it has or has had in the past, all accumulate to the 'degree of art.' Most artworks that are widely considered to be ‘masterpieces’ possess these attributes”.

I see the sun in the art of Sol LeWitt. I see pure beauty, organization, abstract thinking, refined humor, and generosity. And every day that I passed before the painting of LeWitt's wall, I would see, thought, felt something. Can a painting speak to its viewer? Does painting have a sound? Does painting is related to the space that surrounds it? Can painting be space?

One day, after many bottles of whiskey and beer, I had to leave the apartment tower that had the Sol LeWitt in the lobby. I took my belongings with me, and these were slowly changed in those cash-advanced stores, where addicts often exchange stolen goods for money to buy the dose of the day. In addition to the alcoholic indulgence, at the time I was consuming crystalmeth, a powerful psychostimulant drug who would kept me awake for several days, using time to collect garbage and clean the new, more modest, apartment where I moved. In this chosen path of self-indulgence and self-destruction, I was selling or losing everything, and shortly after losing my job, I found myself on the street, with the catalog of Sol LeWitt on my hands. It was all I had. In the catalog, there was a letter he had written to Eva Hesse in 1965. I read this text once and then realized I had hit rock bottom, that life is a transformation process and that's the challenge: change. And then, in fact I did changed and I am here to tell the story.

João Leonardo

Malmö, April 2007