Essay ∼ Contemporary Tachism

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Contemporary Tachism:
The Black and White Paintings of Misha Bittleston
by Alfred Jan

   After World War II, parallel expressionist, subjectivist art movements influenced by Existentialist philosophy developed in America and Europe. American Abstract Expressionist painter Franz Kline's exclusive use of black and white mirrored the European Tachists who dripped, blotted, and stained black pigment on to white surfaces. Tachism was in large measure a reaction against the controlled intellectualism of previous geometric abstractionist schools of painting.

   Although Bittleston had painted all his life, he came to his current work after a collection of written aphorisms was stolen and never recovered. He evolved from intuitive textual writing to a kind of automatic gestural action painting, but on an intimate scale, in contradistinction to the huge bombastic Abstract Expressionist paintings on canvas. His technique employs inks from over the world with unique properties of tone, intensity, gloss, consistency, solubility, and granularity. Tools used to apply these inks to paper include brushes, towels, pen nibs, stencils, mouth atomizers, palette knives, razors, glue applicators, his fingers, and pressurized water. In addition to traditional Tachist techniques, Bittleston also splashes, splatters, spits, sprays, stipples, and scumbles to yield preliminary results based on randomness, chance, and accident. The second phase involves submerging the painting in water to further manipulate the ink with a brush to breakdown hard edges and interrupt contours, rendering the final painting more deliberately.

   Bittleston prefers black pigment, because of its purity and lack of different chromatic emotional and symbolic baggage. He prefers the viewer experience black, white, and infinite shades of grey, since it is "so much more like the real world in its boundless ambiguity, mystery, and . . . uncertainty". These non-objective paintings do not contain any overt social statements or political messages. Rather they invite contemplation of the process of their making and whatever the viewer imprints on to them, as in Rorschach inkblots. Bittleston sums up his intentions thusly: "I paint to see in paint, not because I see things I want to paint.".

Written by Alfred Jan, 2004 — Sources: From April 2004 interview by Alfred Jan; Referencing and quoting highlights from a selection of Bittleston's written materials.

Related Information:

EssayBleigiessen Project - The New Years Eve ritual that was the basis for Bittleston's ink painting.

MethodologyAutomatism Ink Painting


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