Philip Lumai

In my earlier monochrome work I was reaching out for a colour presence that is in a dialogue with the aluminium support and the connection it forges with the wall. The way in which the colour may be encountered and sensed is something that is relative to what we might describe as a state of being, but it is a state of being that like the colours themselves would be difficult to place in words. It is more of a movement than a state, but it is experienced as a durable movement and in that continuity a certain stability and structure is also maintained. In marking the differences with my more recent paintings on linen the development should be seen not simply as a rupture of styles but as a bridge from the presentation of colour and its sense of being to that of generating form and developing painting’s capacity as an experience of thought. Not that my new paintings are representational or conceptual but it is more that they are choreographed (by the experiences of thought).

November 2021

DETAIL 'Double 4' 2021

The question of finding new ways to approach colour and form in painting and how to articulate the complex relations between the two needs to be thought through carefully. It may be asked, Why work in a number of different ways? Leaving behind the path of the very singular style is not necessarily a dispersal of energy, nor a loss of focus but on the contrary multiple approaches are an introduction of movement and flexibility that allows for a freedom to bring forward and explore the core ideas that are at play. For example, it may be argued that monochrome painting has had its day and that it has no critical potential left in it but merely a decorative appearance. I’ve thought about this myself but as I see it now, connected to a broader body of work it functions as another layer of thought in my practice.

There is in every painter's work what has been identified by Francis Bacon (and others) as a diagram. This diagram is of course of the very painterly type; it’s a character of touch or handling, a recognizable quality of mark-making or a range of specific colour and so on. All these things come together as the diagram specific to this or that painter. As I became more aware of this I found that I could move freely in my pursuit of the core ideas that move me. When the diagram is present and actively recognizable, the distance between one way of working and another is not a change in the state of things but a relational difference that enlivens the eye to look closer.

I have never been interested in painting as a means of communication, I related early on to the comment of Gilles Deleuze that a 'communique' was an order word; devoid of the subtleties of language it is more like something that the police might issue in response to a situation. Painting was never a messaging medium either but rather an analogical language of relations. It discovers itself, it does not necessarily reproduce but on the contrary produces something. Painting implies the creation of something. Although painting as a medium is both compliant and resilient; we can take it anywhere, using it to reproduce meaning or to illustrate ideas, but its immanent language, the 'painter's diagram' and what is drawn from it and made visible, is always what is most important to me. It is capable of creating new relations to both the world as we see it or experience it and the culture or body of knowledge that supports it.

Initially I responded solely to colour, space and light and it has been a long passage towards an atypical sense of form and most importantly, an individual use of form in painting. I studied at Falmouth and Liverpool schools of art and as a student I was influenced by the St. Ives school painter Peter Lanyon and also by the Danish painter Per Kirkeby and later around 1997 the monochrome painters and minimalists became important to me. Up until 2014 I worked exclusively with monochrome painting, using predominantly aluminium supports. In pursuit of a personal colour world I moved from the landscape dimension to the objectifying space of the monochrome, and now the paintings have shifted again into the differential space of what I call the 'sketch form'.

I don't naturally think in three dimensions so I take the generation and suggestion of form, that is, its idea or potential in colour, as my subject. But it will act as a loop turning back on itself to find itself working within the autonomy of abstraction; the complexity of colour relationships and the flat plane of the canvas. Form for me is the idea of itself, quite simply like a sketch, sometimes hardly begun or perhaps worked and erased over and over. Form as an idea of itself gets me into the complex problems belonging to painting. In some ways those problems, being centred around the composition of multiple juxtapositions of modulated colour, broadly speaking seem to me to stem more from 'figure' painting than abstraction. But this idea of form that is engaged in its process of development and change also distances me from representation in general.

With colour its a similar situation; I understand the content of mark-making as 'armature'. I have a feeling for this immanence of content and I see structures within colour and colour itself as pigment structure. Pigments and their binders are interdependent (colour and matter) and I sometimes refer to my colours as bodies of paint. I will work the paint on the palette for a long time to achieve the necessary hue and the right material viscosity. I store the colours that I am developing wrapped in plastic sheets rather than tubes or tubs, so that each time they are opened the whole mass of paint material is revealed and can be turned over with a spatula to perceive and adjust its conflicting pigment structure. In the paintings the colour mixtures find their characters by stressing the visual energy of their relationships and engendering a surface tension that restricts the sense of depth. I understand 'tension' in painting as a positive and active thing which applies also to monochrome works.

Working in this way is rich in thought too. I have found connections within philosophy that has contemplated form and our relationship to this concept from antiquity to the present day. Painting, colour and form are strange creatures and I treat them as such; rather than approaching painting as a subject to be mastered intellectually there is a relationship to build in order to tap into it. I think its like that for the viewer too, we build relationships with certain artists’ works and that draws out the richness of content and the more you look the more compelled you are to look again. My idea of form in painting is also like that, where its nature will become evident or active over time and depending upon the intensity of attention that you give to it. Spinoza said, 'we know not even what a body is capable of...' Raising the question of what is it made of and what are the powers and propensities lying within its physical or ethical dimensions? This is something quite different than, for example, Aristotle’s descriptions of shape and contour in the case of a marble sculpture.

Certain contemporary sculptor’s drawings can be very interesting to me, perhaps because they are workings toward something else, they are ideas that may give rise to abstract sculptural form and this gives them a very special character and a certain freedom that is distinct from the work of painters. Considering also the connotations of abstract sculpture itself: it suggests to me an undefined form, something unprecedented and without prior appearance that may use colour with an innate light as well as using the light that falls upon it, be it of a single material or multiple. All of these observations are useful to me, they loop back as I mentioned above and become positions from which I can initiate the painting process and open up the language belonging to painting alone.

Coming back to my first sentence, there are new ways or new appearances of form and colour that promise to unfold the future of painting. Rather than tackling the subject as a linear historical problematic, nor accepting the current situation of contemporary art as a generalized and rational position, I choose an idiosyncratic path that reflects on the form and process of individuation and gains distance from the socioeconomic interpretations of identity and meaning, falsity and facticity.

April 2020

  1. Gilles Deleuze. la conférence Mardis de la Fondation 1987.
  2. See: P. Lumai 'Paintings &Drawings' with text by Mark Gisbourne Published by Peter Foolen Editions, © 2010.
  3. See. Conversations avec Cézanne Paul Cézanne / M. Doran. 1978
  4. Spinoza. Ethics 3, 2. Scolis
  5. See. Spinoza et le problème de l'expression. Giles Deleuze 1969
  6. Aristotle. Doctrine of the Four Causes.
DETAIL 'Grey Form 7' 2019

Philip Lumai
Extracts from notebooks 2017-18

… the paintings are structured around the potential/searching/sketching, the suggesting and the dissolving/mutation of abstract forms/structures.
The paintings present the thinking through of possible abstract forms.

Maybe abstract art is not so much a nonrepresentational technique but the art of reappearance. Abstract sculpture makes forms reappear; it appears as itself, non-resembling but doubtless it appears as a form and in this context could be thought of as a reappearance of forms. Painting seeks the reappearance and sense of relationship to the forms/world in a more transient way perhaps. And there is also the reappearance of painting’s idea/forms themselves.

The title 'Sketch for Polychrome Sculpture' functions as a generative idea or concept that fuels these abstract paintings. Its simple terms deconstruct, for me, an impasse in painting (i.e. why to paint and what to paint) whilst simultaneously it opens a new kind of space across the sheet of sketches. This is a space for painting to operate once again and in which it can experiment with its colour/forms. It is also a space that contains other more shallow planes of space. In the making, this title is like a tool to apply to the work; it lends its sense of direction to the otherwise empty-feeling, haphazard intuition of mark making. On the other side of both this 'generative concept' and these descriptions of material techniques there comes about the complexities of the actual painting…

Working on 2 distinct types of painting that are not wholly unrelated lines of enquiry and share certain qualities, but are at the same time, distinct. I find that I am not wholly reflected in either; that psychologically I am neither identified nor pinned down by the appearance of my paintings. I prefer to reflect on my personal experience of the work in the dialogue between the two, which is of course neither one nor the other but something else altogether.

The works I make on horizontal format, white primed linen also think through and sketch out ideas for possible forms, only here it is structured or at least contained by the geometry of rectangles and their combined relationships. It’s a task of using colour to loosen or undo the static certainty of those rectangles and their possible relationships. The edges of the rectangles are marked out by perpendicular and random lines or marks of hatched colours. Through that kind of description/reinterpretation of the rectangle, I find ways to put them to use as composite elements in the painting.

'Sketch for Polychrome Sculpture 1' 2015 (detail)

Mark Gisbourne

Painting as Presence in the Works of Philip Lumai

Beyond the immediate material contents the delicacy achieved by Lumai’s large and small scale monochrome paintings is remarkable. While colour carries the connotation of certain complimentary affects in his paintings, it is an error to think of these works in purely colouristic terms. The powerful emotional affects in his untitled works come from their tone, and tonality is derived from the immanent contents within his paintings. A great deal has been written about the pseudo spiritual, metaphysical and/or sublime transcendence of monochrome and abstract painting. Transcendence generally means 'lying beyond the ordinary range of perception', and this defies the stated material contents that Lumai valorises. It is not a case of going beyond, but of 'entering into' the greater depths of perception that gives a meaning to the artist’s paintings and drawings. The extraordinary tonality that Lumai achieves is immanent, because it holds within itself a sense of presence. It remains present within the appearance of things, within the life contents that brought the thing into being, Absolute immanence is in itself: it is not in something, to something; it does not depend on the object or belong to the subject… immanence is not immanence to substance; rather substance and modes are in immanence. This idea develops further the Kantian notion of immanence remaining within the bounds of possible experience, and adds to it that all the processes of life production are contained in life itself. Let me say again that what we experience in Lumai’s monochrome paintings is materialised perception, that is a particular sense of perception heightened by the immanence derived from their physical expression and internal tonality.

The making of marks as visual facture, and the variable surface eruptions created, expands perception in Lumai's monochromes: that is to say doubling the textural (haptic) and optical (visual) experience. The rhythms of the mark making (often circular in mode) direct the conditions by which arcs of expression take place. This is particularly noticeable in the works on paper which are more freely formed and less confined to boundaries of the paper as a surface. Unusually the marks created on the aluminium panels tend to be more tightly orchestrated in terms of their expression. The marks are increasingly multidirectional and the surface mark-making gesture less pronounced. This reminds the viewer of the physical relationship between the artist and the surface. How Lumai addresses the surface contains a psychological content in as much as how it is managed in purely physical terms. Because the process takes weeks, sometimes months of literally building the colour substance directly on the surface of the industrially primed aluminium panel, a sense of autonomy between the artist and a particular painting emerges. What might at first seem a procedure that leads to an imagined uniformity is paradoxically undermined by the material individuality of each painting.

The use of colour which thus far I have seemed to derogate, is also very important to Lumai. Colour is always a dangerous force insomuch that it can have a tendency to impose its immediate effects and overwhelm the viewer often to the detriment of comprehending the subtleties of mark making and tonality. Lumai is very precise therefore in his use of colour. In his 'Series 4' paintings, he employs complex mixtures of cement like greys, plaster whites or ochres, and stone blues, and violets. This tendency stresses both their ephemeral and unfathomable properties and homages the integrity and quality of the organic and inorganic pigments that he uses. The colours he makes gradually reveal their own sense of interiority and physical complexity, echoing the palpable (of touch) and the shifting ground brought about by their visual densities. Lumai sees colour in terms of likeness and rupture, which is to say he uses the relational affinities born of the material properties within a given colour, and at the same time seeks to grasp the entropic sensations thrown up by his hand ground materials. He maximises the duality of colour, its double affection, the power to please and the power to disrupt the eye. What may seem meditative when first experienced becomes enervated and charged when seen through prolonged contemplation. Colour has always had the power to seduce the eye but with Lumai’s paintings colour 'induces' the extended process of looking. Induction meaning quite literally taken inside the working processes of the thing seen, and generating inferred principles that appear to underly the experience. Seduction is the simple enticement of effect, induction is the prolonged engagement with affects which brings about influences that change a persons understanding of that experience. But the induced experiences of Lumai’s use of colour remain individual to each viewer and it is in no way suggested that the artist seeks in any sense a systematic or schematic reading of his works.

It may seem contradictory to speak of structure in works that are in general terms monochromatic. In Lumai’s works structure has quite a specific meaning in relation to forms, that is to say it is not strictly to do with shape or morphology as such but is relational in the Kantian architectonic sense rather than in actual architectural terms. However, the industrially produced composite panels that provide the support for the large scale paintings are in fact intended for architectural uses by their manufacturer and in earlier works sheet metal is used which hangs directly against the wall exposing its fixtures. The chosen formats of the paintings are carefully calculated to provoke certain relational values between works and their large scales intervene powerfully on the gallery spaces. The relation of the monochrome to the wall on which it rests, and the particular play of incidental light across a colour’s surface are important concerns of the artist. The facture of walls in general have always held a fascination for Lumai, no two walls are ever exactly the same, each have their striations and fissures, ruptures and accretions. Indeed paintings and walls have a long history in mural or fresco but even more importantly as a site of potential for imaginative invention …Look at walls with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see in these resemblances a number of landscapes… Hence structure is to Lumai the generated sense of internal coherence that follows on from an imaginative engagement with material perceptual experience. Further vindications are several times given by Leonardo in his argument “But even though these smears of colour provide you with inventions, they also show you that they do not come to represent anything in particular.” Structure is that of conscious engagement with things seen and perceived, and which leads thereafter to interpretive invention. Structure is form as facture mediated by the eye of imagination. It is a self obedience to the process of making, and it was formerly called craft before the word gained its sometime used pejorative connotation.

While each work is autonomous, Lumai always works in series where individual paintings initiate and uniquely redefine a certain visual ‘idea’ that the artist experiences as a necessity. The paintings do not impose the sense of signature that is always associated with the brush mark and with gestural abstraction in general terms, indeed painting was defined for many centuries by the brush mark of the artist. By using the tools of his palette: the spatulas and the paint muller, Lumai evokes an internal and personal process, the labour that pertains, and the residual outcome that flows from it. While the choices the artist makes inevitably give each work a unique character, it is not one that dictates a forced stylistic identity. Hence one could say that his paintings and drawings do not seek to transform the world, but to reveal its mysterious nature. Lumai makes evident the known, and this is why I spoke earlier of the immanent qualities of his works, and not their transcendence. He does not seek to go beyond the world, but to verify and extend our creative awareness of it. His monochrome paintings are a key, they reveal the materiality of intensely perceived experiences. The viewer simply has to be open to a state of direct perception and cultivated self reflection to be similarly rewarded.

Extracted and edited by the artist
Originally published in 'Philip Lumai , Paintings & Drawings', Peter Foolen Editions 2010

i Immanence means quite literally 'existing, operating, or remaining within; inherent.'

ii …it is only when immanence is no longer immanent to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence. Gilles Deleuze, 'Immanence, A Life', Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, New York, Zone Books, 2002, pp 26-27 (Fr. orig., 'L' Une Vie' philosophie 47, editions de minuit, 1995).

iii This idea was already implicit in the writings of Benedict Spinoza (1632-77), where he defines immanence as attribute (attributum) I understand that which the intellect perceives of substance as constituting essence, Part I, IV Spinoza: Ethics, ed. G.H.R Parkinson, London, J.M Dent, 1989, p3. See also, Gilles Deleuze, 'Chapter Four: Index of Main Concepts'. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, San Francisco and London, City Lights Books,1988. … the attributes are not ways of seeing pertaining to the intellect, because the Spinozist intellect perceives only what is: they are not emanations either, because there is no superiority, eminence of substance over the attributes, nor of one attribute over another. Each attribute ‘expresses’ a certain essence. p51 (FR. orig.., Spinoza: Philosophie Pratique, Paris 1970, P.U.F., revised and expanded, Editions de Minuit, 1981).

iv Induction does not refer in this case specifically to a scientific theory of asystematic experience, which argues scientific laws and supposed outcomes and which in any case falls foul of the 'fallacy of induction', since the boundaries between science and non-science have never been clearly defined. For a general discussion see, Thomas S. Kuhn 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions', Chicago University Press, 1962 (and subsequent editions).

v Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in his 'Critique of Pure Reason' (1781) developed an architectonic system (in a sense structural) following a progression of phases from the most formal to the most empirical, from cognition to perception; nothing can be comprehended unless there is this relational flow.

vi Irma Richter (ed), 'How to Increase Your Talent and Stimulate Various Inventions', The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Oxford University Press (1952), 1980, p. 182

vii Martin Kemp, 'Leonardo on Painting: Anthology of Writings by Leonardo da Vinci with a Selection of Documents Relating to His Career as an Artist's, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2001.

'Series 4 #2' 2005. oil on alucopan. 263 x 187.9 cm

Philip Lumai
February 2001

My work is pursuing a perceptual multiplicity within a singular, yet climatically shifting layer of colour. These 'shifts' are produced through the material’s relationship to a white ground and the choice of colour itself. The pigment mixture is suspended at a point indiscernible to our expectant colour concepts. Difficult, complex, subtle, interstitial colours fascinate me, they present complications of assimilation or placing, they disorientate. Such colours when isolated outside of any convincing pictorial theme ('The Death of Actaeon', 'Ray-Fish, Cat and Kitchen Utensils') attain an intractable nature, not least because they can no longer be precisely named, perhaps they seem anachronistic, caught between our familiar techno-industrial environment and our knowledge of paint as constituting an image with the power to transport. They are in a sense excursive, vagrant. They impinge on us, affecting some new quality, reiterating some essential quality that is painting itself.

This colour is imperceptible alone, indivisible from it's developing material sates, its viscosity, its trace, its support and its final fixing to a wall, a building…: it is the opaque and the translucent, the physical and the optical… The material evolves through manufacture as this: this plane, this surface, as this concrescence, this percept. But equally as this immateriality and these personal climatic associations. Furthermore my work of grinding pigments directly onto an aluminium support creates another place for the painter outside of an overtly aesthetic involvement with the surface and its potential content (the picture) but establishing an intrinsic, emotive connection inside the material plane in both its physical and perceptual states.

My painting has become hyper conscious of its context in time and space: I am intensely aware of its awkward identity and its incongruity within the commerce of information. However this situation informs an important aspect of my work, and exerts its powerful presence throughout the working process. The sense of a slowing down always pervades the best painting (however rapid its execution) and needs no further qualification through other mediums of thought. It is an affect that reaches the viewer through its implicit negative insistence, and not by calculated reportage. What interests me are the possibilities of a work that embodies the functioning of abstraction: this would mean that the work is itself an object of, and simultaneously a source of abstract forces. These forces constitute a persistently disruptive language of painting which contrary to our theories of art and drives of popular culture, resists codification.

'Series 2 #1' 2001. oil on aluminium. 76.7 x 100.1 cm

Philip Lumai
December 1999

In painting being is suggested as a quality that is neither familiar nor unknown. As it appears, we recognise that which cannot be and recall what has no right to exist within the confident rectangle of dexterity. This is quintessential, oblique, inseparable from the moment of making and existing through materials. The edges of human capacity are not the limits so voraciously sought, not linear definitions of shape, more a membranous area of exchange, like that between colours.

'Series 1 #23' 2000. oil on aluminium. 64 x 46 cm

2021    'Three Paintings to Think With' Philip Lumai 10.12.21 - 29.01.22 V/MSP Gallery Brussels.
2018    'Why the Moon waxes and Wanes' Phil Lumai, Schälling | Enderle. 20.01.18 - 16.03.18. V/MSP Gallery. Brussels
2014    'Au doigt et à l'œil' Aïda Kazarian, Philip Lumai, Bernard Villers. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.
'Abstract Painting and Photography' Paul Caffell, Ori Gersht, Alexis Harding, Louise Hopkins, Philip Lumai, Marek Piasecki. Mummery & Schnelle Gallery, London.
'A World Removed' Philip Lumai. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.
2013    'Group Show' Filip Francis, Philip Lumai, Imi Knoebel, Olivier Mosset, Gerhard Richter, Jan Schoonhoven, Dan Walsh. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.
2011    'Drawings & Photography' Cecile Bart, Yannick Carlier, Philip Lumai, Michel Verjux, Jacques Vilet. Galerie Art Office, Brussels.
2006    'New Paintings' Philip Lumai. Knaackstrasse 12, Berlin.
2003    'Sans Titre' Katharina Grosse, Philip Lumai, Ingo Meller. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.
2002    'Peintures' Filip Francis, Philip Lumai, Olivier Mosset, Claude Rutault, Phillipe van Snick. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.
2001    'New Abstract' Aïda Kazarian, Philip Lumai, Bernd Mechler. Galerie Ledune, Brussels.

Philip Lumai was born in Bristol, UK in 1968 and currently lives and works in Brussels, Belgium.