Himmelssäure: Heavenacid, 1999. Oil on linen and silk on wood. 14cm x 84cm
The title of Jane Bustin’s painting, Himmelssäure (Heavenacid), is taken from the title of a poem by Paul Celan and comes from a series of paintings collectively called Atemwende (Breathturn), based on the poet’s ‘neologisms’. The paintings are long and narrow, visual equivalents of the word, arranged in diptych format. Each letter occupies 7cm length; hence Himmelssäure is 49cm x 35cm. All the paintings in the series are a constant 14cm high -twice the space of the letter.
The trauma of the Holocaust left the Romanian Jew, Celan, with an ambiguous relationship towards German culture, particularly its language, which he adopted as the vehicle for his poetry. A “language of long shadows”, as he referred to it. His struggle for expression embodied Adorno’s famous sentiment that poetry after Auschwitz was impossible, and Celan described his own poetic enterprise as stillgeworden (becoming silent): an endless battle between the imperative for articulation and the desire for silence. Bustin has become increasingly concerned to erase the ‘mark’ from her recent paintings in much the same way that Celan and Edmond Jabes attempted to remove meaning from behind the word. A convert to Judaism, Bustin, follows the great Jewish mystics in attempting to speak towards the unsayable, to paint towards the unpaintable. (ln the Jewish tradition not only could God not be named directly, but also no representational image was permissible). Through the ritual of painting she encounters the ever-present aspiration to make the ordinary and quotidian sacred.
In her diptych of Giotto blue-green oil on wood, abutted to a panel of pale lemon oil on silk and wood, Bustin has abandoned any trace of the figurative. In this act is an acceptance that the space is not Nothingness, but a void ‘full’ of potential. The darkened edges of the painting, the rim of umber and acid yellow, are the result of this ’emptying out’, of figuration being pushed to the peripheries. The edge becomes the perimeter that contains this pregnant void, the place where two things meet. This pays indirect homage to the mysticism of Barnett Newman, whose heavenly ‘zips’ perform something of the same function. Bustin experiences Newman’s as a predominantly male sensibility, with his ‘zips’ sitting ‘authoritatively’ on the surface. For her, the void to which she alludes is closer to Kristeva’s notion of the chora, a feminine space or receptacle.
In the deeply articulated and expressive luminosity of her translucent green panel that bleeds into the adjacent paler cream space, she speaks of dissolution, which becomes essence, of transmutation that reaches towards connection. This shimmering surface acts as a multi-layered veil that both blocks and reveals half-glimpsed truths and spiritual uncertainties.
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999
Image © Jane Bustin 1999