I’m reading Andrew Hugill’s 2012 book, ‘Pataphysics: A Useless Guide. I’m curious about ‘pataphysics because: [1] When I first read Jean Baudrillard’s essay Pataphysics (1952), written when he was 21, I felt like I was finally getting to the source of his strange opaque use of language, which itself has been so influential on “international art english”, and [2] pataphysics is frequently defined as “the science of imaginary solutions and the laws governing exceptions”, which makes me think of the way Dana Schutz sets herself the challenge of making an image for a  (ie. the idea of a person eating their own face, in her painting Face Eater).


Dana Schutz Face Eater (2004) oil on canvas 58 x 46cm

I haven’t finished Hugill’s book, but already he’s mentioned a lot of potentially Schutz-esque visual ideas and symbols: “disembraining machine”, “Ma Ubu gives birth to an archaeopteryx”, and “the work of art is a stuffed crocodile” (p.7); “the dog faced baboon” (p.11); “the Painting Machine” (p.16); “inexhaustible sexual activity fuelled by ‘Perpetual-Motion-Food’ and … a race between an express train and a six-man bicycle team which is won by the latter when one of their number dies and goes into a kind of mechanical rigor-mortis while strapped to the pedals” (p.18);  “a cylindrical glass chamber housing a floating apparition of a giant ear which plays the violin” and “a device which extracts the dreams of bees and displays them in glass jars” (p.31); “a delirium of stucco and cardboard” (p.40).

Hugill also mentions the symbol of a “green candle”, which reminds me of this collage that I made recently. A coincidence.


161215e (2016) collage on paper 29.6 x 21cm

From what I’ve learnt so far, the primary symbol of ‘pataphysics seems to be the spiral, and the primary figure, Ubu Roi, is pictured with a spiral on his belly. This reminded me of a painting by Hernan Bas, one of his largest and most ambitious. I had another look at it, and sure enough the title of this Bas painting is Ubu Roi (the war march) (below).


Hernan Bas Ubu Roi (the war march) (2009) acrylic on linen over panel 213.5 x 366cm


Hernan Bas Ubu Roi (the war march) [detail] (2009) acrylic on linen over panel

The most prominent figure (above) appears to be based on a woodcut picture of “Monsieur Ubu” (c.1896) (below) made by Alfred Jarry, who is the originator of the term and philosophical concept of ‘pataphysics.


Alfred Jarry Véritable portrait de Monsieur Ubu (c.1896) woodcut

A lot of projects that are called (or call themselves) “pataphysics” strike me as very silly, trivial, indulgent endeavours, and yet I’m still curious about the subject. I have the same conflicted curiosity about the work of Michael Krebber, and now I see that his 2003 exhibition title “Here It Is: The Painting Machine” echoes (and perhaps is a reference to) “The Painting Machine” described in Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911), also by Alfred Jarry.


[installation view] Michael Krebber Here It Is: The Painting Machine Greene Naftali, New York, 2003

So far, I think what interests me most about pataphysics is the role of imagination, which seems important to me in regard to painting as a process of creating images. I neglected imagination last year (2016), in favour of exercises intended to develop my technique and just learn how paint behaves. Now, in this new year, I’d like to redress that, and put technique in the service of imagination.


3 thoughts on “‘Pataphysics

  1. the whole idea of pataphysics leaves me cold, actually worries me. That’s not at all bad. I find myself looking harder and with some effort at the works, in order to find reasons other than the philosophy, to like them or not. It matters not – if a way of wording and imagining can feed into a creation positively and particularly, than who gives a shit. I admire your keenness seeming always to be an open mind. It is a constant effort for me as a viewer/voyeyur.

    I don’t see how your meanderings led into your statement that you will be looking forward to harnessing your technique to your imagination – but it is a vital development. None of your exercises are without imagination. That would be intellectually unlikely. But you show consistency in working on techniques and evidence of assimilating them. So I can only surmise that there will be tremors in the works when you give vent to your imagination.

    There will be pure licking of lips at this end. I have much more to say on this, but will restrain myself just now.


    • Yeah, I find that the projects and figures associated with pataphysics are so disparate that it’s difficult to say whether I “like” it or not. A lot of it strikes me as a total waste of time, but I have enough curiosity remaining to at least finish this book. The connection to my painting came from reading about that strange imagery, and thinking about how it could be painted. How to depict a “debraining machine” is a challenge to the imagination, as much as to technique.


  2. Pingback: Doodles | dailydaub

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