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From Scratch

oil on canvas
160 X 200 cm

From scratch



Scratch; to cut someone’s skin lightly, a slight tear or incision, to damage a surface by marking it, or to cover with a line. With the additional ‘from’ it refers to a line scratched in the ground – from where a race would have its start. It is the mark of a body, which marks the starting point for movement. Later, it comes to refer to that which is made from the beginning, or the general act of starting over. Tracing the concept back to scratch, one could assume that this new start entails an act of violence.


I re-read Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty; an account for structures of cruelty and violence, filtered through the work of artists and writers. Having spent an unusually large number of hours listening to news reports in the past months, picking this title from its shelf seems to have its obvious reasons. The title shines a light on how violence plays a part in pushing a body from a position of being a subject into that of an object, and how violence can be perceived to work the other way around. This is central to structures of power. Part of the process of legitimizing violence is to make the receiver into less of a subject, and it is an undeniable fact that brutality in its extreme can result in the self-made-meat. In constructing one’s own self-image the contrasting ‘other’ plays an important part. If feeling like one’s subjectivity is torn, one might hence find the solution in transforming others into objects – to increase a sense of gap, and make their own position as subject clearer. Of course, this entails becoming subject through turning an other into the object on which their subjectivity is resting.


One of the most violent factors in painting is how it somehow presumes the act of destruction, through overpainting. Working in layers - building up from back to front – the practice is somehow built on repeated violence. There is no way of undoing, the only way ahead is through destruction. From scratch, through scratch. In this light, explosivity in painting could be argued to build upon the ability to find conviction in violating a past, and with that possibly also a future.


In writing through the work of artists, Nelson places focus on the violence of the process through which the object d’art comes to be. Two central figures in the text are Francis Bacon and Sylvia Plath – suggested as incarnating the artist-as-butcher (Bacon) and the artist-as-surgeon (Plath).[1] Bacon’s process is placed in relation to ‘cutting and smearing, incision and blur[2] and what he himself referred to as the ‘injuring’ of his depicted subjects.[3] I read the violence as perceived in the disruption between seen and unseen. By causing a scratch in a surface; a piercing line merging inner with outer. Nelson describes the line of Plath as a cruel line – a line which have been felt to slice into skins; ‘I realize that it comes from the combination of lines turned, shorn, or stopped with furious resolve, and the hyperactive sound Plath has enclosed within them–the meticulously coiled internal rhymes and consonance she folds like razor blades into crispy creased white paper.[4] Described is a violence that lies in the line, what this line does to the surface it scratches. It is a violence that has no fixed receiver and rather than turning something or someone into a lesser subject, saturates an object with subjectivity.  


Rebecca Lindsmyr, June 1st 2022





[1] Nelson, Maggie. The Art of Cruelty. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2012. p.229

[2] Ibid, p.221

[3] Ibid, p.227­-228

[4] Ibid, p.218




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