I always liken the control of rage to the cradling of an animal infant- one has to keep a vigilant eye on its unpredictable mischiefs, and the task is made difficult when all the time the carer imparts a language alien to the baby, and the baby the carer. Rage rarely speaks in a language I comprehend and often appears in a manner of extreme intractability. In images or visions rage is, typically, the abrupt fire that burns all, leaving the barren land that parches under the ruthless sun. Rage can be also found throbbing fitfully in every visible vein of one’s pallid skin, and sooner or later one’s body of map will be crisscrossed with an army of red snakes. Fire and red are principally the two words that epitomize rage. When confronted by the formidable presence of rage, even the most glacial ice bows down in defeat and cries the waxen tears that leave an imperceptible trace on the scorching ground.
The title of a Cy Twombly’s painting sums up all: The Fire that Consumes All before It (1978). The juxtaposition of white and red makes the latter look more like flaming blood than fire- a blotch of flaring red bleeds into the slightly-tainted white. If it were a fire then it must be a destructive fire of envy. It is with such aggression and impetus that the fire of envy is keen on destroying everything that it is not: I am thinking about some clichéd fairy-tale of a misunderstood monster gruesomely defiling an innocent maiden when the later is stubbornly unresponsive to the former’s awkward, persistent courtships. This then becomes not so much a painting of encroachment but the natural law of affection.
Colours are not the only manifestation of rage, for it also leaves its temporary marks on human faces sometimes. The creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Caricature Head Study of an Old Man (c. 1500-05) was only a matter of a few scrawls and strokes, but rage is self-expressive. This old man’s rage is visibly tinged with a Job’s desperation: both eyes and chin direct to the Heaven; the glint of menace in his eyes speaks positively of indignation and bitterness that only those who spend a chunk of their lives being misjudged and underestimated will know. Leonardo da Vince is one of the few who illustrate sundry human emotions like some drolleries read in the Canterbury Tales; not without some pathos of a great Medieval tragedy.
To a certain extent rage can appear in a form that utterly betrays its essence. Call it a reckless misinterpretation but Yves Klein’s output in the Blue Epoch seems to me a phalanx of the artist’s pent-up anger. Executed solely in the patented International Klein Blue (IKB), the colour expresses a feeling of extreme disquietude. Mostly those IKBs are bestowed with lives and souls, but what resulted on the canvases display no harmonious melodies that frequent Jackson Pollock’s. Some of them are rhythmically violent and chaotic. The colours are flung onto the canvases disdainfully. Slowly, however, when eyes are patient enough to dwell a considerable period on those paintings, the desultory morass of IKBs seem to come into a specific form, and at length we might want to land in the context, the concept, a beguiling story.
Rage might express itself in the most indecipherable, and sometimes when it chooses to appear in the form of a spitfire that sputters and spews despite others’ incomprehension, esoteric language. But always the image of rage cannot be more obvious and clear. The art of rage is a three-stage transmutation: the artist translates his abstract feelings into a concrete art piece and as the viewers witness the artwork, it is allowed to transforms back into an impression that installed in their memories. And thus the fire of rage proves to be indistinguishable. It seethes until the time is ripe and there everything unleashes.