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For [Georges] Nöel, the ground of his paintings was as elemental as a muddy battlefield strewn with detritus: a thick, mixed-media “magma-matter,” first made with cloth and paper and then with sand and pigment embedded in polyvinyl acetate, a surface embodying chemistry’s conquest of nature. Noël covered this ground with dense skeins of marks, signs, gouges and graffiti, a method that he soon began referring to with the term “palimpsests” -- a form that his then-wife and companion, the celebrated curator Margit Rowell, referred to as “a stratification of writings. . . that blend into a single cryptic text.”

Indeed, the palimpsest is “an exemplary pictorial metaphor” for the human subject itself. For what is the modern individual but a palimpsest, an imaginary unity constituted from uncertain layers of experience, feelings, memories, thoughts, sensations?

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