This essay was published in the catalogue for the
solo exhibition, 'plus près que vous ne le croyiez', 
Galerie Art & Patrimoine, Paris, 1998.

A year before his death in 1987, Andy Warhol produced a series of works that he entitled, quite simply, "Camouflage Paintings." Sometimes measuring over four meters in length and nearly three meters high, the surfaces of the paintings are a combination of technically reproducible techniques using silk-screen ink with further applications of synthetic polymer paint on canvas. The "Camouflage" series was itself the final part of a larger series of paintings produced within the last ten years of the artist's life, all of them "abstract" in appearance and all of them situated quite strategically in terms of a prior history of abstract or "modernist" painting. Indeed, the paintings seem to offer themselves as a set of "quotations" of prominent, twentieth-century abstract artists, transforming the most privileged origins of abstraction in such a way that each series oscillates between an open acknowledgment of Warhol's most eminent precursors at the same time as it suggests to the viewer a knowing repetition, or even parody, of painting's most illustrious past. Of the other series, the most well-known is no doubt the "Oxidation Paintings," scatological reworkings and interpretations of Pollock's "drips." But also included in these later series are a number of other "abstract" works, including the "Shadow Paintings," the "Egg Paintings," the "Yarn Paintings," and the "Rorschach Paintings," with the "Camouflage Paintings" the last in the series. In the same year as his death, Warhol also produced a portfolio of eight silk-screen prints, all the prints again displayed as various modifications-as reproducible "quotations"-of the camouflage "abstractions."

The use of camouflage in this last series was not new for Warhol. He had already used camouflage patterning in a portrait of Beuys, in an image of the Statue of Liberty, and across the silk-screened version of Leonardo's "Last Supper," also exhibited in the last year of his life. The manner in which he placed a camouflage pattern across his own self-portrait in 1986 may even suggest that camouflage functioned like a "signature" for Warhol, a sign that could be associated with a name and a legacy. But the use of camouflage as a "purely" abstract pattern raises a number of questions that are irreducible to the mere assigning of the pattern to a signature of Warhol's style and a measure of his strategy. In other words, I want to suggest that the use of camouflage in Warhol's last series raises a number of questions concerning not only the self-representation of "abstract" painting today as it negotiates the legacy of Pop art; the unusual but quite strategic combination of a vocabulary of Pop art and "abstraction" in Warhol's own "Camouflage" series also raises questions concerning the future of painting after its predicted deaths over the last few decades and the "mourning" with which it has been accompanied. Finally, Warhol's later series also raise the question of the force of any claim for the overcoming of "pure" and "modernist" abstraction. This last question further imposes itself since the overcoming of "pure" or "modernist" notions of abstraction by Warhol is repeated in numerous contemporary discussions about the future of "abstract" painting, notably in discussions that begin to articulate the means of securing and sustaining painting's critical possibilities in relation to-and in difference from-its own "modernist" past.

Warhol's use of camouflage in his later series immediately raises the possibility of confronting two seemingly irreconcilable histories of painting, with the vocabulary of Pop art now explicitly bound to the "Abstract Expressionist" tradition it is taken to displace. For the "Camouflage Paintings" would appear to take as their most immediate goal an almost deliberate ironicizing of the historical fortunes of abstraction in twentieth-century painting. In terms of their scale alone, the "Camouflage" series clearly flaunts and parodies the history of abstract painting's most ambitious aims to create advanced art on any monumental scale, curiously rearticulating the value of terms like "color-field" painting or the desire for an "all-over" effect. Recalling its military uses and contexts, the camouflage also nicely redistributes the terms of "action" painting, as if Pollock's "drips" (already evoked in the "Oxidation" series) were now the product of some diminutive and automated "G.I Joe" rather than the work of the brazen hero famously captured in Hans Namuth's photos. Indeed, as Thomas Kellein has proposed, the number of references-"the quotations"-keep accumulating across the "Camouflage" series, as the choice of colors in some paintings moves the military origins of camouflage into psychedelic disco, evocative of the 60's, or refers to what Harold Rosenberg once called the "apocalyptic wallpaper" of "American Action Painters," extending out to embrace and replay Monet's "Nympheas" in the Orangerie as well as the later "cut-outs" of Matisse. In short, inscribed-illustrated-in something as seemingly simple and trite as an enormous panel of camouflage is one of the most illustrious and well-rehearsed histories of "modernism," with its optical effects and "flatness" faced by its own image but reduced to a set of prescribed formulas and parodies. In short, the history of "modernism" is now emptied of any deep, art historical and expressive significance through a highly self-conscious, calculated but impersonal display of tactical surface effects and surefire provocations.

If Warhol's "Camouflage" series is thus said to be particularly effective in its economy, humor and lucidity, and if this later series of paintings may be argued to have a compelling influence on the critical terms and "mood" of recent abstract painting, it lies in the ways in which "purely" abstract fields and formal, expressive color articulations not only have come to an end; they now constitute a history that can be recited and rehearsed as recognizable and identifiable styles. These styles are then recognizable aspects-codes-of a "modernist" past, immediately associated with specific names of artists or generational trends, and their historical "closure" suggests that these codes can now be consciously manipulated, repeated and "readable" as recognizable and identifiable "signs," as "images" of painting's past. And as "styles," "codes" and "signs" rather than expressive gestures or compositional, abstract elements, as images of painting rather than an historically sanctioned vocabulary of its conventions, the self-conscious display and exhibition of abstract patterns and motifs such as camouflage extends the traditional, art historical references of "modernism" to a wider range of social, cultural, economic, political and technological implications and significance. These implications are caught in the representational display of references that the "codes," "signs" and "images" of abstract forms are now seen to embody (the very titles of Warhol's later series clearly articulate the representational possibilities and references suggested by these abstract "codes" and "signs.") By extension, the "signs" of abstraction can also now assume the burden of supporting or "exploiting" a number of more contemporary issues, allowing for the mapping of technological metaphors onto painting and thus seemingly guaranteeing its further critical and contemporary relevance, notably through metaphors of "screens" and "interfaces," "scanning" and "information."

The camouflage thus suggests in its own irony that the history of twentieth-century abstraction has become nothing more than a survey of decorative wallpaper lying at the heart of modern art's most ambitious claims, the camouflage a perverse allegory of all heroic, avant-garde advances. At the same time, the hermetic and abstract tradition of "modernism" seems to come to an end with Warhol, not with a bang or even a whimper, but as the endlessly circulating and manufactured play of quotable signs, codes, metaphors and stylistic travesties, an image of painting emblazoned by a plethora of colours immediately recognizable from popular culture, the media, advertising, and even the military. A pluralistic or eclectic hybridity of attitudes and postures is celebrated after the end of "modernist" constraint, tradition and convention. In short, Warhol's later series of "abstract" paintings dialectically overcome abstract painting's "modernist" past at the very moment that they inaugurate an especially forceful claim for the contemporary relevance for abstraction as quotable and reproducible signs with metaphorical implications. Indeed, it is this movement toward the quotation of the history of painting reduced to a repeatable set of stylistic signs that arguably characterizes a wide survey of contemporary "abstract" work and its claims for the future of painting. By extending the terms of Warhol's "abstract" series back across all his work, recent arguments for pursuing "abstraction" in painting are able to maintain "a critique of representation" at the same time that they avoid any "return" to figuration, painting sustaining itself as social critique precisely through the conflation and orchestration of abstract forms as signs with metaphoric, "expressive" implications. And so what appears at the outset as a contradictory acknowledgment of two seemingly distinct traditions within twentieth-century art-Pop art and Abstract Expressionism-turns into a more dialectical play of art historical fortunes mediated by the overcoming of Abstraction by Pop, a history decisively mediated by Warhol himself, and then repeated again in terms of more recent defenses of the critical and social relevance of abstract painting in a contemporary context.

The reading of the implications and influences of Warhol's "Camouflage Paintings" in this light would then be more or less an invitation to test the extent of one's own art historical knowledge across the range of references the works seem to embody, more or less a question of raising the possibilities of a movement beyond a certain delimitation of "modernism" into something that we may wish to prefix with a "post-" in some quasi-historical, quasi-evaluative way. At the very least, the heterogeneity of cultural or media references raised by Warhol's work in general now substitutes for the teleological determinations of art historical advances; pluralism, hybridity and the free-play of arbitrary, stylistically determined signs substitutes for claims to an essentialist reduction; inclusive politics and an embrace of questions concerning technology replace ontology and the focus on the rigorously exclusive exploration of the conventions of the medium; and the irreverent inspiration of Warhol's "piss" paintings clearly substitutes for the piousness of Clement Greenberg's famous notion of "purity." Above all else, working through the legacy of Warhol and Pop Art enables painting to return to a prominent position after several decades of suffering what was variously seen as its own critical, theoretical and historical inconsequentiality. Or rather, the former inconsequentiality of painting once heralded by an interpretation of Pop art and its legacy has been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of Warhol's last works, a situation put into play by Warhol himself in the last years of his life and taken up again today as a measure of abstract painting's own future. In short, the former inconsequentiality of painting as an autonomous medium has been replaced by the recognition, display and demonstration of painting's critical, theoretical and now historically determined contingency. And the ability or willingness to embrace this contingency would then be a measure not only of painting's ability and willingness to face its own future; it would also be a measure of the displacement of any concentration on painting as an autonomous medium to a survey of its means of sustaining and exploring critical differences and a renewed sense of its socio-cultural relevance in the contemporary world.

Standing in front of this recent series by Mick Finch, moving between the various paintings, we are immediately confronted-we also find ourselves increasingly faced-by two seemingly irreconcilable histories of painting, exposed to two apparently distinct practices from painting's past-Abstraction and Pop-now wrested together into the same work. The series, in other words, is situated as the present outcome of its own critical and historical dependency, as if the very "subject" of the paintings is also a recognition and acknowledgment of their own divided sources and preconditions. In this sense, the paintings appear to stand before us as if inscribed by the narrative of their own coming into being, their own physical and conceptual process, their own manner, as it were, of working through. And their "mood" is perhaps less one of self-justification, assertion and conviction than the now inevitable ways in which the work assumes for itself-recognizes, displays and demonstrates-the measure of its own contingency.

The first history that the work recalls is most conspicuously the history of abstraction and more especially a language of abstraction-a set of pictorial conventions-that moves between explicit pattern or ornamentation and a more conscious handling of surface effects, between repetitive decorative motifs and process, between hard-edged geometrical forms and the surface play of more spontaneous gestures. 

The choice of singular abstract forms is perhaps most noticeable in those paintings where an emphasis has been placed on the literal shape and outer edge of the canvas through the positioning of adjacent vertical stripes. The dominant verticality of these stripes is then reinforced by more numerous and thinner, horizontal stripes that bridge the verticals, as if binding or harnessing the canvases together. Each painting thus seems to compose itself rigorously through a series of coherent and symmetrically binding, formal elements, the work constituting itself in and as the surface of a variously coloured, and chromatically graded, grid. The figure of the grid is also reinforced through the occasional, but equally symmetrical, disruptions of the vertical stripes, marked by drips and flecks and pours and various pulls of paint, all more or less spontaneous disruptions that nevertheless do not disrupt the overall sense of control-the almost self-consciously designed play-of adhesions and cohesions of paint on the surface. Above all, there is an overriding sense that the series presents a meticulously orchestrated movement of articulated optical tensions, tensions apparent through the structural displacements and chromatic gradations of the various marked elements of the paintings. Especially with the drips, we also become conscious of the exacting control through which the paint is handled, whether through the calculated length of the drips, or their overall symmetry, as well as through the obvious way in which the painting has been worked on in an horizontal position as the drips flow out in relation to the four outer edges of the canvas. In short, there is a strong and calculated sense-a whole visual machinery-of gravity and antigravity, horizontality and verticality, plan and elevation, of concentrations and relaxations of paint, of contractions and expansions, of sequenced decorative motifs and more spontaneously placed elements, of the immediacy of cut-out patterning, printed stenciling and edges set off against the slow tressing and infinite seepage of colours.

Phrased in this way, it might be possible to then suggest that the paintings are also composed of a series of "quotations" from the history of abstraction, and that this meticulously handled display of surface effects recalls to us citations from the work's predecessors in twentieth-century abstract painting. In other words, the paintings appear to be almost self-conscious in the ways they create visual effects, effects that are registered on the one hand in the calculated rigor of the formal and chromatic elements and, on the other, by a temptation to give those effects more precise sources or analogies, the temptation even to associate these effects with certain privileged names or art historical movements from the past. Confronting the legacy of Warhol, it could be suggested that the paintings also seem to move between the recognition of abstraction as a style, or history of styles, and abstraction as a series of pictorial conventions that are now recitable or rehearsable as a specific vocabulary. At the same time, and again a condition of Warhol's legacy, the work seems to oscillate in an uneasy but quite strategic fit between their own recognizable style, a singularity that is also their own "signature," and the ways in which the paintings hand themselves over to the recitation of their critical and historical dependencies. Or rather, the signature through which the series hangs together, this signature through which the paintings come to identify themselves as a series, also hands the paintings over not only to their play with historical sources but to the reading of their formal elements as autonomously created and culturally identifiable signs.
Considered in these terms, it is here that the image of the camouflage comes into play. Conspicuous in the "Trellis" series, each work is framed by a decorative, patterned or ornamental border. Obviously evoking camouflage patterning, these borders constitute a framing device that renders explicit both the format of the canvas as well as the absence of the actual frame which they substitute. At the same time, the camouflage delimits the interior of the painting, where the scrawled, painted hatching, at once vertical and horizontal, lies across an inner rectangular surface while seeping out to the edges across the camouflage. The play between the camouflage border and the vertical and horizontal hatching also tends to reinforce a sense of the centre of these paintings as emerging toward the viewer at the same time as they set themselves back, emptying themselves out as they hide, conceal and dissimulate what they also seem to want to present. The camouflage frames appear to play a structural role not only within the overall composition but in what we have seen as the painting's articulated and conscious strategies for creating quite specific surface effects. Indeed, it is surely no coincidence that camouflage as a pattern renders visible its own eventual invisibility within specific, strategic contexts; things with camouflage are always either closer than you think, or further away, mesmerizing the eyes through some sort of magical effect. Camouflage, in the most paradoxical manner, and through its own highly conspicuous patterning, displays and demonstrates its own invisibility. It is a sign of its own dissimulation. It works best when its own identity as a composed pattern is subsumed and recomposed into a seamless context, its highly marked patterning and colour configuration all serving to secure its own eventual effacement. And as a signature of these paintings in general, as a signature with a specific history, there is presumably also something consciously strategic and tactical in the manner in which the camouflage is working the field of the painting and manoeuvring our eyes across its surface.

On the one hand, then, the use of camouflage seems to situate the paintings within a specific lineage established by Warhol and conspicuously related to the movement and transformation of "abstraction" into a series of identifiable codes and signs. At this level, the paintings become, as it were, "images" of painting, offering the possibility of overcoming "painting" as a medium and demanding that "painting" now (re)establish itself in other terms, another sense of "abstraction," perhaps even finding that "painting" needs to name and rediscover itself in a markedly different sense than in the past. In order to establish the differences that it makes, the work aims to distinguish itself by refusing the traditional terms or conventions of "painting" as a medium. The camouflage would therefore be a sign of this difference, a sign of something added onto painting's more traditional role within a history of abstraction, a means of overcoming any sense of the reductive and essentialist arguments of "modernism." It would be an emblem of the critical effects that the work seeks to address and a knowing symptom of the self-conscious, visual strategies it employs in the process.

On the other hand, the specific way in which the camouflage is handled in this series seems to move the work beyond any dialectical reconciliation between "abstraction" and "Pop Art," whatever the more explicit references to Warhol it seems to invite. In this sense, the camouflage is less an ironic "image" of the paintings themselves, and less a means of securing for the work contemporary critical relevance, than a means of demonstrating, as sign, the conditions in which something comes into visibility. Through the meticulously handled series of framing devices and chromatic grids, and through the self-conscious manipulation and orchestration of surface effects, the paintings seem to work like a magician with a deck of cards: the camouflage foregrounds the centre of the paintings as tantalizing enigmas, as if something withdraws and dissimulates itself the more it shows and reveals itself. A feeling that we might then begin to sense across the entire series of works, the paintings conceal something from us through their very ostentation. The more flagrant they appear, the more they seem to dissimulate something underneath-or even in-their surfaces. And it is in this sense that the series is less an attempt to turn painting into a parodic and ironic image of itself through the citational use of camouflage than a means of demonstrating the work's own self-exposure to what is always "other" to painting. In other words, the camouflage reveals something that is not simply added onto painting, some extraneous source or sign through which the work now finds and signals some measure of critical relevance; on the contrary, it discloses the center of this series of paintings as an opacity or absence, as the source and origin of the work's own difference from what it simultaneously exposes and reveals, as an invisibility that is always like a spell, strangely and magically visible before our very eyes.

It is at this point that the other reference to Pop Art and mass culture gradually comes to the foreground and also reveals itself in and across this series of paintings . For the various ways in which the paintings incessantly hide what they also seem to present, withdrawing something from the viewer at the very point at which they seem to be exposing themselves, or the way that something enigmatic appears to be woven through the tressage of seeping colors, or the way something seems to be emerging from beneath or within the surface of the paintings, or through the gaps and the grids, or the way the repetitive stencilings reveal a series of gradually recognizable imprints. . . . .the more these paintings reveal what they simultaneously seem to withdraw, the more the viewer is confronted-faced-by the imprint and repetitive image of Mickey Mouse's silhouette and other recognizable features of his head. In other words, the more we begin to recognize Mickey Mouse figured, stenciled, silhouetted and fragmented throughout the entire series of paintings, the more we sense that the highly conscious manipulation of abstract elements have been set up and set to work to lure the viewer into some strange, mesmerizing and magic trap. Indeed, after this initial recognition and identification, we now sense that the notorious Disney character emerges in numerous guises within a field of abstract signs, forcing us to retrace our steps back through each of the paintings, prompting us to locate and identify other references to the fragmented icon embedded within the abstract play of surface effects, teasing us back to the indexes and clues that might have escaped our notice, indexes that have been lying there right before our eyes.

To be sure, nothing could be more typical of a mass cultural reference than Mickey Mouse, nothing more privileged and recognizable in the illustrious history of Disney characters. Nowhere could we imagine a better icon for popular culture, the most eminent source and prestigious symbol of Pop Art in general. And of course, Warhol himself played with the image of Mickey in several works, played and quoted with it the way he quoted Marilyn and played with Coke. Indeed, so many artists have now reworked the Disney figure since his initial creation that books have been published on his influence in contemporary art. The recognition of the figure within this series of works would then corroborate the further argument in which contemporary abstract painting refers to mass culture in order to find itself exposed-to expose itself-to something radically other than the austere purity of "modernist," abstract painting. In short, Mickey is a sign of difference within a field of abstract signs, something like a metaphor of otherness within a history of abstract styles, an allegory both of "modernism's" exhaustion and of the radical kitsch seemingly repressed by its own teleological self-assurances and heroic ambitions. In other words, Mickey can figure here variously as metaphor or symbol, sign or allegory, image or representation, and the refusal to distinguish the way this icon is specifically working within the visual field in these terms, or the way in which Mickey is inserted as a pretext within the more abstract elements of the work, these questions would appear to be of less significance or consequence than the fact that he serves to displace in an explicitly provocative manner the ostensible "purity," reduction and formalism of "modernist," abstract painting. "Modernism" ending, then, neither with a bang nor a whimper but a sort of playfully ironic gesturing and childlike stencilling as Mickey peers through an equally playful and self-conscious repetition of modernism's own most emblematic figure of the grid.

As in the use of camouflage, however, the image of Mickey can also be subject to a number of interpretative possibilities. Following Warhol's example, it can be suggested that the icon figures as an explicit and flagrant confrontation to "modernist abstraction," as a means of securing for contemporary abstraction a degree of critical relevance, and thus transforming painting away from exclusive concentration on the specificity and "reduction" of its medium. At the same time, Mickey may be seen to serve more as a pretext for rethinking the identity of painting itself rather than simply figured as the addition of one more extraneous sign to a number of pre-existing and equally recognizable signs of abstraction; his specific placement across the various paintings forces a recognition of the ways in which things are said to come into appearance in the work. Indeed, close attention to the highly specific and differentiated ways in which the figure appears inscribed across the surface of these paintings seems more important and relevant than his more explicit role as mere image or symbol of popular culture. Attentive to the manner in which the icon is fragmented across each of the paintings as well as the series as a whole, conscious now of the ways in which we are able to "recognize" and "identify" the figure almost instantaneously through only one specific part of his body, and attentive again to the various intricacies of surface effect and stencilled imprint, we might begin to understand how this instantaneous recognition and identification of the fragments and silhouettes of the figure functions just as much according to the perceptual logic of all gestalt psychology as it does to the global familiarity and pervasiveness of the Disney image itself.

It is therefore significant that the artist has specifically recalled that the source of the image is less a reference to Pop Art or Warhol, less a vague indication of popular culture in general, than an advertising board at the Eurostar entrance at Waterloo station in London. In the monumental publicity poster above the entrance, a fragment of Mickey Mouse (one eye and familiarly shaped ear) seems to peer out from the edge of the poster, the eye and the iris doubling as the tunnel through which the passengers will find their way across the Channel to the promised world of Eurodisney. Working according to the logic of all gestalt imagery, the formal simplicity and economy of the concentric ellipses which make up the head, ear, outer eye, iris and a circle of reflected light suggest that the literal abbreviation of the image is immediately recognized as being not only one part to the imaginary "whole" of Mickey but capable of doubling at the same time as an abbreviated image of the Eurostar tunnel itself. The gestalt recognition and identification also seem to work here in the same way as the play on words that appends the image on the poster: "The magic," the message reads, "is closer than you think. . ." One might then suggest that what interests the artist in this otherwise banal manipulation and marketing of effects is less the fact that Mickey is a popular icon of consumer culture and the marketing of global capital and cultural hegemony-hardly a novel discovery-than the issues of perceptual identification that the image embodies, the obvious reliance on gestalt recognition that it demands from the viewer, and above all the way in which these forms of gestalt recognition and identification impose the question of the relation of depicted shape of the fragmented icon with the literal shape of the poster in which it appears. In short, this background information provides us less with the source, original meaning or cultural significance of Mickey within this series of paintings than a way of alerting the viewer to specific ways in which the figure is specifically placed or inscribed within the paintings and carefully dissimulated within a field of formal, abstract elements. In short, this background information may direct our attention to the quite specific ways in which the paintings are less parodic or ironic images of paintings but "formally" constituted through a highly self-conscious array of disparate surface effects.
Of course, there are also a number of ways in which this issue of the perceptual identification of the image may be interpreted. The artist has himself recalled how the attention to gestalt readings by certain minimalist artists like Robert Morris finds itself curiously complicitous with recent trends in advertising and their visual strategies for marketing images. Using Mickey as a "pretext," Tristan Tremeau has clearly and provocatively argued in a recent catalogue how this series also works not only as a critique of minimalism but as a critique of the history of painting itself. Configured within these wider critical terms, the use of Mickey within the series thus seems to oscillate between a form of cultural politics and something resembling a kind of "naive" phenomenology, between references to commercial exploitation and the exploitation of gestalt psychology, between the exploration of critical differences and a construal of the viewer's implication in establishing not simply the meaning of the work but the ways in which it comes to completion before our eyes. In short, if this series of works attempts to move beyond the terms already established by Warhol in his later "abstract" paintings, then it hinges around a number of critical possibilities whose terms and criteria stand in need of argument and critical elaboration.

Rather than closing off these possibilities and the issues they raise, a few final observations can be made. First, if the debts of Warhol's "abstract" works suggest that the camouflage and the image of Mickey are read as signs within a wider survey of "abstract" signs, then these paintings will always offer themselves as mere images of painting. Exhibited as images, a number of critical narratives then become possible, for the most part turning on the extent to which contemporary culture has itself become nothing more than the pervasive circulation of signs and images, of simulacra and spectacle. In this sense, the paintings work through the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate signs within a common frame, effacing themselves as paintings in order to find themselves part of the endlessly circulating series of images they purport to critique. They become images of the image of painting that they now are. Their effect will arise from a recognition and identification of these conflicting signs, an awareness of their accumulated social and cultural references, and a subsequent claim for their critical relevance. And the force of this effect, or the degree it can be measured, stems from the work's apparent irreducibility to "modernist" notions of reduction and "purity."

Phrased another way, this series seems to turn on the visual claim that the image of Mickey is indicative of the ways in which the work is always more than it seems to be, always more than "merely" the painting that it is, always in excess of itself. This "difference" through excess would account not only for the "mood" and strategy of the work but its manner of negotiating-recognizing, displaying and demonstrating-the measure of painting's contingency, its future possibility after Warhol's late "abstract" works and the legacy of Pop Art.

And yet, these few pages have also tried to suggest that attention to the specific ways in which the paintings have been painted, attention to their manner of creating surface effects and the ways things come into appearance-attention to their highly self-conscious "formal" articulations-all these aspects of the work are also capable of raising a number of further and demanding questions about "painting" and "abstraction." In other words, a close reading of the work suggests that a sense of "painting" today remains irreducible both to a renewed claim for abstraction as well as to any attempt to collapse questions of the medium of painting to a juxtaposition of signs with metaphorical and "expressive" implications. If the work demonstrates its own self-exposure to what is always "other" to painting, then the difference that painting makes will never come through the addition and accumulation of cultural signs, metaphors and symbols whose recognition and identification guarantees that painting will be now different from what it once was. It may be "recognized" as being different from what it once was, it may claim to move beyond the terms of "modernism," but the painting is not, as such, and in and of itself, "different." The mere accumulation and juxtaposition of abstract signs and references from mass-culture changes nothing "essential" about the "essence" of painting, its reduction, "purity" or self-identity. These references will always be "signs" or degrees of difference rather than an "essential" questioning of painting's "own" fundamental difference as a "medium" in relation to its other. (Whether the concept of "medium" is still capable of sustaining these questions remains ahead of this work rather than subsumed by it.)

The reading elaborated here thus attempts to suggest that close attention to the "formal" articulations of this series of paintings reveals that each painting is always lacking in something, always exposing itself to an invisibility that is a condition of the work's visibility, always wanting rather than in excess of itself. As in spells and "magic," there is always something that hides and conceals itself in the work's very exposure and revelation. The work is not merely the accumulation of signs but witness to an absence that is a condition of their being "paintings." At the same time, what is "lacking" in this series of paintings is less an absence that the viewer then completes through gestalt recognitions and identifications; rather, the lack points to a more "essential" incompletion of the work. Indeed, it is precisely the various imprints and silhouettes of Mickey that point symptomatically to the series' essential incompletion, its lack of identity. Less an image, and less a means in which the image of Mickey is fulfilled or comes to completion, the fragmented repetition of the "icon" reveals the paintings in search of a "content." The paintings expose themselves to an incessant search for a "subject" of-for-painting, a means of carrying on painting "after" Warhol. And so the work turns on the intricate and "formal" ways in which a "pre-text" for painting-Mickey-exposes the paintings to their own lack of subject, their subject's lack as paintings. This lack would also then be a measure of their resistance to identification and gestalt apprehension, a resistance to any means of securing their own imaginary resolutions as recognizable images of painting. The work "formally" demonstrates the resources that continually displace the paintings becoming mere images of themselves. Indeed, it is this resistance which would also then constitute the work's "essential" incompletion as paintings. And it is in this sense, finally, that the work does not face its own historical contingency; rather, the work's resistance or incompletion would begin to constitute a measure of the history that the work is willing to both assume and question as a condition of its future. For that future, of course, there is no preconceived image of painting, no future that we know paintings' difference and past in advance.