DisegnoVeronika Wenger Lecture at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts 2023
Veronika Wenger
Lecture at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, December 18, 2023

The divine nature […] that repeats all visible works
– Leonardo da Vinci

The line as a repetition of nature becomes an intermediate area in which it becomes nature itself through the repetition of nature, before it becomes decoration, drawing, symbol or language.

sottosopraVeronika Wenger 2022 115 x 100 cm, marker, tape, pencil on paper
Veronika Wenger 2022
115 x 100 cm, marker, tape, pencil on paper

Using this bowl as an example, I can see the repetition of nature, the person who shaped this bowl and drew the line. She repeated nature, much like hands form a bowl to drink from, and I see the material, the earth and the color repeating the forms of nature. I see the unity of the person, the bowl and the line as a performative act that creates the bowl with this line as a repetition of nature and thus becomes a unity. This is lost the more the line becomes drawing, decoration, sign or narration.

Second half of 12th c.Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens
Second half of 12th c.
Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens

The line makes everything seen visible, the outlines of the bodies, the spaces in between, the „connecting of distinctions” (Bernhard Lypp). What the line makes visible as a line, painting makes visible by covering it with paint.

ObachtVeronika Wenger 2021 160 x 150 cm, marker, acrylic, pencil on paper
Veronika Wenger 2021
160 x 150 cm, marker, acrylic, pencil on paper

It is difficult for me to keep my lines on the outside, on the form and direction given by an apple, for example, or any object, or even space, landscape, etc. Since I gave in to the lines, to free them from the tensions, the direction, the form, they jump around on the page…

In painting, color has always been more important to me than space or object. Perhaps I have now also arrived at the material in drawing.

petit déjeunerVeronika Wenger 2021 160 x 150 cm, marker, tape, pencil on paper
petit déjeuner
Veronika Wenger 2021
160 x 150 cm, marker, tape, pencil on paper
What does Disegno mean?

Since painting by necessity gave birth to perspective (perché l pittore è quello, che per necessità della su arte ha partorito essa prospettiva, § 17; 1500/05), to drawing in general, painting is a central science (“… for the divinity of the science of painting contemplates both human and divine works, which are delimited by their surfaces, i.e. the outlines of bodies …”, § 23; ca.1492 ); it is this also for the sculptor, the architect, the decorator, the goldsmith, for weavers and embroiderers; it has invented letters to express itself in different languages, numerals for arithmetic, figures for geometry; it teaches perspective, astronomers, cosmographers, craftsmen and engineers (§§ 23: ca.1492; 17: 1500/05; 25, 28: ca.1500).
– Leonardo da Vinci

Is the line/color divine when the drawer/painter turns around and looks at ideality?

The line/color is what the drawer/painter chooses by creating an order or a frame?

Does the line/color make an ideal appear? Or is the line/color an imitation, an artificial construct or decoration?

Disegno is:
Line, stroke – drawing.
Ornament – decoration.
Jewelry – symbol.
Writing – language.
Color – painting.
In all of this the line / color remains present
Disegno 1: Observation 1st order
Simple observation of nature:
Line, color as a unit of connecting of distinctions (nature)

Disegno as a line is a “connecting of distinctions” (Bernhard Lypp), a concatenation of distinctions. The connecting of distinctions can be made visible by drawing a line. The line here is the visualization of the “chaotic” world. The line corresponds to the visualization of a person’s seeing/perceiving. What is seen / perceived is shown in a drawn line. The line is the medium of the disegno, which marks – does not mark. The line is part of “nature”/“reality”/“world”, “cosmos”.

Tag und Nacht Veronika Wenger 2021 digital drawing, Full HD
Tag und Nacht
Veronika Wenger 2021
Digital drawing, Full HD

Disegno as color is a “connecting of distinctions” through the application of color. Distinctions can only be made visible by concealing them, by concatenating surfaces.

CherubVeronika Wenger 2023 120 x 100 cm, spray, marker, pencil, tape on paper
Veronika Wenger 2023
120 x 100 cm, spray, marker, pencil, tape on paper

Line and color approach or merge with each other. By drawing the line and “applying color through movement” (Oleksiy Koval), distinctions become visible, “marked – unmarked” (Spencer Brown).

Disegno as ornament is a repeating line/color and ordering factor.

Ornament is order. The origin of ornament is disegno as line/color, infinite line and infinite color.

Color becomes ornament by covering/filling the spaces in between. The connecting of colors divided into distinctions makes the ornament visible.

Ornament corresponds to observation/systematization.

Disegno here is not the imitation of nature, but nature as form, ordered / seen as repetition: as ornament that makes the cosmos visible through line or color.

Disegno as an ornamental connection of distinctions. “The ornamental line is part of nature”. (Niklas Luhmann)

Does the ornament form a frame for the exclusion, e.g. for the white sheet or canvas?

13Oleksiy Koval, 2019 140 x 130 cm, ink on synthetic textile
Oleksiy Koval, 2019
140 x 130 cm, ink on synthetic textile

If one takes the theory of the combination of forms as a starting point, then it is obvious to assume in conditions where there is no corresponding concept, let alone an autonomous art system, that the origin of art lies in ornament. One could venture a comparison: what the evolution of language meant for the evolution of society is the evolution of the ornamental for the evolution of the art system; in both cases, long-lasting preparatory work with ultimately eruptive consequences once communication is so secure in itself that boundaries become recognizable. But initially it is not the difference between thing and ornament that is emphasized, but precisely the unity, the emphasis on meaning. “Cosmos” in the Greek understanding is
both order and decoration.
– Luhmann, “Art as a Social System”

Disegno as jewelry can be a cut-out ornament or an ornament cast in a form, which can be a line, symbol, sign or color. If the ornament is detached from the connecting of distinctions and artificially repeated, it becomes decoration. The ornament is transferred to the world of signs, writing and symbols.

Disegno as jewelry can be a cut-out ornament or an ornament cast in a form, which can be a line, symbol, sign or color. If the ornament is detached from the connecting of distinctions and artificially repeated, it becomes decoration. The ornament is transferred to the world of signs, writing and symbols.

Disegno 2: 2nd order observation
The observation that observes itself:
Drawing, Painting, Drawing a distinction, Making decisions, marked / unmarked

Disegno as drawing and painting.

Drawing and painting create a surface that conceals or covers “nature” in order to allow it to emerge anew through reason and a certain selection of distinctions, which becomes communication about drawing/painting through its own language, a system of signs. Disegno in the sense of making decisions, marked / unmarked. Drawing is the performative stroke, painting the performative application of color or the representation of appearance or idea.

On the surface, the disegno can appear as color or line, in the sense of ornament and the eye. Or as an eruption of line or color as drawing, painting, image, imitation, which replaces what is seen through the imagination of a person. The drawing, painting becomes a projection surface and interruption of the ornament. The surface itself becomes a distinction in the unity of the ornament / cosmos and is absorbed into the surrounding frame (nature).

In this, in the term drawing, the outline, the disegno, the tradition of the ornamental is continued.
– Niklas Luhmann

Is the performative stroke, the performative application of color, the infinite line, the infinite color, the disegno of the depictive perception of the eye?

PandoraVeronika Wenger 2020 120 x 150 cm, acrylic, marker, pencil on paper
Veronika Wenger 2020
120 x 150 cm, acrylic, marker, pencil on paper

Painting and drawing converge or merge through the use of line and color. The tracing and application of color of distinctions through the movement of drawing the line and applying the color become Disegno 2.

As part of the whole, the surface / canvas again becomes part of the ornament.

The ornament forms the frame for the section of the drawing or painting.

Victory Boogie Woogie Piet Mondriaan, 1942 - 1944
Victory Boogie Woogie
Piet Mondrian, 1942 – 1944

Mondrian paints distinctions as surface on surface and thereby makes the ornament, the world, visible. “Victory Boogie Woogie” is Disegno (nature, cosmos, eye), a unity of painting and ornament, in the sense of “cosmos”. The search for the “right color on color” as an ordering ornament, as a necessity rooted in the cosmos.

Mont Sainte-VictoirePaul Cézanne c.1906
Mont Sainte-Victoire
Paul Cézanne c.1906

Cézanne creates the disegno (nature, cosmos, eye) through the sequence of color, chain of distinctions through color. He arranges the nature he sees through color, color on color, applying color instead of drawing a line. It becomes ornament, reality through color.

Otto, Sei, Tre, Uno, DueOleksiy Koval, 2023 297 x 210 mm, ink on paper
Otto, Sei, Tre, Uno, Due
Oleksiy Koval, 2023
297 x 210 mm, ink on paper

Oleksiy Koval arrives at disegno (nature, cosmos, eye) by recognizing the system. The application of color to the surface, composition, numbers, rhythm and movement becomes the order of things, an ornament.

Disegno 3: 3rd order observation
Observation translates and transports into systems as
design, image, writing, language, picture, narration
Il Guercino: Allegorie des Disegno und der Malerei, um 1640; Getty Center
Allegory of Disegno and Painting
Il Guercino, 1640; Getty Center

Drawing is also the design, realization of the imagined world or the imitation of the visible or the creation of an artificial world. Drawing thus corresponds to communication.

Here begins the imitation of nature, the image of nature, the representation of appearance instead of form and color, writing in pictures, the beginning of the narrative. Communication, pictures, storytelling, detach themselves from the context of the ornament to their own language and writing.

Disegno as line and drawing includes

1. the unity of connecting of distinctions (as nature, as cosmos)

2. drawing a distinction, marked/non marked, drawing

3. language, writing, image

For one drinkVeronika Wenger 2020 Digital drawing, Central Station Munich 2021
For one drink
Veronika Wenger 2020
Digital drawing, Central Station Munich 2021

The more the line is not abstract, even becomes a stroke, the more the curtain is pulled away and reveals a view of reality. It makes the communication between line and stroke visible and opens the viewer’s eyes to the world.

Black LineVeronika Wenger 2017 Istanbul Art Fair Tüyap
Black Line
Veronika Wenger 2017
Istanbul Art Fair Tüyap

The more depictive a line is, becoming a drawing, the more artificially and artistic it becomes. It places a veil over reality through which the viewer sees the world.

Veronika Wenger
Munich, December 8, 2023

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Veronika Wenger, take I, 2014, 240 x 240 cm, carbon and spray on wall. Photo © Klaus Mauz

Historically, drawing was not an autonomous medium. Nobody gave much thought as to whether a drawing was abstract or non-abstract, it merely existed to design something or to find a sign for something. Drawing was used for sketching, studying, or preparing a painting.

For me, the most important aspect of drawing is the difference between the line and the drawing itself. The line is able to visualise movement in space, for instance, dancing, writing or speaking. A line can represent a word, a leaf that flies, a passer-by, an accidental or conscious movement. The recorded movement maps a form onto the surface. A line segment from point A to point B.


I have to draw a line to mark the line segment. I have to draw a line to visualise movement. Writing therefore, is a good example. Writing visualises speech through a line. It also shows a movement; from left to right, top to bottom, or right to left. Then, is speech movement? It at least has a direction and duration, which is shown linearly by writing or by the recording of a waveform.

Why do I draw? Why do I need to visualise something? It is not to get something off one’s mind, or to remember something, because sometimes I try to erase traces to disperse anything that has left too many marks.

Spoken language is always changing, so it can only be defined temporarily. The written language, however, remains a sign which does not loose validity over time. Its meaning remains, both as a sign and as a registered movement.

The drawing represents the visible and uncovers imagination, ideas, reflections and intuitions. Drawing can come in many forms; it can be documentation, information or art. But it is always communication.

The rhythm of the movement over time has to be in the line, by itself. Finding the right rhythm, composition, or the right movement, is to draw a distinction between abstraction and non-abstraction. In the end the difference is that if I draw a dancer, the movement of a dancer, this is in a way abstract because there is content, but the spectator can also appreciate the way in which I drew the dancer.

Veronika Wenger, draw a distinction, 2018, 160 x 125 cm, marker on plastic

But if the movement is only shown by the line, the distinction is shown by the line, then the rhythm is the line– the drawing shown by the pure line. In this case the line is not an abstract line. It is a line. This line forms the drawing, and now the spectator has to deal with it as if it were a part of a language (in the sense that it is the base of the form) in the same way you make sense out of a string of letters. Speech, for example, is not abstract. The sound is a part of reality, as is the letter. It is real, only the meaning, the imagination, and the sensation the letter represents is in a way abstract.

Veronika Wenger, red line, 2016, 135 x 150 cm, pencil and marker on plastics. Photo © Klaus Mauz

A line on a surface marks a border or a sign on the unmarked or marked space. So the line visualises the negative space and becomes a form. The line is the unmarked space of the drawing or writing. 

What is abstraction?

Veronika Wenger, drawing03, pencil, marker on paper, 160 cm x 150 cm, 2015

The dancer – the drawing is an abstraction of nature in a composition of drawing or writing. But the line on the surface is not an abstraction – it is a line – especially a line marked by tape is no abstraction. It is a line, it is (a piece of) reality.

Veronika Wenger, Black Line, marker pencil on wall, Istanbul Art Fair Tüyap 2017
Photo © Rhythm Section

It is a line, it is (a piece of) reality. You have to think about what a line is in your imagination, in your mind or in reality.

Veronika Wenger, Ж, 2018, 160 x 125 cm, tape and marker on plastic

A line on a surface can be conscious or unconscious, it can mark something or trace something. This is what I like when I am walking around, finding a composition on a wall or a floor created by accident, made by ‘real life’, the imprint of the world.

To draw or work with the line as an artist seems easy, but the truth is that it is very difficult to find the right line.

An abstract drawing means to find a balance between making ‘the invisible visible and the visible visible’ influenced by the history of drawing.


Veronika Wenger, Guangzhou, March, 2019

Many thanks for assistance in the translation to Michael Wright and Simon Eastwood

A lecture in the context of an international symposium at the Guangzhou Art Academy on the topic THE PAST AND THE FUTURE OF ABSTRACT ART

International Symposium
Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
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