Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thoughts on abstraction

I'm writing this post as a response to my own initial inability to understand abstraction in art. It may turn out that I still don't understand abstract art, or don't even have half a clue as to what I'm talking about; but, art is supposed to be a continual learning process, so if I can at least learn from today's opinions later on, then I'll be doing okay...

Prior to 2007, I had no appreciation of abstract art, generally speaking, especially abstraction without realistic representation. I did like Rothko, but only for the colors. I couldn't connect with most abstract art, and I tended to feel that "anybody could do that..." or "it looks like something a child painted". I didn't see the point of it, which made me cynical. Things really came to a head for me in March of that year, when I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and walked into a room with four walls, each having an extremely large, solid colored abstract hanging on it; one was army green, another was grey, another was white, and the final one was a dingy orange (I think...). In the middle of the room was a wooden bench you could sit on. The simplest way to describe my mood when I walked into that room and saw those paintings was: pissed off. Anybody could do that. What was the artist trying to say? Why on earth were large canvases painted a single color wasting my time being in such a prestigious gallery space? What made it even worse was that my boyfriend at the time thought it was brilliant... the art and, particularly, my reaction to it (which may have been the whole point, but I digress...).

This difference of opinion, of course, sparked a discussion - one that ended with the following question: "What color will you paint the painting that will hang in our corridor when we live together?" It was a question that would be marred by emotional complications starting the very next morning - a question that I would never give him an answer to, even though it would inspire an internal artistic dialogue that would result in me finally understanding that no, not just anyone can do that and no, a child couldn't have painted that. I also figured out the color of the painting that would never hang in our corridor... red, the color of anger and passion. But I couldn't have known that at the time; in fact, I had to do battle with the color orange first.

The painting that appears in this photo is called Corridor Cicatriz. It took me six months to finally paint this; I had to do four other iterations before I came to the answer, because all of my other attempts also involved the prominent presence of a disruptive orange, which only appears as a distant memory on this canvas, in the form of a light scar... The entire process of deciding which color needed to stand alone was a journey and this painting is only the end of the road I had to travel. It may look like someone just slapped some red on a canvas, but the execution of the paint application was very carefully planned and spontaneously executed; one small misstep and the whole thing would have been ruined. I painted this in about 15 minutes time, but yet it took me six months to know that this is what I had to paint. There is so much passion and emotion tied up in the application of the paint that I know I would not achieve this same effect were I to try and paint this today. Not that I would try to paint this today; I don't need to say what I urgently needed to say back in 2007, and that makes all the difference in the world.

The experience from seven years ago taught me that abstract art is not arbitrary, but I still wasn't able to understand the non-fiery emotional reasons to pursue it. I paint abstractly a lot these days, but still don't always understand where it comes from or why I do it; I've stopped fighting it in favor of just letting it happen and, in the process, am discovering some theories about what abstract art can mean.

For me, there are two necessary components that a piece of abstract art needs to have (and the seeming lack of one or both of these components in some artists' oeuvre still... pisses me off...): being meaningful for the artist, and having some anchor in a recognizable form or function so that the viewer may "read into" it. I think the viewer (and/ or buyer) should be able to "see" something in the work, even if it is not what the artist intended. And the artist should have intended something, even if the canvas was doing most of the driving. By this I mean that even if the artist is "just going with the flow", there should be a feeling or emotion or inspiration behind the movement of the brush. Maybe the artist is painting a Dvorak; maybe the artist is painting a memory; maybe the artist is inspired and taken by a particular color or exploration of a form. Additionally, the titling of an abstract should be as loose as possible (I still struggle with this, if you couldn't tell...) so as to not influence the viewer too much, or else they may never see what they were meant to see, particularly if they don't think to rotate the canvas if they feel they are limited from doing so by what the title implies.

The best part about doing abstract work is when people tell you what they see in a painting; it never ceases to amaze me what others see that I could never have seen without their help!

20 x 16 inches, acrylic on pre-stretched canvas. #5 in a series of 5, which are for sale as one piece of work.

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