Saturday, October 9, 2010

An abstract epiphany

It happened one day over 10 years ago. Up until that day I was a representational painter: a landscape artist, seeking to loosen up. That was me, that was how I saw myself, that was how I described myself. I wasn’t particularly interested in abstract art. I enjoyed some abstract  paintings, but didn’t get it and really wasn’t interested enough to go deeper. On this particular day I was in art class and we were talking about abstract expressionism and how it sat within the modern world of its time. 

In the last century a complete revolution has occurred in the way we see the world. Microscopes have opened up cellular and microscopic views, the power of flight has opened up aerial views, while telescopes and space exploration have opened up interstellar views. Painters of the day were affected by this, whether consciously or unconsciously. Jackson Pollock in particular expressed the new ways in which the world was being presented to us. Looking at his paintings with freshened eyes I could see that they might indeed be aerial views, or microscopic views where the viewer is deep inside the painting, or cosmic panoramas. I saw in them that day an incredible amount of depth and complexity that surprised and excited me.

Jackson Pollock at work

We then continued talking about ‘the mark’ and its characteristics before breaking up into small groups for a mark-making exercise.  Armed with acrylics in red, yellow, black, blue, violet and white along with brushes, palette knives, rollers, sponges and an 8 metre roll of paper we ran up and down it making repetitive marks, using a different tool and a different colour each time. I didn’t really get it, it seemed a bit pointless to me at the time: just a bit of fun.

When there was more paint than paper we discussed them. Each of the long sheets had a lovely rhythmic repetitive feel, very vigorous and colourful. They were also quite distinctive – each group had given their own flavour to their piece. We left them to dry and had lunch.

At the end of the day our teacher brought out some simple frames cut out of cardboard – a circle, a diamond and a square – and through these we looked at the most exquisite mini abstract paintings, absolutely complete within themselves, that were created by framing sections of the large gestural sheets.  It was one of the most thrilling art moments where I became quite still and the thought rang clearly in my mind “This is for me”. It was a perfect and sparkling moment of focus and desire.

I can’t stop framing my views now – looking at mini framed sections of people as I talk to them, bits of shadow on stone, an edge of lace on china, sections of peeling paint on weather-beaten wood. Until that day I looked at the overall view. Now I can see all the pieces that make up the whole – each beautiful and complete within itself.  And now I call myself a contemporary abstractionist.

windowed images from that first gestural painting

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