Anchoring Abstraction

Impressionistic realism has been the foundation of my art for many years, but that’s starting to change as I explore mixing identifiable forms that are relatable to abstract forms that work on a different level. Abstract art has merit, but I hadn’t pursued it until now because I struggled with how to communicate with it.

Recent Abstract Experiment: Mission Dolore Park, Oil on board, 11x14
Recent Abstract Experiment: Mission Dolore Park, Oil on board, 11×14

For me, the human figure is the most relevant symbolic subject in art.  People are complex: outwardly transparent, but inwardly hidden.  We respond to the Mona Lisa because while her body is drawn to perfection, her veiled thoughts through her smile intrigues us and draws us to this painting.  So how can a painting be both approachable and mysterious?

Fast forward 450 years from Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the 1950’s Bay Area Figurative movement (lead by David Park), when an intriguing fusion of figurative art combined with Abstract Expressionism. Painters in this school ( David ParkRichard Diebenkorn, Elmer BischoffWayne Thiebaud…) had different reasons for mixing figurative representation and abstraction, but many found a dead end in Abstract Expressionism’s ability to communicate. They resisted being constrained by a formal “school”, but instead believed in taking freely from both figurative and abstract traditions.

I’m working on a series now that uses the figure as an anchor, like this movement.  In one of these paintings (“Green Shorts”, below), a solitary figure stares out at an abstracted plane, resembling the sea. (or, is it a clouded sky?).

"Green Shorts", oil on board, 16x12"
“Green Shorts”, oil on board, 16×12″

The figure is used as an entrance into this world of sunshine and contemplation.  He stands on the picture plane as if an observer himself to the alternating bands of blues, violets and grays.  It’s designed in such a way that his surroundings are open to interpretation: he could be in a museum (barefoot—probably not allowed!) surrounded by a large painting himself.

I had a lot of fun with this one.  While the reference photo I used is in fact of a man at the beach, the viewer can have fun with this and imagine other scenarios. For example, he could be standing on flat land, looking out at distant snow-capped hills, sky, and clouds above.  If you were not told this was the sea, could you see alternative realities like this for his view?

This ambiguity is what interests me, because I believe strongly that the best art requires participation by the viewer. Just as decoding the Mona Lisa’s thoughts are the viewer’s creation, I seek to give the viewer the opportunity to find their own meaning. This makes the painting theirs through co-creation between viewer and artist.

So that’s what I’m working on.  It is fun creating these worlds, but not easy—art never is!

Postscript: This series will probably be shown in San Francisco at Spark Arts, in April, but specifics TBD.

2 thoughts on “Anchoring Abstraction”

  1. Wonderful post. Interesting comments on the art movements and “Green Shorts’ itself is somewhat restrained yet portentous. It has tremendous weight and clarity to it, yet as you note, leaves plenty up to the viewer.

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