How does the Alan Bowness quotation on page 22 (of our workbooks) relate to your experience of abstract painting? What elements are missing from this writing?
There are several phrases which I think describe well my experience of abstract painting. For example; “colours are made to advance and recede in a constantly changing relationship” could be a statement applied to the work of Rothko or of Ben Nicholson or any number of abstract painters. Colour does seem to take on an importance or primacy in abstract art works as a form of expression. I think often colour becomes the subject matter or exploration point of many abstract painters. The blue canvases of Yves Klein come to mind as an example of extreme abstraction or obsession with colour and an absence of representation of ‘things’ in art.
Interestingly I’m unsure of how to apply his comment, “there is no ground in the paintings: shapes are held suspended across the surface”. Whilst I can see how this applies to Patrick Heron’s paintings of the 1970’s such as, ‘Three Reds in Green and Magenta in Blue: April 1970’, the notion that there’s no ground or anchoring elements in abstract painting isn’t always true.
Not all abstract painters/artists have an absence of visual reference or subject matter as their inspiration. For example Patrick Heron’s ‘Azalea Garden: May 1956’ was inspired by looking out onto Azalea Bushes in his garden and this is clearly referenced in his choice of title. But it’s also reflected in the form, albeit very loosely, the rough textured, short brush strokes in their mix of colours look like a blurred version of the dotted flowers on the hedges.
Not all abstract painters saw their subject matter as literally though or wanted to make their inspiration clear to the audience. Rothko was interesting in this manner, he was recorded as saying in the Journal Possibilities,”shapes have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them, one recognises the principle and passion of organisms.” I discovered this quote on the National Gallery of Art’s Mark Rothko Slides. Finally on Rothko I found a video of curator Achim Borchardrt-Hume taking a tour of a 2008 retrospective exhibition of his works. I’ve included it below as it was interesting insight into Rothko’s work and I find it fascinating to see his works against each other.
Examples of abstract prints which I like:
In researching for abstract prints I’ve found an interesting split in the types of abstract print I admire. Some would fit very neatly into the ‘semi-abstract’ category, in that they have a clear visual reference to something or a place or form as a subject matter. Others are much more purely abstract and are more about texture and colour than recognisable forms. I find this somewhat confusing as it feels a bit like a separation in myself, and it makes me wonder how I will make prints on the theme abstract for myself but I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
‘Skye’ by Angie Lewin is clearly not a completely abstract print. The orange/red circle clearly looks like the sun low in the sky, the white shapes and black lines reaching up to it have some resemblance to organic forms, branches or leaves. There is a sense of foreground and background too, with the sky behind the sun and the organic forms in the front. But the forms are all simplified and reduced in their detail which I think is an abstraction.
‘Skye to Harris’ is another wood engraving by Angie Lewin which is abstracted. The forms are reduced to simple shapes and blocks of colour. But there’s still a sense of it being a depiction of a landscape. The sky is beige, the sea could be the blue section at the bottom, the black shape a rock or island, and the white circles the sun. I like that even int’s simplicity it has a sense of movement, possibly due to the little lines around and behind the rock, as well as the thin circles around the main white circle.
My final Angie Lewin print is this linocut, ‘Black Island’. As the title suggests it has a tangible subject form, but again it has been simplified to key elements. The central shapes or forms appear to be, the sun, the island, some organic plants or branches. I think the mix of horizontal and vertical shapes helps break up or balance the image. Again she uses little dashes or lines which I think create a sense of movement or life.
Peter Green’s prints are much more abstract than those I mentioned of Angie Lewin. But I think there’s still some sense of possible subject in his prints. In ‘Night Shore 2’ the name implies a view of the seaside. I think the print is quite dynamic with the shapes almost flowing into each other in grid like sections. The black shapes at the top of the image might suggest a distant land mass or perhaps not. The colours seem to recede and come forward at different angles, the lighter blue seems more forward than the muted green shades.
‘Winterland Form’ seems more abstracted than the previous ‘Night Shore’ but again I think you could infer some subject matter. The circle in the top right hand corner could represent the sun. The brown textured rectangle in the background could represent the horizon. It’s still hard to get a definite sense of what the print might represent but it feels balanced. I also think the muted colours work well together with the black and white adding areas of contrast.
Claire Nash works with textures and shapes to create abstract prints with layers and dimension. She often uses collagraph printing as her medium of choice. I find it harder to analyse these prints. To me this print is restless but in a good sense the textures and muted colours mean nothing seems massively dominant or in the foreground.
‘Foundation’ is a more dynamic abstract print. I think there’s more of a background created by the larger area of yellow or cream on which other shapes or forms sit. The pink strip which falls diagonally across the image seems to leap out, as does the dark circle in the right hand side. The textured blue splatters or marks give a sense of movement or fluidity which I like.
I chose the etching ‘Drifting III’ as an example of a really fluid approach to printmaking. This really looks to me like a watercolour painting and I’m fascinated by how he’s managed to create this etching. The yellow lines across the bottom sit well with the title notion of drifting as they seem to be floating away. There’s no solid shapes, the blurred edges give a sort of endless feeling to the image which I enjoy. I have no idea how I would create abstract prints like this for myself!
I really admire ‘Echoes’ by Peter Ford. There’s a reflective nature to it, not just literally in the metallic or silver colours but mostly in it’s subtlety. The colours all have a blue undertone and so blend together to create a fluidity despite the separating lines of the edges of the squares and rectangles. Texture seems to be a key element in this etching, each individual square and rectangle is marked in some way. It reminds me of the surface of ice planets, the scaring and marks which have been photographed by scientists from a distance.