Tuesday, 17 March 2009

What is abstraction?

I have attempted abstraction with varying degrees of success over the last 15 years or so. In searching for a description that most fitted with my experience I found this quote. It sums up what I believe I aim to achieve at some stage with my work:

"A conscious decision to eliminate certain details and include selective bits of personal experiences or perceptual nuances, gives the painting more of a multi-dimension than when it is done directly as a visual recording. This results in a kind of abstraction... and thus avoids the pitfalls of mere decoration."
Wayne Thiebaud (1920-), American painter. See decorative arts and Pop Art.

I have started a new painting in which I hope to use this technique. In the past I have not felt comfortable with the process. My tendency has always to "objectify" the elements. If there are obscure areas withing the work I will stare at the canvas and try to find recognisable forms there. Although at first glance the painting may be chaotic, when you look more closely, give it time, you will see that there are familiar subjects within it. Painting from a conscious "unconscious" position, I realise that certain images recur in my work. I can do nothing about them, they just appear, uninvited. I try to paint them out to no avail. They simply reappear somewhere else on the painting! I am learning to live with these symbols whether I want to paint them or not. They insist on being there. These are often circus images, elephants, buck, lighthouses, houses, trees, goats or horses, clowns or the human figure. In this sense I have not mastered the art of abstraction. I hope one day I will.

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