Friday, September 24

When a Ditch is just a Shape

Nele Tas About Christmas 2005 (via BAM)
Grier Edmundson The Work Ahead of Us
2009 (via 1430)

I switched majors in college because Illustration wasn't teaching me enough about painting. I thought the act of painting alone was enough. But that put me in the position to approach subject matter very literally. Illustrative. Today I am still trying to teach myself how to paint - or - how to paint, paint, not things. How to break things apart. How to paint abstractly.

I always seem to think from figurative means to abstraction. I actually remind myself constantly to step back, squint or find a means of obstructing my observation - ways of breaking my vision. Another words, I am always turning towards representational means to articulate something, but find more and more that my subject matter means less and less. There is something else I am looking for at an abstract level.

Maureen Gallace Cape Cod, Early September 2008
Seeing the work of Nele Tas reminded me of that today. Alot of his paintings of crowds are very abstract, but snag us using recognizable body-like shapes. It's as if the artist is using objective shapes as non-objective shapes. Figurative, or literal shapes (in this case bodies) as marks in themselves. It got me thinking: maybe lots of representational painters aren't even lingering on figurative means. Maybe, even, they're approaching representational subject matter with abstraction.

In my process, it wasn't until seeing Grier Edmundson's work at Fourteen Thirty Contemporary last year that I truly began to understand a painting with figurative subject matter could convince me not of the narrative but of the painted relationships. Or even that those abstract relationships could create a stronger representational narrative. Grier Edmundson is also alot like Luc Tuymans.

Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape I 1963
Grier Edmundson Untitled
2009 (via 1430)
So maybe it is just my own growth with the medium, but since I've realized all the painters I am gravitating towards are not figurative painters as I would have traditionally labeled them, but maybe more aptly: abstract painters using subject matter just to explore paint. The in between intersect is what I find interesting.

Hurvin Anderson Peter's 3 2007 (via Thomas Dane Gallery)
I began to first understand what abstract marks, even in representational images, are when seeing (one of my now favorite) Diebenkorn paintings from the Ocean Park series, Cityscape I. Diebenkorn is of course known for toying with abstraction and then figurative means.But the Ocean Park Series is incredible in it's serial change into abstraction of a subject matter entirely banal (Cezanne explored this much earlier - perhaps leading into Abstraction - with Trees). I see the same reference to this in the young, Sarah Awad's paintings. Her Ditch Painting #5 is such a great exercise in finding a shape and composition.

Sarah Awad Ditch Painting #5 2010 (via Sarah Awad)
What I mean is: Abstraction changed the language of painting. It seems following Abstraction, painters began opening up and letting that language in. Of course painters have always taught themselves to deconstruct the world and rebuild it using, essentially, abstract mark making (a head does not exist with a pencil mark). But now very overtly, painters are dashing back and forth between pure Representation and Abstraction, and maybe using the medium in it's most exciting way yet.

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