I was surprised by how much I love painting abstracts. Just playing with color, design, textures is so freeing and creative. There’s no worry involved, no trying to make the work look like something in particular, or any hesitation to try something new for fear I’ll “ruin” it.
Yet it’s not like I begin with no thought in mind. I have a sense of what I want to create or capture. It’s not like I’m just throwing down color willy-nilly, although I suppose there would be nothing wrong with doing that either. But I like the creative process of laying down lines, swirls, design and adding paint to create a sense of balance, interest, complication, and completion. Each layer or choice adds something distinct and interesting to the whole.
In this first piece I started with that primal swirl in white oil pastel, then added the three slanted lines at the top in gold oil pastel. After that I dropped in various hues of blue, wet-on-wet so they could mix and mingle, and let it dry. When dry I added the dark blue dripping at the top, coaxing the drips around the oil pastel. I added the dark gold at the bottom and in various places for interest and balance, then let it dry again. In the last pass I toned down the gold pastel with blue pastel, added more “sparkles” and swirls of white and gold pastel, then more blue pastel toward the center of the major swirl to help the white pop.
It was all a careful, studied consideration, born of intuition and gut-feel, to reach the balance and interest I was looking for. My love of blue and gold in combination was given full rein to play with each other, and I noticed how my favorite doodles when I’m lost in thought made their way into the painting as well.
In the end, this piece reminds me of the night sky, with its swirling galaxies, shooting stars, and so on. Although intentionally, that wasn’t what I had started out to create, I think my love for the night sky, that mystery and romance, was expressed here subconsciously.
I think that’s what I love about the making of abstract art, the little I’ve done so far, surprising myself with what gets pulled up subconsciously from some deeper inner reservoir. It’s what I’ve always loved about writing too, surprising myself with what comes out on paper.
The next piece I created was totally different in style and by intention. I wanted to experiment with lifting out a figure from layers of paint, which I did on the right. I wanted bright primal colors. After the deep blue and red on the right I laid down a brilliant yellow and then a dark gold below. Then I added the marks at the top and bottom left purely for what I thought would be “interesting” and enough to balance with the dark red and blue on the other side without taking away too much attention from that vague ghostly figure, which I saw as being the main focus.
When I reached what appeared to be an interesting balance, I stopped. “Man in Motion” came to me unbidden when I looked at the figure, so I suppose I will name it that, although what that means, if anything, I do not know.
This last piece was inspired by my love of scarlet and gold “in conversation.” I decided to split the painting into two unequal wholes. I started with swirls of gold and red oil pastel across the whole sheet. Then I used masking tape to divide the two sides and began splashing on two or three variations of red, one on top of the other, wet on wet. I did the same with yellow and gold on the other side. Then I used crushed cellophane to add pattern and texture to both sides. Finally I added some drips of blue on the red, and drips of dark gold and red on the yellow side.
But I wasn’t quite satisfied.
So I did something dangerous and daring. I added a strip of dark blue across the middle of the yellow side. It was awful! I thought I had ruined it and began trying to sponge it away, then I washed and scrubbed it, but a green stain remained. So I added more yellow on top of it and added more swirls of gold oil pastel. And I kept playing and experimenting until finally I was satisfied, and decided I liked this better than what I had before after all.
This is what I ended up with. For some reason the colors seem brighter in the previous photo than in this one, but in actuality, this is as rich and luminous as the one above. However, this final version seems more interesting and “complete” to me than the first, which seemed to lack “something,” a depth, perhaps, or focus, or darker interest.
Anyway, I enjoyed this whole process so much, I know I’ll be painting more abstracts.
Knowing little about abstract art I did some research online and found this essay on the Metropolitan Art Museum website. It was fascinating how many abstract artists felt they were tapping into some “universal inner sources” when they painted, and how they felt their works “stood as reflections of their individual psyches.” I also like how “these artists valued spontaneity and improvisation, and accorded the highest importance to process.”
“For Abstract Expressionists, the authenticity or value of a work lay in its directness and immediacy of expression. A painting is meant to be a revelation of the artist’s authentic identity.”
I suppose that’s why someone like me who is playing with art and doing it purely for my own pleasure and interest would be drawn toward the abstract. And no doubt it is why the creation of art itself can be such a healing activity.
The essay ends with this interesting bit about the “expressive potential of color,” and the artist’s quest for the sublime.
Mature Abstract Expressionism: Color Field
Another path lay in the expressive potential of color. Rothko, Newman, and Still, for instance, created art based on simplified, large-format, color-dominated fields. The impulse was, in general, reflective and cerebral, with pictorial means simplified in order to create a kind of elemental impact. Rothko and Newman, among others, spoke of a goal to achieve the “sublime” rather than the “beautiful,” harkening back to Edmund Burke in a drive for the grand, heroic vision in opposition to a calming or comforting effect. . . . For Rothko, his glowing, soft-edged rectangles of luminescent color should provoke in viewers a quasi-religious experience, even eliciting tears.
Certainly color and color combinations have always had a particular hold on me, even to the point of a “quasi-religious experience” that has led to a “tearing up.” It’s how I judge art in general, not so much for its beauty but for its ability to move me, whether toward the sublime or in some other deeply felt way. This is true for me both as a maker of art and a lover of art.
Love, I think, is the glue that holds it altogether.