Steven Alexander, Tracer #3, 2014, 36 x 32 inches, acrylic on canvas
There is a common misconception about abstraction that surfaced in a recent statement by a prominent practitioner of figure compositions:
"Completely abstract paintings, in which there is no figure, landscape, still life or other subject, are about composition itself. We see the paint as paint. We see the color and texture and value and the way paint was applied, the gestural touch of the painter's hand."
An abstract painting is not a design project. Accomplished abstraction is NEVER just "about composition itself". It participates in a long and diverse legacy of ontological investigation and proposition. It embodies, through specific resonances of color, configuration and physicality, a sense of place -- psychological, physical, existential. It proposes the potential for meaning through the agency of visual metaphor and presence. It reflects a cosmology that is not anthropocentric or dogmatic, but concerned with open and ineffable experience, and built upon ambiguity, speculation, and uncertainty.
A very abbreviated tour of abstraction through time:
Walter De Maria
Tantric Painting, India, 20th century
Aboriginal Australia, 20th century
Weaving, Navajo, 19th century
Textile, Ghana, 19th century
Tiebele, West Africa
New Mexico, circa 1200
Textile, Peru, circa 1200
Greek, 8th century BC
Minoan, 1800 BC
Cueva del Castillo, Spain, circa 40,000 BC
Images from the Internet
Joan Mitchell, Tilleul (Linden Tree), 1977, 37 x 29 inches, oil on canvas
Two wonderful exhibitions in Chelsea feature artists of the same generation but somewhat different worlds: Joan Mitchell: Trees at Cheim & Read (through August 29, 2014), and Robert De Niro Sr, Paintings and Drawings, 1948-1989 at DC Moore (through July 31, 2014). Both artists build paintings of exquisite beauty out of the rawest materiality of the medium and the language. Both retained throughout their lives an essential connection to the impulses and structures of observed reality. Both sustained their dogged individualism and dedication in the face of considerable marginalization. Without exception, their canvases breathe with the deepest exuberance and love.
Joan Mitchell, Trees, 1990-91, 94 x 157 inches, oil on canvas
Joan Mitchell, First Cypress, 1964, 88 x 78 inches, oil on canvas
Joan Mitchell, Cypresses, 1975, 77 x 102 inches, oil on canvas
Joan Mitchell, Red Tree, 1976, 103 x 63 inches, oil on canvas
Joan Mitchell, Trees, 1990-91, 87 x 157 inches, oil on canvas
Robert De Niro Sr, Still Life w/ Vase of Flowers, Lemons, Chair, Guitar, 1989, 34 x 40 inches, oil on linen
Robert De Niro Sr, St. Juste-en-Chavelet, 1963, 28 x 23 inches, oil on linen
Robert De Niro Sr, Nude with Green Pants, 1970, 36 x 28 inches, oil on linen
Robert De Niro Sr, Untitled Still Life with Chair, 1960, 54 x 38 inches, oil on linen
Robert De Niro Sr, Birdcage, 2 Vases and Flowers, 1981, 40 x 30 inches, oil on linen
When was the last time you saw a Soutine painting...in Chelsea? When was the last time you saw 16 Soutine paintings anywhere outside of Paris? Every one is a knockout. Not to be missed by any painter who can get there -- Chaim Soutine: Life in Death at Paul Kasmin through June 14, 2014.