17.7.14

Notes on Abstraction

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, and proposes the potential for meaning through the agency of visual metaphor and presence. Abstraction 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: 

Ron Gorchov

Terry Winters


Brice Marden


Richard Long


Blinky Palermo

Forrest Bess


Joan Snyder


Louise Fishman


Richard Tuttle


Walter De Maria


Cy Twombly


Jasper Johns


Robert Rauschenberg


Joan Mitchell


Agnes Martin


Mark Rothko


Barnett Newman


Piet Mondrian


Kazimir Malevich


Paul Klee


Wassily Kandinsky


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


Ethiopia


Cueva del Castillo, Spain, circa 40,000 BC

Images from the Internet