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."

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


Cueva del Castillo, Spain, circa 40,000 BC

Images from the Internet