Friday, April 16, 2010

The Abstract of Nature and the Nature of Abstract

Have you ever wondered what makes a painting work?  Apparently we have only 5 broad tools at hand to help us put the right colour in the right place (Hawthorne).  We have shapes, colour, value, edges, and paint quality to compose with (Leffel).  If that is true, both abstracts and objective paintings would share these elements.

Dianne Shelton (well known abstract painter from Toronto) and I got together yesterday for a day of play trying the concept that a "good" objective painting and an abstract with similar shapes, colour, value, edges, and paint quality would both be viewed as "good".  To do this we traded objective paintings and then used them as a point of departure for an abstract.  This proved to be an entertaining day.  What a hoot.

Garlic, Distorted on the computer

This is the distorted image I chose from Dianne.  The original is in Switzerland.  The distortion was done to help me "see" the shapes, values etc. as opposed to the things.

I used oils for the exercise.  Dianne used acrylics because she finds them looser and more flexible.  This influenced me to use multi mineral spirits in the beginning.  I should also mention that I forgot my normal paints and had to use the "modern" palette I tested a few days ago.  That made for more "accidents" - a good thing.  I clamped loose canvas on to a piece of plywood and washed on a wack of transparent yellow, followed by a mixed dark, then with no thinking allowed some other blobs and shapes.

Before Assessment

Our working approach is quite different.  I am working vertical on an easel.  Dianne, who came from the world of water colour and painting flowers plows in and lets the painting tell her what to do right from the get go.  After my start with slop and a large brush, Dianne and I stood back and somehow we both used the same criteria for adjustments.  Her approach is quite interesting.  She used her fingernail to scrape off some paint subordinating a passage, I added some impasto the draw the eye.  We agreed that  few "incomplete" passages should remain.  We made sure there was a touch of green somewhere (A Dianneism).  Mine for Dianne was Hansa Yellow mixed into a mixed black.  I added a bit of Pthalo Green.  Then I used a tube of paint to lighten an area and add some texture in Quin Red.  Voila!

"I just love it!  It makes me happy."

The hard part to believe is that this lady dropped into the studio gallery attracted to the painting, and I am sure, our laughter.  Still harder to believe, she is from Switzerland!

Dianne hard at play with a tiny brush

Notice Dianne is dressed for the occasion with her new sweater on.  here she is adding a detail to a small.  She has a show in two weeks and needs 20 pieces.  Go girl!

Saskatoon River

Dianne is working flat here.  This one was not working so I decided to use it as a point of departure for my version.  Interesting enough, we both had trouble in the same area.

So what do you think of our concept?

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