Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Objects Fight Back: Abstraction and Fantasy

First of all, many thanks to those people--you know who you are--who have gently reminded me over the past few months that it's a long time since I added to my blog, and have indicated that you would like me to write some more. Belatedly, here is my first post of 2014.

Most of my painting time in 2013 was taken up with experiments in abstraction (please see blog posts of October and November.) At the end of the year I was left with two unfinished canvases that leaned accusingly against the wall and demanded attention. I had started both of them in the same workshop on Intuitive Painting that produced my "Images of War" series. The instructor had asked participants in the workshop to bring three objects. I turned up with an apple made of wood, a soapstone carving of two seals, and an iron key rack depicting two human figures carrying fish. I can't remember why I chose those particular items, except that they are all treasured possessions, but I do recall wanting representations of living or organic things that were not actually very realistic.

There was a catch, though. At the workshop we were asked to swap one of our objects with another student. With a pang I let go of my smooth, shiny apple and acquired instead a posable model dog, another object that was recognizable but certainly not realistic. In fact,
in size, colour, material and detailing all four objects were nothing like the originals, though they weren't much abstracted, either. 

Our instructor, artist Eri Ishii, then wanted us to make a composition of our three objects, working intuitively and not being too concerned with realism. I produced two paintings, neither of which Iooked finished and neither of which impressed me as something I wanted to keep. Unfortunately I did not take a photograph of the first effort, and have only the vaguest memory of it. I do remember that it had some awkward straight lines derived from the edges of the table on which the objects were arranged. I did photograph my second attempt, after fiddling with it a bit more after the workshop. This is what it looked like:
The seals are easily recognizable, and in a way the dog is too, though I couldn't help thinking it looked more like a human figure with its hands over its ears in a "hear no evil" pose. The little fish are peeking out from under the base of the dog model, but the fishermen have disappeared. The painting is weird, and I'm not sure about the sizzling hot colours, but part of me wonders why I didn't just accept it as a bit of surrealism . . . or else plough it under and reuse the canvas.

Anyway, that's not what happened. After almost a year the two paintings were still leaning against the wall, challenging me to do something. In the case of the one pictured above I eliminated the platform to which the dog was attached, so that the amorous seals, which had been awkwardly perched on a sort of diving-board, were now resting on a flat surface, and the fishermen with their catch emerged into full view. I also got rid of the hot colours and modified the background shapes. Finished product:
Meeting of Three Objects - acrylic - 18" x 24" - 2014
Did I improve it, or did I lose something important in the reworking? I can't decide. Your opinion is welcomed!

The other painting is much more abstract and very little of the original still life remains. You can still distinguish the shapes of the dog and the seals, but the key rack is gone, apart from a schematic reference to the hooks--the elongated feet of the fishermen. The other shapes evolved from areas of negative space. I moved things around and overpainted, much as I did with my "Intuitions" series of 2013. The assemblage of shapes seems to be floating through space.
Abstraction from Three Objects - acrylic - 16" x 20" - 2014

The other day I found a reusable frame lying around and tried it on this painting. This will give you an idea:
Adding a frame somehow adds stature and authority to a painting. At any rate I liked Abstraction from Three Objects a lot more, and it occurred to me that it's rather a restful work and that the colours would go with the decor of my bedroom. So this Cinderella of a painting has found a home, at least for now. As for me, I'm sure I will continue to feel the gravitational pull of both realism and abstraction.

Two announcements: My series of paintings "The Sky Beneath" is currently on display at the Tsawwasswen Arts Centre, 1172  56th St.. Delta. The show continues until August 29. I wrote about these paintings in this blog, April 12, 2012.

My series "Artists at Work" will be on display at the West End Community Centre September 8 - 27. address: 870 Denman St., Vancouver. I wrote about this series November 13, 2012, but have added two more "artists" to the collection since then.