Most of my paintings over the past several years have been abstract, in fact, very much so. They fall into the category of “non-objective abstract” paintings. So what does that mean? Basically, it means the artist does not have objects from the tangible world in mind, but rather is using color, line, texture, and form either as ends in themselves or as the means for expressing an idea. (I don’t know if that definition is acceptable to an art historian, but it works for me.) The viewer may find in the art a hint of the real world, and choose to interpret it with that in mind, but the artist does not necessarily have that intent.
My paintings Strong and Submerged are good examples. Both paintings leave the viewer on her own to find meaning, although the titles are fine clues as to intent. Cliffside is another work that perhaps implies “real” content by the title, but it’s expression, not depiction. I’ve long felt a strong connection to the abstract expressionists, like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, among others.
Recently I’ve painted works that could be labeled as “objective abstraction.” In them, it seems obvious that I’ve chosen tangible subject matter, flowers or mesas, for example, but the objects are simplified. While the colors and shapes may or may not be representational of the actual subject, the viewer has no trouble identifying it. Pink Flowers on Green Table couldn’t be much clearer as to content, but realistic detail is at a minimum. Desert Sentinels is obviously a landscape, but again, the effort is to keep details to a minimum while creating the ambience of the stark, lonely desert. One could make an argument that these paintings are tied to the school of Impressionism, but since I don’t regard myself as an impressionist painter, I’m sticking with objective abstraction if attaching a genre is necessary.
I’m distinguishing between the two types of work in order to set up a problem I’ve recognized. Here it is: when painting non-objective works like Strong and Submerged, I know when the painting is done. It’s done when I’ve gone through my process and the end result pleases me. There may be some twists and turns before arriving, but I seldom micro-manage the final stage. No temptation to niggle with the details. I know when I’m done.
This is so much harder to do with tangible content that I want to break down to its essence. Simplification, it seems, is hard. Sometimes I use my own photographic references intending to create a very spare interpretation of, for example, a landscape. That’s how it begins. But as the work progresses, resisting the temptation to add detail is a battle of the wills. One voice whispers, “Over there. Add some green. Maybe a bush or a crevice. Yeah, that’ll make it better.” Then the other voice shouts, “Stop! Stop right where you are! You’re ruining it!”
The second voice is right. At least it’s right for me. I am not a realistic or photorealistic artist. Those are admirable schools of art, but going down the path of adding detail atop detail does not produce works that are true to my heart, that give me joy. My challenge is to forget the reference and let imagination and memory, however hazy, lead the way. The goal is to make a good painting, not to reproduce what’s in front of me.
A wise mentor has said, “Stop when the painting is 90% complete.” Listening to the second voice, recognizing when I reach that place, require self-awareness, sharpened intuitiveness, and growth. I welcome all three.