Here is a 25x magnified drop of seawater, photographed by David Liittschwager. When I look at this it reminds me of abstract painting. Something is defined as abstract when it is “apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.”
We look at this photo of the water teeming with life and oddly this somehow seems familiar even though we have probably not seen it before. It is reminiscent of confetti, a new years day parade, it feels like an amusement park, it looks like some kind of crazy animation, a cartoon – I even think of “The Curse of Lono” pictures created by Ralph Steadman – it feels like jewelry, Japanese rice paper, a video game, perhaps, but mostly, I think of Cy Twombly’s large abstract paintings.
Art isn’t so much about creating something entirely unique, but rather making something in a new way that is reminiscent of something familiar. Art gains its potency from its ability to cross reference the utterly random flotsam and jetsam of life. The abstract marks of Cy Twombly’s paintings are so filled with references to nature, to so many expressions of feelings – joy, reckless abandon, exactitude – that they hardly feel abstract at all.
Looking at his random scratch marks individually, for example, would not be too impressive, but when arranged by him and en mass, something more potent, metaphorical and wondrous occurs. What is occurring, what he is so expertly offering us is an invitation to be reminded or even possibly re interpret our own life experience.
Art, and especially abstract art, is just teeming with connections and references to life. In many ways when something is hyper realistic, the opposite of abstract, (think of a realistic painting of a red Porsche, for example) it seems the connectivity factor – that is, the random associations one experiences when looking at the art – declines.
Art, and especially abstract art, is like good poetry. A poem is just a paltry assortment of words, but when expertly arranged on paper can imply to the reader ideas and feelings far beyond the specific meanings, the concreter realities of those little words alone.
My work over the years, and I think this is the case for many artists, has gone from the literal, the concrete and specific to the more abstract. It makes sense that an artistic journey would become more expansive, more life encompassing as it goes along.
In letting go of the specific, I have discovered that my art can hold more and more of the nuances and subtleties of the human experience. The abstraction, the nonliteral, is simply more like life. In an odd way it is more realistic. Art that doesn’t exactly describe or tell specifically how or what the viewer (or artist for that matter) should feel seems more expansive and as a result invites far more personal associations and connections with the world around us.
What do you think?
In anticipation, Nicholas