Blackpaint 5


What does it mean?

People ask “abstract” painters “What does it mean?”  Difficult one to answer; this is one of many areas where the figurative artists have the advantage.  They can just say, “well, it’s a horse in a storm,” or  “It’s Perranporth beach at sunset”; the questioner is satisfied- they have the informaition they need to decide whether the painter has made a good job of it.

People ask what it means when looking at abstract art, rather than asking what it is, because they know an abstract is not a visual representation of a material thing or scene; they still, however, want it to have “meaning” in some sense.  Perhaps it represents your inner turmoil or calmness, doubt or certainty.  Maybe it is a comment on global warming or spiritual desolation…  It’s a fair enough demand – everything carries meaning, even if it’s not the meaning the artist intended.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but my paintings are a collection of colours and shapes on a canvas.  They are successful if they are pleasing, striking, intriguing, arresting.  If they are hung on a white wall, they should suck the attention in; if they are not noticed, they are failures.  If they actually repel the viewer, I regard them as failures (although there are plenty of artists who would regard such an effect as a success).  They should be judged, I think, on whether or not they possess a  pleasing (in the widest sense) mixture of the following:

A Picture Should Have:

Structure – I tend to have a strong, clearly defined “thing” in my pictures; something you can trace round with your finger above the surface.  It might be tangled up, fuzzy, dirty but it’s there.

Colour – usually a lot of defining black of course, white slashes, maybe six colours in all,  with gradations.

Proportion – the shapes should fit with each other in an effective way.  No, not “effective” – the effect might be irritation (good, some would say).  I prefer “pleasing”.  Balanced is another way of putting it.

Texture – the surface should be variegated to be interesting.  Take the rough with the smooth.

Movement – the shapes and strokes of the brush or charcoal should carry the eye around, across, up and down the picture-unless of course, you’re going for stillness, or equilibrium.

Contrast – of colour, shape, brush or charcoal strokes usually considered desirable.

That’s it, I think.  You could always produce a picture which has all the above, and is still rubbish.  Some people, who require figurative pictures, will often say this – “It’s just a jumble.  It’s a load of rubbish”.  These people seem to be irritated by pictures which are non-figurative, sometimes physically, it seems.  “It makes my eyes go funny”, they will say.  Abstract patterns are allright, providing they are regular; but they are not art, they are decoration – wallpaper, or carpet design.

But if you consider the points I make above, they are exactly the same things which would make a figurative picture good or bad, aren’t they?  It’s just that it takes a lot of looking – or it did for me – before you can appreciate non-figurative art.  I’m speaking as a white, C of E English person with a working class background; In my experience, many cultures seem far less resistant to abstract art than my particular sort of English (working, middle or upper class).

 Now, when I see pictures at a distance in a gallery, I might be  drawn to them before I can make out the subject matter; I  see them as abstracts.  As I approach them, I see them as portraits or landscapes or whatever – but I find  this is a disappointment in a way.  Maybe its something to do with worsening eyesight.

Listening to: “Ain’t Seen No Whiskey”, Joe Williams and Sleepy John Estes; and “Seventh Son”, Mose Allison.

“Now, I went upstairs, packed my leavin’ trunk,

Said I ain’t seen no whiskey, blues done made me drunk.”

“I can heal the sick, and raise the dead,

Make little girls talk out their head, I’m the one,

Yes, I’m the one; I’m the one, I’m the one,

The one they call the seventh son”.

Blackpaint

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