Saturday, March 16, 2019

Three Versions of Reality—Plus Two Abstracts

Spring Flood III - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The first abstraction.  See below for commentary.

Trina and I went to Santa Fe a few weeks ago so I could judge an art exhibition.  Whenever we go to the New Mexico capital, we like to check in with the galleries to see what's new.  A favorite is Meyer Gallery on Canyon Road, one of the few in the city still handling representational painting.  (So many have gone to what I call "decorator" art, but that's a topic for another blog post.)  William Hook is a painter represented by Meyer, and we always enjoy his landscapes.  But this time, we saw something unexpected—his abstracts.

The gallery manager explained that the artist will paint a typical William Hook landscape and, then, using the same palette, create an abstract version of it.  When you look at his abstracts with this knowledge, you can see clues of what the original might have looked like.  Sometimes, the gallery hangs the original landscape and the derived abstract side-by-side.  (You can see Hook's work here.)

I like his new work.  And as I was seeking a late winter project, I thought it would be fun to try abstracting some of my landscapes.  I had a studio piece I liked, the one that was the basis for my demonstration at the Pastel Society of New Mexico recently.  Since the subject and color choices were still fresh in my mind, I decided to try the approach with this one.

One question you might ask is, If you have an already-beautiful representational painting, why abstract it?  Well, since I do begin any landscape painting by simplifying and abstracting the scene, doing the opposite—a sort of reverse engineering—might give me some additional insight into my usual process.   Second, I enjoy an abstract painting as a playful design; a good one always expresses energy and the unexpected, and it will both excite and surprise me.  I wanted to see if I could improve on Nature and enhance these qualities.  Finally, having never done this exercise before, I thought it would be at least educational, even if it didn't turn out to be a lucrative detour on my journey as a painter.
Is an abstraction removed from reality? It shouldn't be. Instead, an abstraction has had the representational squeezed out of it, but the reality—the truth of the scene—remains. In each of my abstractions, I tried to stay true to my original vision of showing intense sunlight on water.
Below I will show you the original painting, my practice piece for the demonstration, the demonstration painting itself plus the two abstract versions.  You'll note that I didn't take the abstraction anywhere near as far as does Hook.  Where one stops is a personal choice.

But first:  What did I learn?  Abstracting the landscape is hard, really hard—at least for me.  I continually found myself backing off from the asbstract and retreating to the safety of the representational.  I would step away from the work after making a series of marks only to see that I was starting to depict branches and blades of grass and pebbles and ripples in the water.  Whenever this happened, I took my painting knife (ideal for scraping out passages in pastel, if you paint on a durable surface) and scraped down the marks.  The first abstraction actually reached a stage that was too representational not once but three times, and each time I scraped back, I doused the paper with fixative and started over.  The second painting went more smoothly, as I tried to work more mindfully.  Yet, although it is an asbtraction, you can still see the landscape lurking.  I may yet try again to see if I can take it even further.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on abstraction—how you would define it and what your process is.

Keepers of the Creek - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The ORIGINAL studio painting.

Spring Flood - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The "practice" painting for the demonstration.
I liked the original painting, but I wanted to make the tree on
the left less important, plus I wanted to shift the sun for more
obvious rim lighting.  (By the way, I used Blue Earth pastels
on Art Spectrum Colourfix paper for each painting.)

Spring Flood II - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The demonstration painting.
Further reduction of the left tree and enlargement of the
cluster on the right, plus more water movement.

Spring Flood III - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The first abstraction.
Dark and moody, but dramatic contrast evoking the sense of glare on water.
I used the full range of 7 values in my Blue Earth set.  This painting
I scraped down three times to take it back down to abstraction.
I started this one with a block-in of Pan Pastels; at the end, I used
some metallic Pan Pastels to add glitter.
Spring Flood IV - 12x18 Pastel - Available
The second abstraction
Lighter overall (I used only the top 4 values of 7 available in my
Blue Earth set, except for a few darker accents) but the sense of glare remains because
I tried to use complementary colors between light and dark passages.

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