Decay Creates! De-compoZition*? = Abstract in thought, Abstract in act
November 2022 article by: Christine Lenoir-Godin
featured image: Dualities, Christine Lenoir-Godin
Two curious aspects of abstract art to me are, firstly, the un-making of an object, using its alter-substance (i.e.: rust, decay - ephemeral moments in the life of an object) and painting only that state as if it were the principal subject. The second curious aspect is un-seeing what I see, and refusing to reproduce it.
Four examples of decay follow: A photo of rusting metal, a collage-painting (Trusted Goods) and two photos of ephemeral art.
Sometimes the inspiration to create an abstract work of art comes from nature reinvented. Such is the case with this small pumpkin put in the compost bin for the winter, which in the spring has become a home for a field mouse. On the right is the ephemeral creation and De-compoZition* of a natural object. On the left is Tombeau d'Ophélie, the ephemeral montage of decaying natural objects arranged around a bridal veil. The ephemeral aspects of these subjects are abstractions of what they once were.
Exercise - How to "see" abstract art
I present here a way of seeing and thinking. In the act of painting, I create images that convey an existential view. Seeing only the immediate, I take a mindful pause to study and to un-see what I see. I observe the negative space that surrounds a solid shape, then I look into the positive mass of what is outlined against the negative background.
Here the mass is represented by the blue shapes and the green sections represent the negative space surrounding the blue mass. You can also rotate your gaze and change the position of the blue shapes into negative space (like the void around it) and the green shapes become solid.
Note here that the blue areas are anchored on three sides of the canvas and the green areas touch only two sides of the canvas. Also note that the brush strokes give a feathery edge where the blues almost touch, yet not fully. This allows a flow-through of the green and avoids making the work into a bunch of chunks, which would make for a boring composition.
If you've read my previous blog on composition, I show you how to arrange objects to get a good composition for painting, by arranging fruits of different colours and shapes under different lights and backgrounds. It's always good to avoid the predictable.
Go beyond first impressions
In moving abstract painting away from the idea that it is quick and sloppy art, usually formed by a non-technical approach masquerading as an intuitive approach, I paint with the goal of restoring abstract expression to where it lived, in my opinion, its best life: during the years of the Beat Generation and the existentialist movement.
Some have criticized abstract art like this:
- “my 3 year old could paint this…”
- “I've seen an elephant paint that way”
- “Sloppy paintings by idiots and charlatans”
To develop your creative thinking, simply walk by an abstract painting and look at it carefully - into it -, then imagine and recreate the source while observing what you like about the image to make your own interpretation.
The informed art connoisseur, the professional, the collector or the critic looks at an abstract work as it stands. Simply note the other elements of its creation such as its direction, texture, composition, depths and shallows, or a flat area pushing out a glazed area that creates a pulsing movement.
The artist's work - reflecting
To express the abstraction of an idea or a concept, I extract it from a concrete concept. For example, money is essentially an object of barter; a solid. It can be a minted coin, a printed bill, a cow, a barrow of fruit,... but remains a tangible object.
Once we separate the concept from the object, we are left with the abstract principles: the idea of money = power, or wealth. We then attempt to paint these extracted ideas – power, willpower, courage, endurance, etc. - and form a representation of these existential principles.
To paint an idea or a life principle such as courage, forgiveness or surrender is very challenging for any painter, but the abstract painter explores the methods necessary to meet this challenge.
Here are two images that illustrate this point: the first is an existential expression of willpower.
To consider decay as death is to fear it. These two works illustrate the struggle against that fear. The upper image (Inner Strength) represents four fields of action, or movements. The lower shape is pushing upwards into a narrowing centre while the upper, coloured more intensely, pushes downward against that narrowing centre. On the left, a heavier mass seems to push towards the right, and the right side is an opposing strength, in lighter colours.
Secondly, The Web Tore, mixes tones of decay with streaks of resistance, as a spider’s web is both a shelter and a strength - symbolically and factually – for humans and spiders.
A spider’s web can also represent elements in suspense, waiting for unexpected events to attach themselves to existence.
This work symbolizes endurance. Its title, The Web Tore, evokes the spider. This creature, hated and feared out of ignorance, endures persecution, the elements and the evils of the seasons to ensure her future and survival by weaving and strengthening its web. For human existence, the web of our lives is constantly being repaired, as after a war or a pandemic, or a personal tragedy.
The artist's work - planning
The abstract artist will plan the delivery of her/his vision. She/he seeks to express the idea from a point of view. In order to do that successfully, the artist must decide on the arrangement of the sections of the canvas. She/he must determine the purpose of the composition. Its colours, movement, textures, depths and shallows, as well as foreground and background are chosen and planned.
A record is kept of hours, of colours used, size and dimension of canvas, and date of completion. The quality of the canvas and gesso applied, the layers applied, the sanding and preparation and then the drying and curing of the layers of paint in a timely manner, are all part of the artist's production.
Abstract art, as presented here, cannot be done by a 3 year old, a dog's tail, a drunken sailor! Abstract art is not for the realist artist unless that artist is willing to abandon a certain type of urge to copy and to embrace DE-COMPOZITION*!
* Note: De-compoZition is a play on words I created for an essay in previous years.
Christine Lenoir-Godin has been an artist for 60 years and creates with graphite, charcoal, inks, watercolours, pastels, mixed media and acrylics. She also sculpts with clay and found objects.
Her artist mother was her first art teacher. Her artistic education spans several decades. Christine obtained her General Arts Certificate from the Ottawa School of Art (2014). She paints in the impressionist and abstract styles. As an artist, she shares her concerns on the unsolved problems of women in the world and the de-forestation of our planet.