Over my years as a painter I have focused on representational, landscape painting. But as we know it is always good to try something new. This spring I felt ready for a “stretch” and signed up for a couple of abstract art classes at the Arts Center (Abstract Art 1 & 2, offered by Stacye Leanza). I’d like to share my experiences in these classes, which were informative, fun, and refreshing. Especially because I was encouraged to think about process rather than goal, and to be mindful that whatever I paint is a valid record in my artistic journey.
First of all, in every class we were encouraged to stop, stand back from our work, and ask ourselves what it needs, or what does the painting want? Then we would follow through with an assert/eliminate/veil response. For example: “assert” (add something new), “eliminate” (remove something), or “veil” (soften or veil the impact of something), whatever was needed to improve the composition. I found that allowing myself to stand back and have an interactive conversation with my work-in-progress is a refreshing approach.
One of my favorite exercises might be called “micro/macro,” where we placed a very small viewfinder on a drawing or photo, moving it around to capture a strong image, then painting the image as a very large shape on a large surface. In a slightly altered version of this exercise, we were also asked to find a shape with the viewfinder, then develop a painting repeating the shape. I had difficulty finding a shape that I liked in my preliminary sketch, so instead I decided to sketch the shape of a slice of cheese that I had noticed during my lunch break, and the cheese shape painted as acrylic on canvas is what I used to develop my painting.
I particularly enjoyed our exploration of aboriginal dot painting, using dots and symbols. Painting with dots slows the visual process down to a gradual and abstract way of building an image. Also, thinking of real objects in symbolic form is freeing and takes the pressure off of making anything look realistic. I once had a vivid dream of cows in water looking at me when I was on a road, so the painting in this second example is about that dream. This piece is tempera on paper.
Another favorite class exercise was to make a collage of photos and images, and then to develop a painting from the collage, making changes to the images as desired. This was a great hands-on, process-oriented experience, and gave me a chance to put images together in a way that transforms them into a different visual experience. This painting of my collage is tempera on paper.
This is just a short overview of what I learned in Stacye’s classes. What has been most exciting for me is to realize that there is no reason why I cannot allow myself to jump the line and explore the entire continuum between representational and abstract. Painting can express emotional, spiritual, intellectual qualities through a vocabulary of color, shape, line, value as well as other compositional elements. Of course, the added benefit is that everything I learned in my classes benefits my representational painting as well.