The Divine Madness of Abstract Art

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Have you ever watched a painter of abstract art actually paint? The artistic process is as exacting, as agonizing as is traditional, representational art – in the skin of a totally different animal.

If you walked into a roomful of abstract expressionist artists at work and stayed awhile, feeling the energy, listening to the often audible, agonizing utterance over a disappointing gesture on the canvas, hearing the constructive but critical comments from the instructor about an area so small that for the average viewer it would go unnoticed in the whole, or the occasional gasp from a painter who has been pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised over a result on the canvas when the paint did exactly what the paint wanted to do, your eyes and ears would be opened to a process that is divine in its madness and perfect in its imperfection. I believe that successful abstract painting requires from the artist an eccentric vision, curiosity about what ESSENCE really is, faith in the journey of the process and a free, confident spirit willing to invite adventure and improvisation, to name just a few. There are many more. I could go on.

One Christmas my daughter slipped into my stocking the ideal solution to all of the centuries old misunderstanding of abstract art – a peppermint flavored breath spray, small enough to always be available but discreetly hidden in any pocket,  that gives a person instant understanding of Modern Art!! Who knew? The back of the packaging has powerful testimonials from cherished customers who insist that they became instant, educated art critics with just one quick and easy pump of the atomizer.

Of course I was not the one who needed it – but she knew that I would run across many who did need it and so I carry it with me all the time. Yes it gets a lot of laughs, and always a select few who look at me incredulously, eyes searching for clues, wondering if….perhaps….

I wish I could tell you where to find these; they are probably jumping off the shelves.

Know anyone who needs a spritz? Line forming fast to the right….


Year Long Canvas Project #4

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Year Long Canvas in progress  – un-named, copyright 2014 Jo Ann Brown-Scott

Ok well class on Monday was daunting – the wind was blowing hard and many students had mishaps just getting up to and through the Denver Art Students League doors, which are preceded by many steep steps. There were actually 2 people who fell and needed first aid for minor, but bleeding, cuts and bruises. The never ending parade of canvases in and out of the double doors at the top of the concrete stairs, like a fluid gallery show with legs, is entertaining on a nice day but accompanied by wind or even rain, sleet, snow or hail it becomes difficult to watch. Not only canvases but people with various movable carts full of art supplies, carrying everything they and their imaginations require for the afternoon. That’s just the logistics of it – no way to get around it. Then you settle into the room and set up your art camp.

My year long canvas and I, plus one other canvas in progress and one that is finished but needed its final critique, made it in just fine, but across the room was a woman who was one of the casualties. Blood happening, particularly on the face of anyone, is not a fun thing to see. She had hit the pavement face first. She was basically fine, needing no stitches, but cut inside both lips, a small gash on the bridge of her nose, badly bruised already plus quite shaken and needing first aid so we all made sure she got the care she needed. It took us all awhile to calm down.

My YLC (year long canvas) had just 2 colors, Paynes gray and then Naples yellow, overlapped in a diagonal swoop, as you remember from the previous blog post last week on this subject. My esteemed instructor, Homare Ikeda, took a long glance at it as I set up camp and pronounced that is was a great start, with a large smile on his face. Wow – what had seemed underwhelming to me and so effortless and simple got the thumbs up. I was encouraged. I decided to proceed with work on it while I was fresh. I added a couple areas of white. Then I worked in some larger areas of Warm gray – I call it “dove gray” – because it is neutral and also because it has faint undertones of lavender. Maybe that is an indication of things to come, maybe not.

I am attempting to remain neutral for as long as I can because the addition of COLOR! brings such emotional reaction. We are all sucked in with the sensuality and the strength of color. Once you allow it entry, it can take over at the expense of all else and you might get so caught up in its spell that composition takes a back seat and the painting is out of your control. I see that happen to me and many other painters. You have to control that lovely monster.

Even with the little bit of work I have done so far, as I work am asking and checking myself, always walking the multiple lines of – Is the composition  merely ok? –  is it boring and basic and just barely enough to work, lacking potential for greatness, and not impressive enough yet to be better than average? Then adding more work and asking  – are the new additions an enhancement or not? Is there any one area that is really awful, or perhaps even really excellent, but must still be sacrificed (covered up) for the sake of the democracy of the entire dynamic?  Every stroke has to play well with all the others. As I paint along, I constantly ask myself what more can be done, knowing I can’t do much more today. I have to pace myself..

Several people walk up to it and say they like it just the way it is! Already!

Since I am assigned this year long project, I need to keep working, well past the times when I want so badly to stop because it works, it is exciting, it is strong. After some thought, I walk away from it. All done for today.

I love color, pattern and texture, but this project is all about restraint. I was feeling so restrained that I was comatose. The fast and furious painting that came after my short amount of time spent working on the YLC was a reaction  –  a quick and distinctive answer to that restraint. I let loose – see photo below. It is a small canvas (12×24) so it was completed in the rest of the afternoon and left me feeling happy. I think I detect a smile on the face of the art Buddha.

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Acrylic painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott, copyright 2014 not yet titled