Sunday, 10 May 2009


ABSTRACT. What exactly does abstraction mean? The Collins English Dictionary says:

"1. Having no reference to material objects or specific examples. Not concrete.
2. Not applied or practical; theoretical.
3. Hard to understand; recondite (requiring special knowledge to be understood. Abstruse (not easy to understand, esoteric).
4. Fine Art. Characterised by geometric, formalised or nonrepresentational qualities.

The following by Kenneth Martin (1951) demonstrates the difficulties of definition that varieties of non-representational art created for the practitioner-theorists of 'abstraction'.

"What is generally termed 'abstract' is not to be confused with the abstraction from nature which is concerned with the visual aspect of nature and its reduction to a pictorial form, for, although abstract art has developed through this, it has become a construction coming from within. ... Just as an idea can be given form, so can form be given meaning. By taking the severest form and developing it according to s strict rule, the painter can fill it with significance within the limitations imposed. Such limitations have been constantly used in poetry and music ... The square, the circle, the triangle etc.m are primary elements in the vocabulary of forms, not ends in themselves ... The painter attempts to create a universal language as against a private language ... Heroic efforts have been made towards the creation of this language". 'Terry Frost Six Decades'. RCA p.17.

I have been interested in Ellsworth Kelly's work for some time, feeling the simplicity of his flat plains of colour, his black and white. His inspiration often comes from fleeting visions through doorways, windows or shadows falling across structures. His paintings have an extraordinary poetic vision and sense of geometric clarity.

'Window 1', 1949

He experimented at one time with working clinically to the rules of the Golden Section but he found that his work conformed to perfect balance when working intuitively.

"I like to work from things that I see, whether they are man made or natural. Once in a while I work directly from something I have seen, like a window, or a fragment of a piece of architecture: or the space between things, or just how the shadows of an object would look. With a rock and its shadow, I am not interested in the texture of the rock or that it is a rock, but in the mass of it and its shadow." p.17

Waldman Diane, Ed. Ellsworth Kelly: a Retrospective. Guggenheim Museum.

Black Square
White Square.

Black and White square are his last paintings to be completed in Paris. These are so simple but to me, have such power. I see my own geometry in similar form, a sort of spiritual essence, visions of a window, "an idea of space seen through glass as a monochrome" p.27/28

'Rooftops with blue squares'. (Silk Scarf, Carol Mackenzie Gale). The simple geometry rigid in a painting, changes with the fluidity of silk when draped.
"Preliminary study for Wall", 1955.

I love this example of perfect space, asymmetric in balance and am working with black and coffee with my lorry studies.

"During the early phase of his time in Paris (1948 - 54), Kelly was part of the aesthetics of early abstraction, he was deeply interested in the subject of the spiritual in art. While noting that this quality was present in "all the art man has made," it became his aim to emulate this elusive process, to imbue art with his own expressiveness, his own spirituality, not through the depiction of a narrative, but through colour and form only. His inspiration in nature became the source of his spirituality. p.62

Kelly thought Mondrian's art was spiritual, feeling that his approach would suit him too and he sought to achieve his own version of it.

A version of Mondrian's Tree. - a spiritual journey.

On visiting Constantin Brancusi in 1950, he said, "For me, his art was an affirmation: it strengthened my intention to make an art that is spiritual in content." Similarly, he struggled to "get that spirit just into abstract form", the accomplishment of which became central to his art. p. 63

One of his most exciting pieces. is his book, 'Line, Form and Colour', sent to the Guggenheim Foundation. It contained 46 drawings, eahc 7 1/2 x 8 inches (later 40) with "no writing whatsoever - just (linoleum) prints".1951.

'"Line, Form and Colour", monotone pages of his book of prints which were to become the catalyst for his works of the 1950's and 1960's with new directions in abstract art. This was also the inspiration for my manifesto.

I come back to the language of simple geometry. Kelly's skill in working with form, colour space and edge, create potent visual statements and as with Terry Frost's work, colour becomes the form, the flat plane, the message.

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