what pulls us in
In most forms of art, we rely on some sense of drama and emotion to pull us in--in reading a novel or watching a film, we expect the narrative to contain a central dilemma for the characters. Listening to a symphony, we follow the arc of the music through various contrasting but related movements. With poetry or song we often contemplate some aspect of the human experience via analogy and metaphor, creating thought- or emotion-provoking images.
A few days ago, caught up in a novel on CD on a very long car trip, I started to think about how this dynamic applies in visual art, especially in non-representational painting. How is the viewer drawn in when there is no imagery to create a narrative or set up a dramatic or otherwise evocative situation? What gives an abstract painting (even one that is quiet or minimalist) strength, character, emotion? Why do some abstract paintings seem to compel people to look and look--while others are passed over?
Obviously, this is very subjective territory. What I stare at for an hour, you may dismiss in two seconds. What one juror picks as Best of Show, another sends to the reject pile. Different strokes for different folks, even among paintings generally well-regarded.
Nevertheless, I believe that there is a merging of form and content in really good abstract painting that sets it apart in terms of clarity, strength and communication of feeling. Technical skill along with command of the formal elements of art (value, color, line, shape and composition) create visual tension and contrast. Meaningful content is the other component, with roots in intellect, memory, and emotion--both intuitively and consciously accessed.
In bringing all of this together, the artist convinces the viewer of an alternate reality worth examining. In the words of the famous abstract painter, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Abstract art places a new world, which on the surface has nothing to do with "reality", next to the "real" world.
This, then is what seems to be the engaging dynamic for the viewer--a glimpse into another way of seeing, imagining or thinking. The drama or tension that draws in the viewer arises from the contrast between this unique vision and our everyday ways of seeing and interacting with what is around us. What an enormous, lifelong challenge the abstract painter has in distilling and communicating an inner world in a way that allows others to enter in.
adventures with terraskin
As readers of my blog know, I have been doing quite a few small works on paper lately and enjoying this quicker, more spontaneous approach alongside my more developed painting. And because my own interests often find their way into my workshops, I've been sharing some of these ideas with the artists I work with in my classes. Recently I wrote a blog post for the makers of TerraSkin
, an intriguing paper made of stone, manufactured in Canada, about a technique I developed using their product with powdered charcoal and cold wax medium. To read the blog post, which includes step-by-step directions, click here
. The post also includes a list of US distributors of the paper. I have been using the 16pt weight but it also comes in a lighter weight, sketchbook sized variety.
This is the charcoal and cold wax demo paintings that I did for that workshop:
I've also been using Terraskin for monotypes because I enjoy the way its smooth but absorbent surface holds every line and detail, and there is no need for soaking prior to printing. Although the prints tend to curl when just off the press, they quickly flatten out if placed under a book or other weight. Here is a recent example (6"x4" etching ink on Terraskin.)
TerraSkin also works well for straightforward painting with oils and cold wax medium. Again, it lends itself to crisp detail and fine edges, as well as resist and solvent techniques. Below, a small painting I did while on residency in Ireland last fall--my first encounter with TerraSkin.
Here's a bit more background about Terraskin, as found on their website
**TerraSkin is a combination of mineral powder (>75%) and a small quantity (<25%) of non-toxic resin combined to create an environmentally friendly paper.
**The production of TerraSkin requires no water, so the TerraSkin papermaking process incurs no water pollutants.
**Used TerraSkin paper will start to degrade under the proper environmental conditions of high heat, moisture and UV light.
**Most importantly, in producing TerraSkin, the harvesting of trees is unnecessary, thereby safeguarding the natural environment’s beauty and biodiversity for all living beings.
**TerraSkin also has beautiful printing capabilities and a unique texture and feel. Because the paper is fiberless, it does not absorb ink like regular paper and also uses less ink than regular paper. Images stay much crisper and cleaner because the ink doesn’t bleed.
**TerraSkin is water – resistant and inherently strong and durable.