Tag Archives: Abstract

Expressing Creativity – Exploring Materials

Modernism, the historical art era encompassing the late 19th Century through the first half of the 20th, is characterized by an emphasis on materials, media and form rather than metaphorical content. They also wanted to remind people that art, even that of the great masters, was just paint on surfaces.

Artists were exploring the tactile quality of paint itself or the properties of stone or metal – essentially examining the Elements of Design (Shape, Line, Color, Texture, and so on) in their pure forms without seeking to tell stories or express meaning. One might say that the Modernists were fighting a losing battle against human nature, since we are biologically programmed to seek meaning and notice relationships – create stories – and will do so even when none exist. Humans seek to make sense from information, while one big part of Modernism wants to depict nonsense for its own sake. (Eg Dada and Theater of the Absurd).

Writing included the stream-of-consciousness novel and poetry that was more about the sound of words than their meanings. In music atonal or 12 tone music rose, with all its unresolved glory along with the famous John Cage conceptual composition 4’33” – one of several silent pieces. The Wikipedia entry on Modernism has a positive cornucopia of links to the theoretical thinkers, writers and artists of the era. They wanted to explore the stylistic conventions of various kinds of art work, but from a distance, without getting drawn in to the stories.

Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Modernist painter whose large scale mono or duo chrome works are the epitome of Modernist non-subjective art. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX is a non-denominational meditation chapel, and is open and free to the public. Inside the Rotunda, lit entirely by natural light, are fourteen large scale monochrome oil paintings by Rothko. The light constantly changes so the texture of each painting also changes.

Rothko Chapel

Interior Rothko Chapel

When I visited there in the mid-1980’s I felt like there were figures buried inside the darkness. I persisted in trying to see what was hidden. The paintings seem to have a lot of depth. It was very serene and relaxing, but I still wanted to find a subject in the non-subjective artworks. But then again, I also like finding shapes in the texture of popcorn ceilings.

What does this mean for a creativity practice today?

Modernist practice gives us permission to play with materials and media, to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome or product. We can smoosh paint, or roll it, combine blocks of color or repeat simple shapes over and over. We can stack wood, metal and stone pieces in pleasing combinations.

Some of the best ideas for Modernist experiments come from ideas for children’s sensory play crafts. Throw pigments, pour, spray and embrace randomness. But also combine surfaces and textures. Use one color of different media for a shadow box or other display – paint, inks, pencils, crayons, collage, fabric, found objects

Simple Art Project Ideas.

Scumbled Duotone Canvases 

When used in theater sets, scumbling is a paint technique where colors are mixed together on the surface with the painting tools. In art scumbling refers to washing the darker finish with lighter colors (often with a nearly dry applicator) to mute the colors below. The tool defines the kind of edges the paint makes – roller, brush, sponge, rags.

  • Use two of your chosen tools to smoosh paint on the surface and then blend the edges together forming an ombré.
  • If you like Rothko, try pairs of rectangles with soft edges. Also consider a central circle surrounded by another color.
  • Arrange several of these finished canvases in a grouping to enhance your modern styled interiors.

Pinned Color Swatches

  • Cut many squares from paint chip samples.
  • Pin them in a geometric arrangement to a cork board with small ball pins in one color.
  • Alternatively use a hole punch to make many exact shapes quickly.

Enlarged Macro Images

  • Collect random items with only physical characteristics in common, such as shape, color or texture.
  • Take photos of them, especially macros, and print to create another art grouping.

Resources and Places

Scumbling, glazing and wash at Artists’ Network 

Suzy Kitman demonstrates Impasto This is a very cool palette knife technique shown by artist Suzy Kitman. I would argue that despite there being a subject in her work, the main value is the texture and the paint itself, which to me makes it Modernist. The image is just an excuse to use particular colors.

Pete’s Original Art – Abstract painting video showing many tools and blending techniques.

Modernist Pin Board

Modernism

 

 

Element of Design – Texture

Encrusted beading on art doll

Texture is a tactile experience, or the visual illusion of a tactile experience. Texture is characterized by changes in the surface, or the apparent absence of changes in the surface. Texture is about adding interest and the sense of layers, so that we wonder what lies beneath that so interesting surface.

Texture functions emotionally to generate desire – you want to touch and feel – or to repulse – something is scary, dangerous or uncomfortable. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s that the texture is unpleasant in the mouth.

Texture is a continuum, from smooth or shiny through to rough. It is partly defined by how much friction it would generate. .

To paraphrase Horatio GreenoughTexture follows function. In nature it’s all about surface area in a limited volume – bumps, pores, folded shapes. Think of villi in the intestines, the surface of a tongue, spines or scales, the shape of pine needles, fur to capture and hold heat.

Human design also uses texture for surface area, to generate or eliminate friction, for practicality. Think of knitwear (“warm and fuzzy”), rugs and home insulation, the old “cottage cheese” ceilings, aerodynamics in aircraft and cars.

Flip Doll

Texture becomes more important when other Elements of Design are simplified – a monochromatic color scheme for example, or when simple shapes are repeated. Texture can add the sensation of depth.

Monochrome heritage layout

Texture in Art – Texture as Illusion

In visual art there is the implied visual texture within the images. Think of old masters painting the lush velvets, encrusted embroideries, glowing skin of their royal patrons. But brush strokes – the mechanism of the art – were hidden and minimized as much as possible.

Then came the explosion of Impressionism and later Expressionism, making texture serve an emotional meaning. Then with the rise of Modernism, Texture became a primary element. The qualities of the paint itself, no doubt influenced by the invention of new paints including fast drying acrylics and the new acrylic “oils” – are revealed by intentional brushstrokes. The art increasingly shows the artist’s hand and thought processes as more important than whatever the subject of the painting might be.

Here’s my little bit of controversy – because I don’t care for the Wikipedia definition of Abstract Art. I’m recalling instead discussions of art theory we students used to enjoy back when I was in college.

I prefer the definition that Abstract art is taking a personal point of view, personal vision of a subject away from realism to find the soul or express an attitude about that subject. The subject can become abstracted to the point of being totally unrecognizable, reduced to geometry or just color and texture.

Non-subjective modernism, often misnamed as “abstract art” embraces the qualities of medium entirely. It is about the paint, the texture, the color – without narrative content (supposedly). Ah humans – we tend to want to construct stories and make connections no matter how much the choreographer says “don’t feel, just count”.

Think of sculpture which for thousands of years has been about manipulating a hard, dense material to create the sensation of soft, pliable surfaces. In recent times, artists making soft sculptures have used fabrics and flexible materials to visualize the opposite.

Rolled and inked paper roses

Surprises

Sometimes the visual appearance belies the texture and the viewer gets a surprise on touching the object. Or distance mystifies the amount of texture in a surface. Think of electron microscopy revealing the unseen textures of surfaces beyond our imagination. The smooth steel of a knife blade revealed as pitted and layered as a rocky sandstone. Here is the fractal universe displayed.

Texture might be a function of randomness – spraying, splattering, combing, cross hatching.

Jayn at Hearst Castle

Photo Credit: James Coburn

Texture in Music

When I think of texture as it applies to music, I think of layering of instruments and the repetition of motifs or phrases with different instruments. Perhaps resonance is an equivalent of texture, or vibrato in a voice. Anything that adds interest and depth to the music might be termed adding texture.

In Writing

I like to think of texture in writing as creating a sensory experience with the words. Texture might be filling in visual background detail (but not so much that it detracts from the progression of the story) or imbuing minor characters with different voices or quirks. It is a way of adding interest.

It also might be created through manipulating word sounds – so that it is revealed viscerally through reading aloud. Read “Harry Potter” aloud, or indeed any of J.K. Rowling’s work aloud. It changes the experience. The addition or absence of sibilance, the repetition of certain sounds or words, the cadence of dialects revealed – that is texture at work.

Creating Texture

Sometimes texture is inherent in the material like marble countertops, granite building blocks, woodgrain, or honey comb candy. If not, and it is desired for interest and depth, then it must be added.

The illusion of texture can be created with lines, including cross hatching, shapes and repetition, and shadowing or shading. I have created the illusion of texture with lighting – using gobos and angles to cast shadows.

Multiple textures actual and implied

Actual texture can be created by adding material, removing material (think carving or burn out lace) or manipulating material, either in the construction process (like crochet or tatting, weaving or impressing into clay) or with a finished base (like ironing in pleats, gathering or folding).

Layout using textures and vintage photo

Texture added with pleated paper, crumpling and sequin embellishments to the sense of texture created by the differently scaled prints.

So please follow me on Twitter for the Daily Tweets!