Thursday, November 1, 2018

Calle Arteaga: Walking through the history of abstract art, part 1

Walking through the history of art
Calle Gral. Arteaga, Jiquilpan, Mexico
Recently I received an announcement of a painting class focused on the rules of abstract art. I thought about taking the class because I don’t know the rules of abstract art … but it was a painting class and I don’t paint. So, of course, I went to Google to see what those rules were.

I found a six-part YouTube series called Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings. The first thing I learned was that what we call abstract art, should actually be called non-objective art. According to The Virtual Instructor, who turns out to be a guy named Matt Fussell, who says "I'm simply a normal guy that loves to draw and paint, and most of all - teach,” there are three types of art:
Representational: We can easily identify with recognizable subjects in a painting, drawing, or sculpture.  This makes representational art widely accepted among the masses.

Abstract Art: The often misunderstood type of art known as abstraction aims to take subjects from reality but present them in way that is different from the way they are viewed in our reality. 
Non-Objective Art: The third type of art is often mistaken for Abstract art although it is entirely different from it. Non-Objective art takes nothing from reality. It is created purely for aesthetic reasons.
The video series by Collings didn’t really provide a set of rules. Rather, each video discussed 3–4 artists, showed their work and then abstracted one or two rules important to each artist. It didn’t take me long to realize I was going to have to take notes if I were to remember any of what I was going to see. 
And, then an even stranger thought showed up. On my Photoshop screen, I had the second photo above which was taken in Jiquilpan, Mexico, on a street called Gral. Arteaga. I didn’t much care who General Arteaga was, I just liked it that his name had the word “art” in it and it was a beautiful street.

For some reason I decided to create a collage superimposed on that street. (The things one does when one doesn’t have to go to work every day!) The first image above is the end result of this exercise.

Here are the artists I met on this journey and the pieces of their art that became part of the end piece.

Spirited Away
Hilma af Klint  — Even though Hilma didn’t consider herself an artist, she is credited with being one of the first abstract (or non-objective) artists. Hilma was a Swedish mystic, deeply involved with Theosophy and considered her art to be soul directions to help connect with “higher masters.” Her spiritual journey began at age 18 when her younger sister died. She was also greatly influenced by Rudolf Steiner. She left 23,000 pages of notes about her journey and described her work as a kind of channeling: 
 “The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” 
Hilma af Klint, Photo: Wikipedia
Hilma seldom showed her 1200 paintings to her contemporaries. After Steiner rejected her work, she decided that the world was not ready to understand her visions. She specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death. The boxes of paintings were opened at the end of the 1960s, but she was little known until the mid-1980s, and only in 2018 did her work find a permanent home in Moderna Museet.  See Guggenheim exhibit 2018-2019.
Wassily Kandinsky Photo: Wikipedia
Wassily Kandinsky “Transcend Nature” — Kandinsky, too, was deeply spiritual, influenced by Theosophy and the work of Rudolph Steiner. He was affected by music and thought working with color was like playing a piano. He believed that black animates everything and used repetition and surprise to create a sensual impact. I began the project thinking I would put pictures of the artists in the end piece. However, I soon realized that a bunch of disconnected heads wasn’t what I wanted. I really like Kandinsky so I left his and Klint’s photos in the piece. 
"He experienced a sort of epiphany upon viewing a Monet exhibit in Moscow. At first put off by the artist's Impressionistic Haystacks paintings, Kandinsky found nevertheless that Monet's use of color impacted him in a significant way, taking on an almost mythic power. " More about Kandinsky and description of the piece below (and photo credit) available from

Accompanied Center - 1937
Fiona Rae “Surprise Move” — I love so much of the work of this artist from Hong Kong. Gallery description of the image used states: The large work Figure 2a (2015) is the first painting in the series to reintroduce colour in the foreground while keeping the backdrop in greyscale. This emphasizes the colour and creates a new concentration and dynamism in the constellation of figure and ground, surface and line. Still, Fiona Rae’s signature remains clearly recognizable in these new works, evidence of the many visual codes and tropes she has developed and made her own over the years. Info and photo credit to Buchmann Galerie Lugano
Figure 2a (2015
Sonia Delaunay "Color is Light" -- Ukrainian-born French artist, who spent most of her working life in Paris and, with her husband Robert Delaunay and others, cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colors and geometric shapes. She celebrated light as a spirit lifting force. And, like Kandinsky, related color to music. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia.
Rythme, 1938
M.E. Chevreul

M.E. Chevreul “Color is an optical vibration” — , a French chemist rather than an artist completes the portraits contained in the collage. His color theories greatly influenced many of the early abstract artists. Info and photo credit: Wikipedia. 
From ColorSystem: The purpose of the (Chevreul) system is to establish a law of «Simultaneous Contrast». Leonardo da Vinci had probably been the first to notice that, when observed adjacently, colours will influence each other. Goethe, however, was the first to specifically draw attention to these associated contrasts. Chevreul designed a 72-part colour-circle whose radii, in addition to the three primaries of red, yellow and blue, depict three secondary mixtures of orange, green and violet as well as six further secondary mixtures.

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