Part 4: Option 4: Project 3: Mystery: Research Task

I have chosen to: Develop a painting or set of paintings using a contemporary approach to chiaroscuro to occlude or veil an element within the painting.

There are two lists of painters to research. I have looked at both and am not going to use either because they are both figurative artists, and do not relate to my abstract practice.

The exercise is written for figurative artists. The instructions refer to introducing mystery into a narrative, be that in modern forms of the visually mysterious such as digital redaction crime scene photographs or glitching or in classical painting. But, as my practice is abstract, I do not have a story to mystify.

However many abstract artists use occlusion, such as Ian McKeever, while many, such as Mondrian, do not. So, you could make a binary split within abstract art between the flat picture plane (no occlusion) and work with depth and hidden elements.

Occlusion in abstraction is often achieved by glazing; I specifically don’t say chiaroscuro as that is traditionally associated with showing form in traditional figurative painting; the high tonal contrast introduces drama, and the shadow also occludes… it is only the element of occlusion that I am looking at.

So, I am going to select four abstract artists who use occlusion in their work.

I will find some some artists who use occlusion/glazing as an artistic/compositional element in abstract painting. The textbook mentions dammar resin as a glaze, but this is exclusively for oil paints and I am using water soluble oils, so I’m not going to use that.

Beeswax is also mentioned so I had a look and found this video:


Royal Academy of Arts, How to paint in encaustic, 29 Nov 2017

The video features Terry Setch and although short is fascinating.

He has a machine to melt wax which he mixes with coloured wax pellets which he melts with a blow torch. He also melts found elements onto the wooden ‘canvas’ and brushes the finished surface with pure pigment, he fuses the pigment to the surface with a heat gun. He also uses a variety of brushes and tools, and a heat wand to add detail.

On the video he jokes that it’s like cooking and that he loves the fluidity of the medium which allows multiple possibilities.

It looks a huge amount of fun, has boundless opportunities for chance… but is a whole new way of painting. I don’t feel I could justify all the equipment and have a meaningful crack at this in the 5 hours or so I could allocate in this Exercise. This is the sort of thing that an art school would be set up for and you could spend a day on it, but as a distance learner studying from home with limited resources it’s not a viable suggestion.

Plus encaustic ‘painting’ is not about chiaroscuro or glazing, it’s more a combination of sculpture and flow painting to produce abstracted landscapes. You have the flow and pooling of the molten wax, when it looks like it acts like thin paint, and the quick drying (minutes?) where it can be formed and moulded, so is more sculptural.

However, watching the video has reminded me that there are different ways of achieving occlusion and I could experiment with drip/pour painting using household paint and thinning mediums.

My artists:

Research…

In Artsy.net [Cohen, A. (2020) 11 Emerging Artists Redefining Abstract Painting. At: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-11-emerging-artists-redefining-abstract-painting (Accessed 29/12/2020).] it says:

A new generation of painters, all 40 years old or younger, are rethinking what we might call, for lack of a better term, abstraction. For them, labels aren’t important. They’re more interested in the infinite ways paint can be applied to develop suggestive, beguiling, and transcendent compositions. They explore what it means to make a painting in the digital age and use contemporary research to generate new patterns and designs. Despite the diversity of these artists’ practices, a near-mystical devotion to the act of making and a desire to communicate via symbols and hues unites them all.

My underlining: I agree that labels aren’t important (just useful) and the aim is to produce transcendent compositions. That said I think ‘figurative art’ quickly becomes representational, and becomes a referent. This diminishes its status as a ‘thing’ in its own right (like a Henry Moore sculpture) and makes it at least on one level a ‘copy’. I know I want to make things, so I’m going to stick to the handy label of abstraction for the moment.

At my age, computers weren’t invented till well into my 20’s, so I’m not a child of the digital world. Contemporary research, if that means digital research, is not my strength. I have other strengths. So, I am using my experience and physical research to generate new patterns and designs, though I am aiming for ‘art’ rather than design.

Equally, I don’t want to create a new visual language like Mondrian and so communicate via symbols. However, I do want to communicate, but by tapping into universal hues, shapes and forms rather than symbols tied to specific meanings.

I wanted to explore some young artists working in abstraction today to counter all the research and reading I’m doing on early abstraction from the thirties to late 50’s, so am using this article in Artsy.net as a starting point.

Some abstract painters don’t use occlusion at all.

Here’s are two paintings by Tracy Thomason. The first has no occlusion, and the second no occlusion but a traditional figure and ground. Sadly there were no details on the paintings.

Here’s another figure ground painting with no occlusion, this time by Jason Stopa:

And here is a painting by Han Bing that does have occlusion, and even though abstract, creates visual mystery.

So, I am going to try and find three more contemporary abstract artists who use occlusion, and create mystery.

Looking through about 40 of ‘the best of’ modern contemporary abstract painters on the internet it’s clear that most of the youngsters are creating innovative art. There are no abstracted landscapes and very few paintings with a polished finish. On first glance many of them look like paintings from a Fine Art graduate show… but all the successful ones, whatever their ‘skill’ and ‘finish’, have a cut through that connects.

I used three criteria to select my final four artists.

  1. I had to like the work

  2. It had to be something that I had the resources to attempt.

  3. Their paintings had to use occlusion.

  4. They all had to have visual mystery.

Artists:

1) Lui Wei

Born: 1972, Beijing, China.

From his Wikipedia entry: Liu Wei is a Chinese artist based in Beijing. He works in varied media – video, installation, drawing, sculpture, and painting – with no uniting stylistic tendency, though the Saatchi Gallery finds a uniting theme of “a sentiment of excess, corruption, and aggression reflective of cultural anxiety”.

His UCCA entry [Liu Wei: Colors (s.d.) At: https://www.itsliquid.com/liu-wei-colors-ucca.html (Accessed 14/04/2021).] includes… Liu Wei derived an aptitude for manipulating spatial awareness, often toward a maximally disorienting and affective visual impact.



In a video on the Christie site: Link to site with video on Lui Wei in his studio [Studio visit: Liu Wei | Christie’s (2015) At: https://www.christies.com/features/Liu-Wei-6486-3.aspx (Accessed 14/04/2021).]… he says: he creates with unpredictability, he creates a reality then questions it, and offers questions not answers. And in the Artist profile on Guggenheim he says that everything exists within visual sensations.

Although his factory like studio, army of assistants, physical resources and talent are (a little) intimidating his artistic sensitivity is electrifying.

He makes we share some artistic DNA even if we are a world apart professionally.

Liu Wei, True Dimension No. 18. Photo courtesy of William Wang

It’s difficult to put into words but his connection to his environment is much more than a visual translation, it is not abstracted landscape. He maintains a subconscious link with his subject even when any visual connection is lost. His is a digitised/occluded/questioned abstraction; though some of his works are more figurative they still maintain a dystopian edge.

He has a connection to his subject which is at once painterly and intellectual, but also commercial and accessible.

2) Han Bing

B. 1986, Shandong, China. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

It is interesting that this is another Chinese artist. 14 years older than Lui Wei, and they have chosen to live and work in LA rather than stay in China.

Just like Lui Wei she takes her inspiration from city streets and architectural façades (I wonder if, as a young artist she was influenced by him or that was the only form of modern artistic expression that was allowed by the regime – a lyrical interpretation of emergent Chinese cities is non political… if anything it is a cultural supportive). In calling her paintings poems to the city she evokes the lyrical, the beauty in urbanisation.

In describing her work Bing says: “they are representational at times, but more moments of perplexity, when a few patches met unexpectedly and created a dynamic that made sense to me at that moment.” [Cohen, A. (2020) 11 Emerging Artists Redefining Abstract Painting. At: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-11-emerging-artists-redefining-abstract-painting (Accessed 29/12/2020).]

For perplexity one could read mystery, and her layering is more glaze like than putting one ‘object’ in front of another.

In the blurb on the website cited above it says… ‘Han’s layered, jagged shapes conjure the posters torn and replaced, ad infinitum, in the New York City subway stations; her soft scrawls in white and bright yellow suggest graffiti. In some canvases, a representational section adds a moment of surprise. Looking at Broome III (2016), for example, the eye travels over layered, gridded rectangles and ragged, wavy swaths of paint to land on what looks like a segment of a glistening, grilled hot dog.

Broome III (2016)

In Silver Lining (2019), two abstracted faces seem to touch,…

In Silver Lining (2019

while a central purple shape in QUASH (2019) could be a curtain or floating garment.

QUASH (2019)

Yet nothing in these works totally resolves into figuration.

Strange the blurb quotes New York when Bing is living and working in LA.

In terms of technique and how I might experiment with this in my practice, she seems to be painting with irregularly shaped glazes using semi figurative visual language.

Her paintings look like they are ‘of’ something. At first glance you expect to find a narrative (even with a suggestion of figure and ground), and her figurative visual language supports this. Yet when you examine them they dissolve into pure abstraction. It’s almost, at first glance, like you are going into a Picasso painting such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907:

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’AvignonParis, June-July 1907

But when you look at the painting it mysteriously dissolves into abstraction. It’s as if Bing is fracturing reality while maintaining a spiritual connection with it. This makes me think of the classic Chinese tradition where the artist (unlike Western single point perspective) immersed themselves in the landscape and painted the ‘whole’ of the landscape… that is they painted their experience and understanding of the land as well as the visual conceit (for we only ever see one viewpoint at a time)… and they would include many viewpoints in the seemingly single view they painted.

Bing keeps this tradition alive by capturing the soul of the city in abstraction.

Maybe I could painting my garden in a similar way using glazes?

3) Cecily Brown

Born 1969.

Her Wikipedia entry reads: Cecily Brown is a British painter. Her style displays the influence of a variety of contemporary painters, from Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon and Joan Mitchell, to Old Masters like Rubens, Poussin and Goya. Brown lives and works in New York.

I thought a magazine interview might give me more of a feel for the artist than her gallery blurb or a critical review.

This is a feature piece in the APOLLO The international Art magazine. [Wetzler, R. (2018) An interview with Cecily Brown. At: https://www.apollo-magazine.com/now-i-can-steal-from-myself-as-much-as-from-other-artists-an-interview-with-cecily-brown/ (Accessed 15/04/2021).]

The headline reads…

‘Now I can steal from myself as much as from other artists’ – an interview with Cecily Brown

Rachel Wetzler 3 NOVEMBER 2018

… as many as 50 works in various stages of completion… abstract strokes seem to line almost every available surface… Brown has become known for large-scale works that straddle the border between figuration and abstraction… capturing the sensations of the body through lush applications of paint… Simultaneously channelling the Old Masters and Abstract Expressionism, her paintings combine rigorous compositional structure with a sense of intuitive intensity.

… often she works in groups, starting several new canvases at a time so she can experiment with different possibilities for a given composition or motif while maintaining a sense of freshness and spontaneity. ‘If you do something you like early on, the constant fear is losing it, but if you’ve got two or three or four going at once, they can all go in different directions,’… When she’s at an impasse with a painting, she’ll simply put it away for a while and move on to another, returning to it later with fresh eyes… 13 years is probably the longest it’s ever taken her to finish a painting… Her process, she says, ‘is very much about things percolating in the background, just having faith in the part of my brain that’s making decisions without my being aware of it.’

… the visceral pleasure of manipulating paint.

Much of the article details her career and immersion in the classics (she trained at the Slade), and classic composition; and how most of her work includes the female nude and sex or eroticism.

Her work is a mixture of sexualised Francis Bacon and Hieronymus Bosch and her writhing figures hidden in an abstract mesh of gestural abstraction are brilliantly suggestive. Yet, even though semi-figurative her paintings are still ‘things’ in their own right and never slip into representation.

For my practice I am not looking at her figure work but her abstraction and use of colour… though I am not so wedded that I couldn’t try at a hint of a limb, head or torso.

Cecily Brown with her painting “Triumph of the Vanities II,” in the Dress Circle of the Metropolitan Opera House. Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times (Sept 2018)

I think the colour composition and movement is wonderful even if the ‘meaning’ comes with a closer inspection and the recognition of her central trademark figure and hidden limbs.

For my practice I am looking at the more abstract areas of the canvas:

Detail of “Triumph of the Vanities II,”

And…

Detail of “Triumph of the Vanities II,”

Strangely these details remind me of Arshile Gorky.

These details from her painting work perfectly as abstract compositions.

What I note for my practice is that her paintings look as if they are covered in paint, but there is (if you enlarge them on the monitor) white canvas showing through. There’s no muddying and no wet in wet mixing, all the gestural strokes have been applied as thin glazes on top of previous glazes, and this layered effect produces visual complexity, movement and mystery. The palette is flesh coloured and has a unity, and there is a mixture of organic shapes and gestural strokes.

I could certainly make a painting with a unified palette, using a mixture of brushstrokes built up in fractured layers of glazed paint.

4) Andrea Marie Breiling

From: Andrea Marie Breiling (s.d.) At: https://www.achenbachhagemeier.com/artists/andrea-marie-breiling/ (Accessed 16/04/2021)… she was awarded her first BAFA in 2008 which would make her (probably) born in 1986, and just under 30.

born in Phoenix, AZ, US, lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, USA

In her work, Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Marie Breiling articulates everyday experiences in a physical form. Breiling often draws on art historical sources, such as the gesture of Abstract Expressionists. Her energetic way of working gives rise to highly abstract, intensely coloured compositions that at times even seem calligraphic.

… leaving large areas empty or on the opposite a saturation of irregular lines, a collection of minortads or of larger flat tints where the juxtaposition generates specific colour sensations. The works display a radical and free-use of colour and line, as well as a self-confident testing with composition, scale and substantial structure.

Another article adds [Collector, D. (2020) 20 Painters Who Are Shaping the New Decade — Daily Collector. At: https://www.dailycollector.org/daily-collector/2020/1/10/20-painters-who-are-shaping-the-new-decade (Accessed 16/04/2021).]

… Breiling’s works are also an enigma as she often references the human experience and physical world in her titles, but she doesn’t let too many details get in the way of her totally abstracted symphonies of colour. The paintings are almost like a journal in their representations of titles that reference relationships and intimacy like Have you loved me for the last time (Laid Bare), Dark Spring, and Those Tender Parts (Closure, that cool kiss of the coming darkness).

Installation shot of Have you loved me for the last time (Laid Bare) at Night Gallery, image courtesy of the artist

This is the view as you might walk into a gallery. These are big (230 x 180 cm) colourful aesthetically attractive abstracts full of gestural marks. In this case they work as a series or, at the very least, are displayed as a series which adds to the physical impact of the work.

My first observation is that her colour palettes work very well, there is a significant amount of blank canvas, a range of gestural marks, glazing, some wet in wet (no muddying), movement, and visual interest (if not quite mystery) created by the layering and visual occlusion.

ANDREA MARIE BREILING THROUGH THE ROSES (I SEE FOREVER IN YOU AND IN THE SKY)2018 VINYL PAINT, OIL STICK AND CHARCOAL ON CANVAS 230 × 180 CM

This is a bit like Ian McKeever on acid. It’s multi layered glazing with canvas showing through. But where his layers are set down like delicate curtains of intellectual gossamer hers are sweated out in a swirling disco pumped with loud music and flashing lights.

I can see the glazing more clearly on this single painting. In the bottom right for instance, in the blue over blue, there is no mixing so this could only have been achieved by glazing. On the left there is thin, watery, dripped paint which adds another kind of mark (chance and gravity) to add to the free flowing gestural brushstrokes.

It appears she laid down successive layers of thin glazes then finished with two sets of gestural layers of wet in wet.

I also note hew use of mixed media:

Vinyl paint: (From a Google search): When a paint is ‘vinyl‘, it means that there has been a certain resin added to the paint. A similar kind of resin is often added to acrylic paints for a similar effect. This resin makes the vinyl paint more resilient to damage and harder-wearing.

Dry and recoat times are based on 70°F (21°C) and 50% relative humidity. Allow more time at cooler temperatures. Dries to the touch in 10 minutes, to handle in 1 hour and is fully dry in 24 hours. Wait at least 6 hours before sitting on or using a painted object.

Flashe Colour: Ocean Blue Pigment Index: PB15:3 PW6 Transparency: Opaque Lightfastness: Excellent Lefranc Bourgeois Flashe are a range of vinyl emulsion paints that offer flat matt coverage on a very wide range of surfaces. First developed in the 1950s, Flashe’s adhesion properties allow artists to work indoors or out on canvas, paper, walls, glass, wood, with brushes, paint guns, or sponges. Vinyl emulsions are similar to acrylic emulsions, however, vinyl emulsion paints have a very consistent matt film which is popular with abstract artists, among others. Flashe is suited to traditional painting surfaces and also offers good adherence and resistance to weather, making it ideal for fresco and wall painting, faux finishes, theatre decorations, and more. Flashe is highly pigmented and can be diluted with water to create a range of results, from highly opaque finishes to a transparent watercolour effects. Colours have a uniform 30 minute drying time and once dry they are water-resistant. They can only be removed with alcohol-based solvents. Please note: due to trading agreements we are unable to ship this product outside of the UK and EU.

So, artists’ vinyl paint costs roughly £10 for half a jam jar. In terms of materials two would be sufficient for one canvas, so £20 of vinyl paint. But, to set up, you’d need at least half a dozen colours.

Vinyl paint is liquid (I’m assuming) so would have very different qualities to my oil paint. It is all too easy for me to assume that every painting it is an oil painting and try to figure out how to paint it in oil.

Pollock used commercial paint… I wonder if hew used vinyl paint? On a material level it would have been impossible for him to paint his canvases with oil paint.

This is really making me think of materials and whether my chosen medium, oil paint, is the best material for what I want to achieve?

Charcoal: I can’t see any but there will be some if she’s put it as a material.

Oil stick: This is another name for oil pastel.

Right, this makes perfect sense now, the final layers are actually oil pastel, not wet in wet oil paint. They must be big (expensive) sticks to make that sort of a mark on a huge canvas. Maybe she uses them on their side, and then moves the pastel around with her fingers/and or hand?

So, this is another milestone in my development in thinking about materials.

My choice of oil paint is partly a hangover from landscape painting and because I love its texture and high pigment/colour saturation. But is it the best medium for free flowing gestural abstraction?

I’ll have a look at some more of her paintings to get a feel for their movement and see what materials she uses.

These all use the same materials… vinyl paint, oil stick and charcoal.

I think her titles are part of her brand, I don’t think I’d get away with… ‘… I Love You…’ or ‘… Cigarettes after Sex…’ And, as with any brand, when you buy a product you’re partly buying into the myth, just like a bottle of Coke Cola.

However, I love the colour and the energy, and didn’t know anything about her or her work when I first saw her paintings.

Working with vinyl paint would mean you could work much more quickly than with oil and the drying times are hugely reduced. But as a beginner painter and looking at practicalities (financial/physical and studio space) you’d have to be fairly certain of selling these large canvases to start producing them in any number.

I think its something you fall into or build up to… or get commissioned?

For my own practice I could look at using my acrylic as a substitute for vinyl paint and easily add oil pastel. However, the one of the main things is her painting is the viscosity of the medium, and on the relatively small canvases I’m working on I can still dilute oil paint.

Apart from the practical differences of mixing and diluting, oil glazes produce a gloss finish and have a different ‘feel’ to the matt vinyl abstracts. If I am producing small canvases that’s maybe something that could be my USP?

Maybe, when I’m confident with colour and composition and am selling paintings regularly, I can try some larger canvases with vinyl paint?

In my practical element for this Exercise I will try and make a painting based on Breiling’s style.

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