Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MOMA's Inventing Abstraction exhibit

Ending up in NYC by chance during the Holidays, I had a chance to view the groundbreaking Inventing Abstraction exhibit at MOMA in its first opening days. I have to say it was exactly what the doctor prescribed, a show the focus of which is the linking of a global strive towards abstraction. A huge map of connections, almost Linked-in like, greets you at the entrance, and you immediately realize that noone ever works in a vacuum, that all these separate geniuses whose work you admire for its originality, were in fact influenced by someone else perhaps even continents away. That famous phrase 'everything's been done before' no longer seems scary as it becomes clear that you can still find your voice in relationship to other voices.

Wassily Kandinsky

I also discovered during this show that abstract art has a formula, an easy one at first sight, but something that might take a while to adapt to in terms of your own preferences. The equation is made of three variables: color, paint application, and form. With my idol Kandinsky, forms obviously derive from a landscape, peaks and voids of mountains and gardens are visible, and a bold pure black line outlines them all. The canvas texture peaks thru as the color is applied in one expressive layer. To him, all the symbolism is in color: "I know what undreamed of possibilities color conceals within itself".

Robert and Sonia Delaunay research the sphere and place opposite colors side by side, shading their tonalities within a sphere.
Robert Delaunay
The futurists are all about hard lines, lots of cones, triangles and sharp edges. There's tremendous play of opposites and shading from light to dark. I especially loved Gino Severini, and the expressive strokes in his drawings.
Gino Severini
The Russian suprematists are difficult to grasp as it's just pure geometry and planes of color, but for them the very fine application of paint with tiny brushes across various planes seems key. Liubov Popova was a revisited discovery for me this time around.
Liobov Popova

Georgia O'Keefe all the way on the other side of the globe is so organic that it feels like she's painting plants or human forms and she's of course been criticized or applauded for that time and again, depending on the era. What she said I found truly powerful: "I found I could say things with color and shape that I couldn't say in any other way, things I had no words for." Her line is very musical, sensual and the palette is soft, pastel-like. A tiny brush and methodical application is, however, her method of paint application.
Georgia O'Keefe
And then of course, there're the Dutch and the famous Piet Mondrian with his grids of vertical and horizontal lines. Somehow, I didn't realize he was Dutch and that others right beside him were part of the De Stijl movement. Nevertheless, his piece below simply blew me away. Everything is perfectly balanced and your eye moves around to methodically placed limited colors. Unlike Kandinsky, he employs layers upon layers of paint in a soft, calming way, once again - balanced.
 Piet Mondrian
It's a grand show, and a must for anyone in love with abstraction. It's also perfectly presented for those simply curious about the development of art in the 20th century and not quite getting what abstract art is all about. All the greats are here, perhaps with the purposeful ommission of the usual suspects like Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne. Kudos to MOMA and to its curatorial staff!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


If you pay attention to spreading one color in a balanced way around the canvas, you don't run the risk of getting stuck in the details - a true pitfall. You're also then a lot more cognizant of the type of stroke you're making - for me it's the short horizontal slab with a palette knife that brings the most satisfaction, especially when there's sufficient color that your edge can examine their relationships. Another element that adds to the sameness of texture is s the tool you use, that is staying with same palette knife or brush if repetition is desired, or switching it to a thin outline with a tiny yet bold brush line. I'm certainly a descendant of Russian painters (Kandinsky, Chagall, Rothko), string  the bold black outline is very important to me after all, especially when it's a jagged dancing stroke that seems to resemble a sting. The appearance of this pulsating string seems to be more importance than simply the color relationships. Pay close attention to the palette you're mixing on for pleasing color combinations - this might be the best guide for your painting's progress if nothing else. And know when you get tired in order to stop before it's too late.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I set out to reach a point between figuration and abstraction where just enough is being said, but not quite so much to ellicit concrete references. I substituted a brush for a more expressive palette knife. I added texture with the impasto technique. I stopped taking photographs of the landscapes I paint in order to limit my desire to perfect a scene. And yet, with the passing of time it appears that my pieces are only getting more dense and representational. It bothers me that then I want to achieve perfect perspective, or ouline something just enough to be able to feel its mass. These wishes are too literal. They shouldn't be relevant in an abstract work. How easy it must be to just choose a few lines and take off without prior knowledge of proper means of representation. It is just so difficult to convince yourself to stay general, to break the piece simply into planes, or fields of color. It takes tremendous leaps of faith to trust yourself in a completion of a color relationship, in the placement of a bold line. Perhaps this is where the mastery is - to depart from a mere representation to a complicated and impactful world within. Perhaps this search for a place to call home would end where no known references reside. Till then, the search continues...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Have you checked what you're listening to lately?

So it may seem obvious or it may not, but what's on my stereo is always influencing what gets out and on to canvas. I've grown up with hard rock music and oftentimes it triggers nostalgic memories and aids me in bringing me back to my roots and their expression. Other times, it's just too strong of an influence. The lyrics are meddling with my thought process, making me unable to focus and concentrate. A Latin motive may elicit more energy than I may have had on a given day, but it soon begins to almost dictate what type of line and color it wants. Classical or soft jazz rhythms are usually too calming for me. My art sensibilities require peaks and voids and strong voices or instruments. However, I am always in search of meditational music that focuses on repetitions of phrases that I cannot understand. Then, it's simply a voice that I react to and it's almost like a conversation in the background an the foreground. It's a prety incredible exercise to switch between various musical genres during an art studio visit. But, beware of what it may do to a painting. It may make it a bit too saturated and confusing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


A body of work is starting to come together and though I sense similarities in a palette and obviously the theme of landscape, each one of these pieces is incredibly different in terms of its mood. It's truly remarkable how my current state of being is influencing the piece. These past few months have been stressful and panicky with a new baby. As a result, my latest painting, 'Lilac Day', is simply making me nervous. The lines are anxiously spreading in all kinds of directions, the contrasts in colors are highly overt. There's true tension here, especially in comparison to the previous piece, 'Mount Fuji'. Now could it be as simple as direction of a line and a balanced out composition? Or is this a result of a transfer to a much more expressive palette knife paint application and addition of wax medium to create texture? The only way to find out is to mix the two: use up the little remaining wax with a palette knife and then move back to painting with a brush. Would this result in a piece with an interesting mix of moods or would it simply become muddy and confusing? We shall see.

Monday, October 8, 2012


It's incredible how immediate our sense of direction is. If there's a horizontal line, it right away suggests a horizon; if there's a vertical line - it's a tree or a building reaching to the sky, any tilting in the stroke and it suggests wind and motion. It's impossible to create an abstract painting without these immediate visual references and more often than not it's when one sees these markers that the piece becomes somewhat confusing. Does this mean you stick with just vertical lines, or horizontals, or you're reaching for the left, or going to the right? Otherwise, it's an immediate reference to a landscape and you're nor here nor there...

FYI, I'm hosting a kids workshop this coming Saturday, October 13th, weather permitting, at the Waldstein Playground in Brookline. Would love to see your kids there. Let me know if you can make it so I could organize enough supplies!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Looking at my 4 year old the other day carefully placing identical blobs of color onto a piece of paper, (due to his under developed fine motor skills of course), I began to wonder whether this is the right way to go in order to achieve balance in a painting. That is should I carefully continue with a chosen direction and method of applying a stroke, a la Van Gogh or the Pointillists, as opposed to acting on impulse and taking cues from hand movements? If you simply follow your instincts, then the piece shows intensity but also chaos and instability. If all brushstrokes flow simultaneously, then there's serenity and the eye is calmer when it moves around the work. Question is what do you want to achieve, and is this result what you'd be happy with for the moment, or is it good enough to live with for a lifetime?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


So I've decided to revisit texture via a combination of oil and wax. It is incredible how different the painting process feels with this quick change of course. The paint all of a sudden has mass and feels like a true substance with lots of volume. The colors blend in but keep their original intensity and peek through without layering. Most importantly, the expressive nature of the painting becomes that much more immediate. A palette knife allows the inner urge to spill out emotions to come through so much more readily than a paint brush. It feels as if once you know that paint cannot be smoothed out, you relax and simly let it breathe. The canvas underneath has its say as well as it doesn't need to be covered up but rather acts as another element in a carved out piece. It's truly a marriage made in heaven me painting this way. I feel that it will very soon lead to the long awaited abstract effect that I've been seeking.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I've got the color but how do I approach form?

It's clear that in any successful painting the two elements, form and color, happily entertwine. It can be seen in a completely representational work and to the same extent in an abstract piece. However, it becomes much harder to analyze and accomplish a successful combination in a painting that is void of any representational references. There are of course multiple schools of abstract painting, from geometrical or minimalist abstraction to expressionist, to color field. Automated references drawn from imagination were employed by the surrealists. I, however, believe I'm not able to part with the connection to nature and its forms. Nor do I really want to as it truly provides the most varied choices and organic combinations. My idols like Kandinsky and 20th century Monet, for instance, successfully bridged abstraction and figuration by drawing inspiration from landscapes. However, the tricky part is determining which key elements in a painting get to stay when it's reduced to an abstract piece, and which are less important to the overall composition and feel.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Color intensity & setting limits

When given a full range of color you inevitably want to use whatever is available and yet that's what creates unsettlement, confusion and lack of focus in a work. Masterworks show, even Monet's more abstract late landscapes, that the most powerful relationships are of key two or three colors. The rest are minor accents. However, it's the limitation and the choice of those most powerful relationships that poses the most difficult question in a painting. Somehow, just utilizing two or three colors isn't enough. The accents are just as important, even though there're less of them. So really it's this play of intensity that is key. It's the constant control over composition, quantity and power of pigment that is at play.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I always wonder what happens to an artist's genius once he/she is recognized, pinned down to a style, and is forced to create within it for years and years or prosperous recognition. Does the drive to create overpower the boredom of style? Or can one always find challenges even when the themes are seemingly trite and overused? Or when a commission is ordered - how much of it should be dictated by a client vs. the artist's own freedom to end the piece when it has nothing more to say? I feel like the hardest thing sometimes is staying true to self and not simply appeasing the masses.  It is so easy to ruin the piece by overworking it, or to suddenly realize that you have nothing more to add but are expected to achieve so much more. Of if a style simply isn't yours and what you truly wish to do gets sidelined by what what pays the bills. It isn't easy to find your voice with so many other voices asking you to compromise. I guess a sign of a true genius is the ability to stand his ground despite criticism and expectations.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The fascination with Cezanne

Honestly, I don't get it. His figures are abominable. His landscape palette is very boring and bland. Probably the only thing that I actually enjoy are his apples. Truly, either I'm missing the point or the whole art world has gone mad. Yes, he broke down the landscape into sections or cubes, but didn't Monet do a much better job with breaking it down into color fields? Maybe it's just my own sensibility to color that is preventing me from appreciating his contribution in terms of line. But then I value Picasso's jagged line and Dali's careful draftsmanship and find Cezanne simply primitive and secondary.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Color relationships

The other day a good friend and collector was telling me about a show he saw at MOMA in New York by an artist who worked on 20 landscapes at a time with one color. He seemed baffled by the complexity of the idea of placing a color so boldly without the rest of the painting figured out. To me, it seems like a completely opposite phenomenon and an excellent exercize. Our whole world of perception is about our reading of color relationships. It makes it that much easier to start from an abstract color field and play with how another color will effect its impact. Yes, the idea might be daunting if one doesn't feel his/her palette. However, an artist overtime comes to undesrtand his inner color wheel and should be able to apply it in either an abstract or representational format.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Introduction to why I paint

Our life very quickly passes us by and we're too busy to notice. It's a stunning time of year now with all kinds of flowers blooming, temperature of the water as pleasant as in a bath, birds chirping away. Yet, to find even a minute to stop and contemplate, let alone record this feeling of bliss is so difficult. It's like we don't allow ourselves to ever relax, even when there is free time. Everyday worries are always there - how long till mealtime, when do the children need their nap, is there anything work-related that I urgently need to accomplish? Why is it so hard to not feel guilty about simply enjoying nature? I think I'm only able to relax and understand its grandeur when I paint. That is why I'd like to devote this blog to painting nature in all its transient glory.