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.