Abstract art [is] a reconciliation of fundamental opposites. As the union of space and time, abstraction [is] both ‘representation’, or pure form, and ‘will’, or pure energy, it [is] particular and universal, it [is] material and essence – that essence that sings its way through all eternity in every living thing.1
We experience art forms through sensations. In our contemplation of it, we hope to be psychologically and emotionally ‘gathered inside’ an artwork, becoming ‘at one’ with the material, the colour, the shape etc. In short, we hope to lose ourselves in the work, at least for the duration of our contemplating it.
In Creation in the Plastic Arts (1923), František Kupka wrote of the impact of colour on the emotions:
“Colour is, both for the artist who uses it and for the spectator who perceives and assesses it, the vehicle of the impression... Every colour provokes different sensations... the painter’s palette emancipates itself from any descriptive function to become, above all, a means of heightening the expressive language.”2
It is arguably in abstract art that this notion manifests in its purest form. Unconstrained by narrative or description, abstraction deals primarily with colour, shape, line, texture, scale. The viewer of abstract works is offered a shortcut to the sensation of its experience; the nervous system is triggered in a completely different way than when it encounters figurative art, say, or landscape painting, for instance.
If the range of values and ‘languages’ within art forms can be considered a type of event, for artist and viewer alike, we may consider this event to be purer, which attends our viewing of abstraction.
Colour is a felt experience, affecting us physically and psychologically. It conjures thoughts and feelings which at some level may be considered a revelatory response to our ambiguous, perplexing existence. Colour is experienced as an authentic sensation within us; this is in contrast to our abstruse interpretations of the confusing world around us, in which we seek to impose rational thoughts in order to make sense of it. In our present day, it seems increasingly difficult to perceive and assess the character of our multifarious world. The return to focus on material, to elements, may be a reactive antidote to the inexplicable nature of current times.
Vasiliy Kandinsky wrote that “colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”3
This exhibition considers the lucidity of the elemental aspects of abstract art forms - shape, colour, line, form, texture - in the work of artists who are eschewing descriptive interpretations of our times and who are causing vibrations in the soul.
1 Patricia Railing, Pure Painting, Pure Aesthetics, https://philosophynow.org/issues/50/, 2005.
2 Fantišek Kupka, Creation in the Plastic Arts, Liverpool University Press, 1923, p. 91.
3 Vasiliy Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications, 1912, p. 25.