Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Struggles with Abstraction

My current painting project in progress is an abstract piece. Normally, I would be entirely thrilled about the prospect of being able to paint something abstract, as realism seems to be the focus of most of my painting classes. The assignment is to paint something that is an abstraction from nature, which does not use any of the local/natural colors of said nature, and (this is the kicker for me) that has a recognizable/identifiable concept.
Helen Frankenthaler abstract piece, Nature Abhors a Vacuum
Abstract art is defined loosely as 'art that does not depict recognizable scenes or objects, but instead is made up of forms and colors that exist for their own expressive sake' (from the Dictionary of 20th Century Art). While there are different ways that artist's express abstract art, to me, the beauty of abstraction is that it doesn't have to be about anything. Of course, for some artist's it is 'about' something.
Vance Kirkland's Forces of Nature
If you've ever been to the Kirkland Museum in Denver, it is quickly recognizable that Mr. Kirkland was a huge admirer of nature and space themes, and even though his work is very abstract, and his ideas were purely hypothetical of what could happen, there is a definite idea behind his work.

For my project, I have a definite concept/idea. I am a lover of all things related to elephants, and have strong feelings regarding poaching the animals simply for their tusks. Even though killing elephants has long been banned, they are still being killed in large numbers simply to remove what is essentially two large teeth, which are then made into jewelry and other items. One of the interesting and rather sad things about the poaching is that elephants with large tusks are the ones who are killed to get the most for the deed. This has created a genetic shift in the animal, because the elephants with small or no tusks are left alive, thus creating a genetic mutation of sorts with elephants being born with no tusks at all. 
Tuskless elephants are increasing in numbers due to poaching
 The idea is clear for the project, but causing said idea to come through in the painting is another story. I've done about a dozen color sketches, trying to reach some kind of sense or conclusion, but nothing comes from it. This seems silly to me as an abstraction may not show a clear idea at all. I'm struggling with how abstract to make the piece and how much I really want to worry about it. In the end, I think I need to do what I think is visually best, but I'm struggling with pleasing the instructor (e.g. following instructions) and doing what seems natural to me. I suppose that the truth remains: no one ever says art is easy.

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