Natural Abstraction

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Whenever an artist moves paint onto a surface in pursuit of an idea, they are abstracting. No one paints trees; we paint symbols, schema and illusions which conjure trees in a beholder.  Artists set expectations so that illusions can be evoked.

When considering nature as a source of ideation for painting we can look at a few contemporary abstract painters who offer a legible relationship with nature but, whose work easily rests in the camp of abstraction.

Kristin Baker, whose work I discovered at Yale University’s gallery, paints in acrylic on PVC.  She clearly refers to sky, mountains, and earth but, her imagery is so thoroughly reconstituted and distilled that we can also perceive the abstract qualities as you see here in example one, “Bash Bish Rubicon”.  In the southwest corner of Massachusetts lies a tumultuous falls cascading from the Berkshire Mountains. They are known as Bash Bish Falls.

Example 1. Kristin Baker, Bash Bish Rubicon, acrylic on PVC,

Contemporary artist David Ratcliff also pushes landscape through distillation and overlapping realism with abstraction as you see in his painting “Lake”, example 2.

Example 2, David Ratcliff, Lake, an acrylic on canvas from 2007,

Clare Woods finds the surface of aluminum to be smooth and inviting for her union of landscape and abstraction as we see in her painting “Black Vomit” from 2008 (example 3).

Example 3, Clare Woods, Black Vomit, enamel and oil on aluminum,

Let’s trace an image’s evolution from realism toward more abstraction. I begin with an image with strong verticals running beneath a stack of golden horizontals (see examples 4 & 5). The horizontal forms also diminish in intensity and size as they ascend in the picture giving them a sense of receding perspective. As I further considered this image I applied more atmospheric effects as you see in example 5.  This image is 24×24 and struck me as holding the potential for a larger format.

Example 4, Step one of “Small Transitions”, oil on brushed silver laminated aluminum,


Example 5. Step two of “Small Transitions”, 24×24,

Examples 5, 6, and 7, demonstrate the progression of the image toward greater abstraction, brightness, and broader, more vivid spectrum of color. Now the image begins in a 48×48” format on a white enameled laminated aluminum. Step three (example 7) presents the furthest extent of abstraction to date for this image.

Example 5, Step one of Transitions, 48×48,

Example 6, Step two of Transitions,

Example 7, Step Three of Transitions,

To retrace the journey from more legible realism toward a more exaggerated and abstracted state look at examples 8 and 9. Here is a simple shoreline subject with a classic meander toward a distant horizon.

Example 8, An Initial and more realistic state, step one, “Extending the Shore”.

Example 9, More abstracted and exaggerated state, step two of “Extending the Shore”.

3 Responses

  1. Connie

    Dear David – I always love your steps and discussion! Thank you again for so many ideas! Warmly, Connie

  2. Annie

    Amazing work!
    And the colors are just marvelous. Thank you for describing various work surfaces as well!

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