Thinking about abstract art

The abstract art challenge is a REAL challenge for me because ALL of my art in the past has been representational. Honestly I have never understood abstract art until I moved to Houston and went to the Rothko Chapel and the Menil Museum and stood in the presence of Rothko paintings. Rothko worked in something called "color fields" which are huge vibrant spaces of luminous colors atop other luminous colors. I couldn't stop gazing. I was transfixed.

So I started to buy books about the Rothko Chapel and about Rothko's paintings, to try to understand what was going on with his work. That was when I encountered his explanation of his work, why he painted color fields, why he abstracted and moved completely away from representational art. Like many abstract artists, he thought that abstract art was a form of revelation and prophecy that translated the artist's inner spiritual vision into a fabric of forms and colors. So abstract art was about expressing the inner self visually.

"White Center" [1950] by Mark Rothko

Another favorite abstract artist, Georgia O'Keeffe said about her art as she struggled to give external expression to her internal vision: "I said to myself, 'I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down.' I decided to start anew - to strip away what I had been taught - to accept as true my own thinking.[...]I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown - no one to satisfy but myself."

Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930 National Gallery of Art USA

I keep thinking about these artists. I keep looking at their work. And the more I do so, the more amazed by them I become. But amazement doesn't necessarily translate into my own art. I have challenged myself this year to hook an abstract piece. And every time I attempt to hook an abstract, I struggle. I am limited by my training. I am enveloped in representational and figurative thought. It is so much easier for me to hook a tiger's face than a field of color within other fields of color. But for a year now, I keep having visions of red taking form, interlaced with orange, like spiritual fire or baptism, but I am unable to express this visually in a rug (or a painting).

So this week I searched on Amazon to see if I could find help, some book that might suggest projects I could try to free me from representational thought. The book I selected just arrived in the mail, and I am thrilled with it. It is written by Rolina van Vliet, Painting Abstracts: Ideas, Projects and techniques. It contains 65 exercises written by an abstract artist and teacher of expressionism. It is designed to be simple and break painters free from the cocoons that shelter them.

Van Vliet writes in her conclusion, "I wanted to help you to develop a more challenging way of painting. It is of no importance whether you are now a fan of the abstract or simply of the figurative. Your acquaintance with the abstract method of painting has shown you the way to yourself, your inner being, your own talent. I hope that along the way you have discovered and experienced the essence of free painting. I wish you much success."

So my plan is to go over to Michael's and buy a few packs of small canvases tomorrow. The lessons are so simple and fun that I am going to set up my six year old on the table next to me with his own canvas (he loves to paint) and together we are going to try some of Van Vliet's lessons. My hope is that I will be able to free myself enough in paint that I will be able to translate the experience to textiles and hooking which take much more time and commitment. Baptism by Fire has to be born.