ABSTRACT ART AND REALITY
As my regular readers are aware, I am largely self-taught, and proud of it. I painted from a very young age, encouraged by my mother who was an artist. At sixteen, I won the Art Prize at my school which, by a lovely coincidence, was the one attended much earlier by a hero of mine, the British abstractionist Patrick Heron. Perhaps I was unconsciously motivated by some of Heron's energy, retained within the school's hallowed walls, his quest for 'Pure Visual Beauty' being a concept that I find fundamentally inspiring. I did not attend Art College however, so my approach and style have been forged principally by me.
Not for me then, the philosophies and diktats of teachers keen to instil a particular direction in their students; I did it, in the words coined by Sinatra, 'My Way'.
In a 2020 interview with the Artist and gallery owner Beata Piechocka, it was suggested to me that “It has been stated that true or pure abstraction does not exist, because everything has its origin in reality.”
My response was as follows: “What is reality? When we look at an abstract painting, the object of our gaze is reality itself – the artist's heart laid bare on the physical canvas. In contemplating nature, our minds and souls can drift into subconscious realms – are these real or are they imagined? In the same way, we can see abstraction in the infinite patterns of nature, notwithstanding that nature exhibits a divine order. When I paint shapes, the viewer may see echoes of finite, concrete objects or beings; but when I make that line, I am most content when it exists for a reason no more or less great than the sheer joy of its creation, unfettered by concrete references."
BEYOND DIMENSIONS - HAYDN DICKENSON (2019)
Pursuing my own creative wanderings without intervention, I have arrived at some personal (albeit mutable) artistic and philosophical revelations. In recent times though, as my career has begun to ascend, I have read more and more voraciously about Art and Artists, Philosophers, Psychologists and Humanists, as well as thought more deeply than before about how my life and my art mingle, and about what Abstraction really is. As an abstract artist I do, after all, continue to encounter a degree of prejudice! I need to be prepared with some answers to niggling questions!
Reading about Piet Mondrian recently, I was excited to discover some of this ground-breaking abstractionist's thinking.
Mondrian espoused Theosophical beliefs, one of these being that everything we see around us is an illusion. In his view, a picture that is purely abstract is truer to the actual reality (that is at the root of everything) than a picture that attempts to capture an illusion of reality, for example, a landscape. I often recall, with amusement, Willem de Kooning's assertion (and I paraphrase) that there can be nothing more ridiculous than to attempt to imitate a nose in painting!
Returning to Mondrian, there are similarities in his opinion to those of Kandinsky, another follower of Theosophy, who felt that Art has the potential to be higher than Nature.
COMPOSITION WITH LARGE BLUE PLANE, RED, BLACK, YELLOW, AND GRAY - PIET MONDRIAN (1921)
I find it thought-provoking and fascinating that, before his shift to geometric abstraction, Mondrian painted exquisite studies of trees! It is my opinion that his unique abstract pictures (themselves imbued with Theosophical tenets) could not have existed without his trees preceding them.
EVENING: THE RED TREE - PIET MONDRIAN (1910)
I do not consider the majesty of Nature to be surpassable; I have written before of the impact that the Natural World has on my pictures and I align more closely to Sean Scully's view, that “We are all part of Nature. We are not better than Nature. We are the children of Nature”. I do find myself struck, however, by the degree to which Mondrian's words regarding Abstraction and Reality resonate with my own discoveries. I quote from myself in the interview mentioned above: “When we look at an abstract painting, the object of our gaze is reality itself...”
In his PEDAGOGICAL SKETCHBOOK of 1925, the abstract pioneer Paul Klee (incidentally, accused by the Nazis of 'distorting reality') wrote of “An active line on a walk. Moving freely, without goal. A walk for a walk's sake...”
To quote my own words once more, I have reached a standpoint similar to Klee's in my personal journey: “When I make that line, I am most content when it exists for a reason no more or less great than the sheer joy of its creation”. With several notable abstractionists I also share the belief that simple marks can hold primal and symbolic meaning.
In this way, those abstract gestures in line, tone and hue surely emerge as the purest reality.
CLOUDS IN THE WAY OF THE SKY - HAYDN DICKENSON (2022)
Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022