Abstract Formal and Free
a new beginning for abstract painting in the twenty first century?
By the turn of the century there was a significant uneasy feeling among creatives, it was because the conceptual, come installation art form, had dominated contemporary art for decades [in Europe], it had reached the point where it had become ‘institutionally-approved art.’ – and therefore only represented the Art Establishments opinion of contemporary art and no-one or little else. The conventional medium [painting] had not only been ignored unfairly, but often ridiculed by many academics as a serious medium to create a new contemporary art form.
This was more apparent in Europe than it was in the USA. Which had, in the main, accepted and had retained ‘painting’ on the curriculum of universities and art academies. This wasn’t the case in Europe, especially the UK, where slowly but surely ‘painting’ was removed not only from Universities curriculums but also actively eradicated by discouraging students of including painting in their portfolios for year ending assessments (some made a threat of immediate failure if they did so). Talent, skill, colour understanding and artistic authenticity became a thing of the past and all these later day basic elements and knowledge for art creation was declared ‘obsolete’ in favour of a Post Modernistic approach to art where plagiarism was not only allowed but expected of the student.
Not every one agreed with the post-modernism dogma, and many Artists, in general, became tired of restricting themselves to the non-physical involvement of art creation, mixed with the re-making of someones else’s original idea from the recent past and where the actual process of the creation was secondary, or unimportant. Disillusioned with the philosophy of post modernism and conceptualism, where only the ‘idea’ of a work of Art was the thing that was worthy of consideration, traditional painting became more and more attractive to Artists once again. This was despite the uneven handed approach to painting in the Art Education system. Painting flourished, especially with the underground artists, mostly dogged painters from the 1980’s, also the graffiti artists and with help of small exhibitions by the commercial galleries on some high streets and in provisional towns, painting began to prove that it was very much alive and had not ‘died off’ as it was predicted it would in the later stages of the Twentieth century.
The catalyst for paintings resurrection may have come from a movement that became known (in Europe) as the ‘Transavantgarde.’ Achille Bonito Oliva, an Italian critic overseen the new, or more appropriate, renewed an art philosophy that rejected the left wing [political] thinking in art and its corresponding artistic psychoanalysis. They returned to encouraging the use of traditional materials and the creation of Art imbued with not only talent but the invention of new image communication forms or symbolic signs. They gained an international audience in 1982 with an exhibition that was mounted in Rome.
The leading Transavantgarde artists included Chia, Cucchi and Clemente with Baselitz and Keifer in Germany, who are often thrown into the mix of the artists in this re-engagement with painting. What was also significant, was that a few artists in the USA seemed closer to the European Transavantgarde mind set than they did to the ‘pop’ or the ‘hyper-realists’ practitioners (for example, Julian Schnabel).
This goes to illustrate how the Art in the public view (media coverage), the one sanctioned and approved by art institutions, can be misleading, with the implication that Art is binary or lineal. Most artists know that Art is and always has been, dynamic and multifaceted.
We are only in the 17th year of a new century, but these last seventeen years are proving to be milestones in painting development, albeit not to the same extent that Cubism changed how artists think about how they could create a work of art.
The neo-expressionism of the Transavantgarde of the 1980’s led to more and more figurative interest in art creation. And in certain ways figurative abstract painting has asserted itself as the popular choice of many artists. Today figurative abstraction appears at the forefront of recent painting. It can take the form of abstracted human forms, landscape, emotional or personal experiences. The resulting artworks all carry something ‘real’ as the key element in the work of the artist. Art for Art ‘s sake, or Art as the object itself is no longer the main concern.
Picasso once said that… “there is no such thing as abstract painting, everything comes from something..”
What is apparent today is that the visual art playing field has widened and levelled itself to be inclusive rather than exclusive, as it was once was not so long ago.
Realism, semi-realism, abstraction in all it’s forms, gestural, expression, geometric formal, and informal and combination abstraction (objectivity mixed with non-objectivity), photographic/painting montages, video, digital art and graffiti, all have an active role to play in the kaleidoscope of todays visual art world. The whole history of art and art ism’s seems to have merged into an array of visually stimulating and exciting art forms, but only new in the sense that they are created in the ‘here and now’ and reflect that ‘here and now’ – it’s perhaps a more short sighted view of culture that is held today than it was in the middle of the twentieth century.