This I could have done too
- From abstract to informal art
This I could have done tooFrom abstract to informal art
Spring 2021 catalog
This I could have done too
From abstract to informal art.
“A painting is not the image of an experience. It is an experience ”.
Are you really sure? What if this is not the case? Why, when faced with an abstract work, are we often led to say that we could easily have made it ourselves? The review that we have made will try to explain the exact opposite and that is that this thought is inherently wrong. But then something escapes us, and our second thought takes shape: “It's an art that I don't understand, I've never studied it, I don't know anything about it”. Is this type of art only the prerogative of experts? Something that only a select few can understand and appreciate? Not at all! It is precisely this concept that abstract art tries to dismantle: we must abandon ourselves and abandon all our old patterns in order to accept and understand it, we must trust our instincts more than our reason, more in our emotions than in our eyes. That is why despite the initial statements and despite the perplexities, we are unconsciously captured by this type of representation. Not only that, we somehow become its creators.
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Indeed, some scientists have highlighted how we observers, by interpreting what we see in a personal way, contribute to “creating” the work of art: each observer, in fact, responds to the ambiguity of the work on the basis of his own experiences. That is, the brain takes the work and completes it in its own way to make sense of what we see. Why do we like the works of Pollock, Mondrian or Rothko? Because they offer a particular perceptive experience, which stimulates our creativity. The Nobel Prize for Medicine Eric Kandel (1) , analyzing the masterpieces of abstract art, tried to compare art and neuroscience, highlighting the type of approach to reality of these artists, an approach that he defines as reductionist: instead to depict an object in all its richness, they explore only a few components. Important for them is not the formal quality of the painting, but the creative act.
Until the mid-1800s, the representation of truth was fundamental to develop an idea and render it into an image, but at the beginning of the twentieth century something changed. Art frees itself from the representation of reality and the idea becomes more important than the image itself. Indeed, it is the idea itself that becomes art. But what brings a figurative artist to the abstract? This is a very strong need that cannot be rebelled. The call to abstraction can come as a result of an artistic maturation, a new knowledge of oneself, the urgent desire to "break the mold" to go beyond the known, but in some cases also the reaction in the face of the immense tragedy of the world wars. Those who can glimpse the possibility of painting without external impositions, can only open the door to abstract art and let themselves be carried away by the most irrepressible imagination.
We will try to accompany you in this fantastic world through a small review dedicated to abstract art, a topic touched upon on other occasions with the stories of individual artists but never dealt with in its heterogeneity; we will discover the most important currents and get to know the main authors, starting from Europe and then going to Russia and finally to America. It will be like looking into a kaleidoscope full of colors and shapes: a real journey towards a parallel and different world.
The concept of abstract art is very varied: each current tried to make its own contribution to a new need to make art. The avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, born mainly in France, such as Symbolism and the Fauves, began to develop the image not so much through its lines but thanks to the free and unscrupulous use of colors, recovering some concepts from distant and primitive cultures. All these movements converge towards what we can define as the two fundamental poles of abstract art: the lyrical and spiritualistic one of Kandinsky, which flourished in Germany, and the geometric and rationalist one, which is headed by Malevich in Russia and Mondrian in Holland. But, as we will try to analyze below, this new approach to art found many answers according to the currents, the countries and even the individual artists.
1 Eric R. Kandel, Art and neuroscience, Raffaello Cortina publisher, 2017. He currently teaches at Columbia University in N.York and in 2000 he won the Nobel Prize for medicine.
THE ORIGIN: WASSILJ KANDINSKIJ. It is precisely with the Russian painter Wassilj Kandinskij that art breaks all its schemes with the past, and it is with his works that we can speak of abstractionism for the first time. In his writings he speaks to us of the "spiritual appearance of the world" : his painting does not want to imitate reality but rather wants to evoke it, through symbolic and colored forms that psychologically influence the viewer. The painter also worked a lot on the analogy between art and music: "If the music that is abstract is able to generate associations and emotions, so can art". Thus he freed himself from the traditional conventions of figurative art to get closer and closer to abstraction. The Russian artist had sensed that it was not necessary to represent exactly what he saw, but what he felt, since the observer would associate these signs, symbols and colors with images, ideas, events and emotions recalled from his memory. "Art is not just technique, art is not just reasoning: art is emotion and the work is the casket that preserves the artist's sensations over the centuries, making him immortal, immune to the passage of time".
ABSTRACTISM IN RUSSIA (MALEVIC) AND IN THE NETHERLANDS (MONDRIAN). The other great strand of abstract art is the geometric and rationalist one, which developed in Russia and then landed in Holland. It bases its foundations on Cubism but to the Cubist geometric modules it gives a movement, a dynamism, an impetus. Kazimir Malevic , one of the leading exponents of Russian geometric abstraction, uses the cubist decomposition to break up the object that he reduces to absolute geometry. His is a drastic provocative act of definitive break with the object. Malevich's art program was only partially realized due to Stalin's condemnation of abstract art.
While Russian artists are involved in the revolution, in Holland, which remained neutral in the world conflict, Piet Mondrian gives voice, as he himself announces, to "an entirely new plastic way in which all painting is resolved" . The painter, influenced by Cezanne and analytic cubism, came to the idea that all natural forms could be reduced to cube, cone and sphere and all colors to primary ones (red, yellow and blue). Even in its extreme reduction, his art includes and summarizes the formal elements on which the whole debate in European art had taken place: line, color and light.
THE ORPHISM: ROBERT AND SONIA DELAUNAY. Orphism was born in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. The artists participating in the creation of this current focus their attention on color as an end in itself and on movement. Theirs is a strongly evocative art far from reality and from the artistic schemes known until then. Among the greatest exponents Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the couple gave birth to an artistic partnership that lasted throughout their life and which contributed to writing important pages for the history of art. In their creations the shapes vibrate in space, the lines are rounded like arches in the sky, the colors explode in exaggerated, joyful shades, as always was the union of the two artists. “Only the color is form and subject” affirmed Sonia Delaunay, who brought her own style also in fashion and in Parisian theaters.
THE FUTURISM IN ITALY. In Italy, at the beginning of the twentieth century, abstract art takes shape with Futurism. In the manifesto of the Futurists, what is most exalted is the "beauty of speed", the eternal omnipresent speed, identified as the only living expression of reality, becomes the very objective of the artistic representation: the image is movement to be deformed, broken down, divided until it loses its recognizable shape.
MAX BILL. Max Bill is one of the greatest exponents and founder of the Bauhaus and later of that current known as Concrete Abstraction. Bill's work focuses on abstract geometric compositions and primary colors; she was a multifaceted artist, architect, designer, painter, sculptor, graphic designer. His art was particularly suited to express itself through screen printing and lithography that Bill produced in considerable quantities.
JOAN MIRÒ. The Catalan artist, one of the most iconic and representative of the twentieth century, left an indelible mark on the European avant-garde. Mirò passed through Expressionism, Dadaism and Surrealism, but his style, which is difficult to categorize, gave life to a universal artistic language that was at the same time unique and personal, absolutely unmistakable. Mirò's works transport us to a hidden and distant world, a primitive world, which evokes rock paintings. The figures are made of lines that cross and colors that overlap, the shapes seem to wander in an undefined space, the perspective system is zeroed out. Geometric shapes, anthropomorphic figures, stars, ideograms, musical notes: a colorful universe full of poetry. The artist is full of amazement in front of the wonders of the world, his is a clear and naive gaze, like that of a child. It is the beauty of the world that Mirò tries to investigate but simplifying it, to capture its essence. The real is therefore the basis of his art, but it is a starting point and not a landing point. Mirò invents a new vocabulary apparently childish but in reality nourished by all the artistic experiments through which he has passed.
ART BRUT (JEAN DUBUFFET). Art Brut was born at the end of the 1940s, as defined by its greatest exponent Jean Dubuffet , and does not want to constitute either a group or a movement, but to enhance those who are located outside cultural institutions and artistic environments. This type of art wants to move away from any stereotype or artistic preconception to arrive at a primordial, pure, spontaneous creation. More than an artistic genre, Art Brut represented for Dubuffet a fantasy, an ideal to be contrasted with art commonly understood, institutionalized art, art charged with norms, academisms and traditions. By investigating in the psychiatric and anthropological fields, and discovering the extraordinary creations that people in situations of social exclusion often prove capable of - patients of psychiatric clinics, prisoners, inhabitants of inaccessible hermitages - Dubuffet intended to demonstrate the existence of a free artistic practice from teachings, doctrines and cultural heritage, a purer, more authentic, freer artistic practice. In his opinion, everyone could have access to art: regardless of education level, ethnic origin, social class or mental health. The less conditioning there were, the more it was possible to give course to true inventiveness. In 1962, and for the following twelve years, Jean Dubuffet will create the Hourloupe * series, the longest and most original cycle of works created by the artist. The series is characterized by the use of only three colors: red, blue and white, arranged in fluid lines delimited by fields of solid color and dotted spaces. A sort of automatic writing-painting, a tangle of random and irregular signs that will become the artist's hallmark. Signs so new and original to bring Dubuffet to the international limelight. * On the website of the Jean Dubuffet foundation, this neologism is explained as follows: "The word Hourloupe derives by assonance from hurler (roar), hululer (shout), loup (wolf), from the title of the book" Le Horla "by Guy de Maupassant, inspired by mental disorders.
CO.BR.A (ASGER JORN). An artistic movement born in 1948, the Cobra group (name formed by the initials of Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) brings together artists of Danish, Belgian and Dutch origin. All these artists, although of different origins, create a common poetic that seeks to rediscover the spontaneity and power of the artistic act. Their painting is made of very bright colors, violent signs and distorted human figures, inspired by primitive art. Even the ugly has its relevance now. Asger Jorn , one of its greatest exponents and founder of the group, said: “Long live the ugliness that creates beauty. Without ugliness there is no beauty but only the obvious, indifference and boredom ”.
JOSEF ALBERS. Of German origin, Albers taught for several years at the Bauhaus, before emigrating to the United States in 1933 when the school was closed by the Nazi power. In America the artist deepens his research on abstraction: he is interested in the psychic effects caused by the interaction of two neighboring colors. His work and his teachings are considered as precursors of Optical Art and Art Minimal. Among all the works that Albers has created, the ones that most represent him and that have made him most recognizable over the years are probably the Omaggio al square. A series that counts over a hundred variations that share the same rigid formal structure : three or four concentric squares, with different colored backgrounds, which fit together in a fixed proportional relationship. The result is apparently very simple , a composition of a single and elementary repeated form with variations of three or four flat colors. Despite the apparent simplicity, the Homages manage, through a calibrated exploitation of the chromatic perception, to enrich something that appears as elementary, but which has enormous potential in itself . Through what might appear to be a simple game, one finds the ever-present idea in his thinking and teaching: making the mundane interesting. Albers has an alchemical vision of art , capable of transforming the poor into the rich, lead into gold, a color in two colors, a sheet of paper into a sculpture; a simple square into something inspiring.
An open and free vision of the world but faced with rigorous discipline. In this way Albers manages to keep together, in a few squares and in a few colors, discipline and freedom, precision and ambivalence, order and adventure.
OP ART - VICTOR VASARELY AND YAACOV AGAM. Born around the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, thanks to its founder Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), Op (Optical) Art is an essentially graphic art, capable of creating powerful geometric figures through simple optical illusions, real visual deceptions that almost hypnotize the viewer. It takes up once again from the research of the Bauhaus that concreteness in giving prominence to pure visual values.
"Op Art explores the limits of human vision: the artist plays with the observer, creating geometric images that seem to vibrate and pulsate" . (Vasarely). Although the works of this current may at first glance seem to be virtuosities for their own sake, in reality they are based on very rigid visual codes and scientific foundations. The two main techniques used by Vasarely, illusory perspectives and chromatic tension, give his works an effect of three-dimensionality and movement.
Even the art of Yaacov Agam is interested in movement, so much so that it is defined by him as "the fourth dimension", a dimension that wants to be spiritual and conceptual. Agam has never shown figurative motifs in his works, since his beginnings he has always been an abstract artist. The use of colors is fundamental in her creations, bright, bright and varied colors. A choice that has a direct relationship with the Jewish religion: the rainbow as God's first gift to humanity. In Hebrew, Jehovah's name is Mehaveh Ou-Mithaveh, which means "constant change" and this is the fundamental key to understanding Agam's work: the artist invites us to think that it is not possible to see the entirety of his work without moving and interacting with it in space and time.
THREE ITALIANS: MUNARI - CAPOGROSSI - SANTOMASO. Bruno Munari was one of the most original protagonists of Italian art, graphics and design of the twentieth century. His work focuses on movement and the simplification of forms. He wrote: “To complicate is easy, to simplify is difficult. To complicate, just add whatever you want: colors, shapes, actions, decorations…. To simplify you have to remove, and to remove you have to know what to remove. Removing rather than adding means recognizing the soul of things and communicating it in its essentiality ”.
The negative-positive series and Peano's Curves are among Bruno Munari's best-known works. “The passion for the search for purity in visual art led me to these forms” , Munari writes. These are typically two or more geometric shapes wedged together. Fundamental in these compositions is the use of color, whose dynamic-optical qualities are exploited by the artist to give his creation a movement.
With Giuseppe Capogrossi abstract art is taken to its limit. With the gradual abandonment of figuration, after a short period of neo-cubist experiences, the artist arrives at a rigorous and personal abstraction characterized by form and sign. His works are composed of archaic calligrams in constant movement, in a game of infinite concatenations. The color lights up in the ranges of reds, purples and oranges and becomes indispensable in the construction of the space of the work.
With Giuseppe Santomaso , Italian abstract art moves towards the informal. His artistic production gave great space to the graphic activity, he affirmed: "the practice of engraving has also helped me a lot in purifying, in making my speech more essential."
POLLOCK AND ROTHKO. Towards the end of the 1940s, the center of art moved from Europe to New York. With Jackson Pollock and Marc Rothko the concept of painting changes again: Pollock bases his art on action painting , or rather on the act of painting. The artist dripped color onto the canvas lying on the ground (dripping) using brushes or sticks through which he drew in space. Pollock's canvases are dynamic and force the observer's eye to continuously move.
Rothko , on the other hand, focuses on the expressive power of color by reducing it to large fields and making color a subject in itself. In fact, he stated: "Only by pushing color and abstraction to the limit can the artist create an image that frees us from conventional associations and allows our brain to shape new ideas and associations and different emotional responses to them" .
CALDER AND KINETIC ART. Between the Fifties and the Sixties it is kinetic art that takes a strong foothold, both in America and in Europe there are several artists who approach this new trend. Up to that moment in painting we witnessed works stuck inside a flat support, while in sculpture we relied solely on the rendering of volumes, around which the spectator could turn to better appreciate the parts of the work. The diversity of Kinetic Art lies precisely in the concrete attempt to free the works from the frame, or from the pedestal, and deliver them to a fourth dimension, that is, space-time.
The boundaries of Calder's works radiate and propagate in real space, not unlike a Mondrian canvas, but with a new element introduced by Calder: movement. The figures of his sculptures and drawings almost seem to dance and hover outside the space, in a new and unknown dimension. To complete the fantasies of his experimentation, the meeting with Mondrian was fundamental. He will say to his fellow citizen Marcel Duchamp “I would like to make Mondrians that move!”: We are in 1932, he created the first mobiles .
SAM FRANCIS. A leading figure in abstract expressionism, Sam Francis is among the stars of the postwar American art scene. In this tormented artist, color becomes the absolute protagonist: the contrast between the white background and the blue, black, red and green tones gives the work an effect of surprising chromatic explosion. Surprising spots of color that capture and hypnotize the viewer in a story where, as the artist himself writes, “what is not painted is more important than what is painted”.
PS In this small review, as you may have noticed, there are no works by Mondrian, Malevic, Rothko and Pollock, of these only Pollock produced original lithographs, the others did not dedicate themselves to the art of printing, however, without their contribution they did not we could have dealt with the discourse on abstract art in a complete way.