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Writing about abstract art during the lockdown

Tuesday Night Painting #9

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Paintings out on a field trip

Hello painters, 

First off: my virtual exhibit is now live! You can visit the show by clicking that link to the A R E A Gallery website. This is a collection of works by myself and my former SMFA classmate Lindsey Kocur. We titled our show Utopian Optimism & Industrial Stresses, which we came up with after reflecting on what our artwork meant to us during these times. You can read more about our thoughts on this title and our collection of works on the gallery's site.

And this will be obvious to you if you click on the link, but I'm still mentioning it: these works are for sale! You could help out both the gallery and two young artists & educators by purchasing some of these works.

Hitting the road with some art.
This is a good illustration of "Industrial Stresses" from our exhibition title.
The A R E A Gallery exhibit showcases a body of work I've been creating since 2018 and have only recently concluded. I'm pressing pause on those particular explorations for now but plan on resuming them at a later point.

I've packed up all my acrylics and brushes to get ready for my move out of Boston at the end of this month! For the summer, I'll be residing in Pittsburgh, and then at some point make my way down to Austin for good. 


As a sort of going away celebration, I created a series of 16 abstract artworks, pictured below, for Room 68 in Provincetown. Room 68 is a special spot to me amongst the galleries of P-town. The two owners, Brent and Eric, are always putting in an insane effort to show a wide range of diverse and challenging work.

I'm thankful to them for hosting these paintings, collectively entitled GEMS. You can catch a glimpse of these pieces through the windows of Room 68 if you take a stroll down Commercial St.
Each of these works is one foot by one foot, made in acrylic on wood panel. These pieces were my attempt to emulate one of my favorite abstract hard edge artists, the late Brazilian painter Luiz Sacilotto. Within these Sacilotto boxes I've placed a series of abstracted seascapes. Here's a detailed view of what's inside the little rooms I've created.



Below I'm including an example of one of the inspirations for my work. You can see more of Sacilotto's work on his Artsy site here and read more about the development of this work in Brazil here
Luiz Sacilotto, C 8342, 70 x 70 cm, 1983

How can we train our eyes to look differently at the world during lockdown?

I came across two articles this week that will form the basis of our newsletter. The first, by journalist and nature author Lucy Jones, talks about the opportunity we have now of reconnecting with nature and learning how to better observe our natural surroundings.

Jones writes: "Our lives are made from the things we pay attention to. Slowing down and observing – these are radical things to do in our accelerated age. It is only by being in lockdown that I have seen new treasures that I’d previously have overlooked: the bright pink cones of the larch tree, blankets of blue speedwell, neon red velvet mites. The more we pay attention, the more we see."
Have you been noticing things differently lately? Lots of people have mentioned to me recently that wildlife is much more present in their neighborhoods now, whether it's a horde of giant turkeys stomping around their yard or how birdsong has become more noticeable throughout the day. 

I'm going to show you some of my thought processes as I'm walking around town gathering ideas for future paintings. 


I've been taking more walks and bike rides around the city recently. This has led to several interesting and fun discoveries. For example, I never really paid attention to the enormous smokestack that has been across the street from my building where I've lived for about ten years now. 
But take a look at this smokestack as the sun began to set. It's a relic from the industrial era of this neighborhood, when the piano factory across the street was still operational. I could easily envision turning this photo into a Matt Curley or Charles Sheeler style painting (recall the work from last week). 
And then there's the block of apartments across the alleyway from me. Not much to look at normally, but the shadows cast from the balconies onto the brick create some dynamic shapes and patterns that could be incorporated into a great hard-edge painting.
I've walked by this pub on Boylston countless times but  the elaborate decoration on the side of it caught my eye anew, especially including the beautiful red fire escape featuring a spiral staircase (!!!) that winds its way down the side of the building like a serpent. And then, a block bricks plopped on top to disrupt the ornament on the white building's roof. Add in the red blur of the neon light at night and this would make a fantastic compositional starting point.
Finally, the last stop on our evening stroll through the Back Bay, we have the Christian Science Center plaza. This brutalist concrete building stands in stark contrast to the fancy Romanesque cathedral directly behind me. But from this angle and perspective at night, you could wrangle loads of abstract geometric compositions out of this one photo.
Portrait of Nasreen Mohamedi
That brings us to this excellent article by Somak Ghoshal about two of India's most important abstract artists and how by studying their work we can gain a new perspective on these extremely strange times.

Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina (surname Hashmi although she preferred to use just her first name) created austere abstract works that were emptied of human figures but opened up new worlds for the viewer to explore. This is something that Lindsey and I wanted to convey with our exhibit and with our artist statement: how do we interpret human places minus the humans. As Ghoshal points out in the article, during the initial stages of the COVID lockdown, many famous international landmarks that would otherwise be flooded with people and tourists were completely vacant.
Zarina, Letters from Home, 2004
Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, Graphite and Ink on paper, 20 x 28 in
The meditative vistas of abstraction can teach us new ways of seeing, to notice the hitherto unseen.
I count myself incredibly lucky that I'm able to stay relatively isolated inside these days. If you are also fortunate enough to do so, this could be an opportunity to recalibrate your senses. As Ghoshal writes, this is the ideal time "to discover the art that lurks in the everyday and identify the traces of the everyday that find their way into art."

Making art, especially abstract art, is a little bit like dreaming. When we dream, we're taking in a range of stimuli and then converting it into something fantastical and strange. So in this way making good abstract art is like training yourself to dream while awake.
Zarina, Home is a Foreign Place, 1999, Woodcut prints with printed Urdu text on paper

Ghoshal describes this body of work by Zarina: 

"In Home Is A Foreign Place, Zarina pieced together fragments of her personal history: a skeletal floor plan of her family home, the bare contours of a room, the stick-like arms of a ceiling fan, the juxtaposition of light and dark on the walls. These vignettes teemed with unspoken stories: the whirr of fans during summer, the cooling shade of a curtain."

Zarina, Home is a Foreign Place
Zarina, Home is a Foreign Place
Nasreen Mohamedi's (1937 - 1990) work was relatively unknown outside of India during her lifetime, but over the past decade or so her work has been featured at MoMA, The Met, the Reina Sofia, and other international museums. Her extremely finely detailed pen and ink drawings are closely connected to the minimalist work of Agnes Martin.
Nasreen Mohamedi
Nasreen Mohamedi
Waiting is a part of intense living was the title of Mohamedi's show at the Reina Sofia in 2015. I think it describes the perfect mindset to approach life and art-making today as well. I encourage you to listen to this short, 6-minute audio description of her life and work provided by the RS.
Nasreen Mohamedi
Nasreen Mohamedi
Photography was an important part of Mohamedi's art-making, and I think you can observe the relationship between the images she sought out in the world. There are lines and planes which advance and recede, and there are highlights and shadows which create dark contrasting values. By looking at her photos you can begin to understand how she translated them into her layered but minimalist drawings.
Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, 1971
Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled
One concluding thought from Ghoshal: "Both [Zarina and Mohamedi] gave us new ways of seeing; they proved that there is more to emptiness than meets the eye, long before life forced us to reckon with the very same notion under lockdown."
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Links
Philip Guston, Native's Return, 1957
One:
A new book about Philip Guston's life and work gives some insight into the artist's abstract paintings and why he once said that he couldn't find any freedom in abstract art.
 



Two:
In 1950s Provincetown, a black painter named Bob Thompson arrived to re-invent art history. Below, Thompson painting on the beach accompanied by his wife Carol. 



Three:
Another look into the Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Met Breuer, which can be viewed in its entirety online now.
Hope you've enjoyed this latest installment of the newsletter. Next week we've got another interview coming up with my friend and former classmate Michael MacMahon and I'm really excited to share his work with you.

To steal something from the artist Austin Kleon (who stole it from the Austin Chronicle newspaper), this newsletter is free but not cheap. 
 
Chip in a few $$
I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at. So if you can chip in a few dollars, I would very much appreciate it. 
Bob Thompson, Blue Madonna, Oil on canvas, 1961
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. These ones are all pretty jazzy. Please enjoy these tunes and keep the painting vibes going:

Dorothy Ashby - Essence of Sapphire
Bonobo - Kong/Ketto (Live)
Ahmad Jamal - Crazy He Calls Me
Yusef Lateef - Love Theme from The Robe


See you next time!
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