Pure Abstraction - Does It Actually Exist?
Updated: Aug 22
As an actively practicing abstract painter who has a deep appreciation of the very concept of abstract art, I'm particularly interested in nonrepresentational art (pure abstract) that does not depict anything from the real world.
Abstract art is the ultimate freedom of visual expression that isn't and shouldn't be constrained by any rules, restrictions or limitations. It is and can be a very expressive communication language. The key which differentiates abstract art from other arts is it uses our feelings to interpret it. Interpret the "unfamiliar".
Many great abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) at some stage in their careers involved representational imagery before they moved to non-representational painting.
de Kooning works ranged from abstract to figuration (particularly the female figure) and often merging the two subjects.
In his early career, Rothko understood art as a tool of emotional and religious expression and moved from representation and mythological subjects into rectangular fields of colour and light; some of his greatest pieces of artwork.
Joan Mitchell's early works were influenced by landscapes but then she moved to her fantastic style of creating marks with brush strokes on canvas that don't relay to the familiar but giving the viewer incredible emotional intensity.
These great artists were engaged with representational imagery (the familiar) and non-representational abstraction (the unfamiliar).
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) is normally regarded as the first artist to paint abstract. But, it is said that a Swedish woman called Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) created her first abstract painting in 1906, five years before Kandinsky. As a child, Kandinsky was fascinated and stimulated with "colour symbolism and psychology" and continued as he grew. Some of his early paintings related to houses and churches, e.g. the Church of St. Ursula (1908).
They all used different styles to visually express the unfamiliar that can only be appreciated by engaging your feelings rather than your brain. But they all began with representational art.
So, does that give clear indication that many abstract painters started out using the representational objects first before moving to abstraction! Perhaps.
Then, the other question is: can you paint abstraction without the knowledge and experience of painting the "familiar"?
I can't answer that question as I started painting water colour landscapes in my early childhood (fascinated by colour psychology) and much later moved to abstraction. But I'm interested to find out and I think it would be possible.
My true fascination in abstraction is to explore if "pure abstraction" does actually exist!
What is pure abstraction? Some answers focused on the idea that the object does not depict anything from the real world. Even our wildest imagination of whatever it is, a straight line, curved line and any shape we could think of is still taken from some object or a collection of objects from the real world.
When I painted the above abstract paintings, I intended to represent nature in the first painting which is obvious. But the other two paintings I went for a complete nonrepresentational approach with no intention that any of them may depict anything familiar from the real world.
Different people saw different objects in both paintings.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “abstract” as “existing as an idea, feeling or quality not as a material object”. It also defines “abstract art” as “used to refer to a type of painting, drawing or sculpture that uses shapes, lines and colour in a way that does not try to represent the appearance of people or things”.
Interesting to see the word things. Is things depicted from the real world?
Is there anything that humans can think of or imagine that is not actually depicted from the real world?