Welcome to the 2nd column of what will be a regular feature here in the Arts section of GoChengdu.
This time we are going to focus on abstract art and perhaps one of the responses that the writer most often faces as an abstract painter, when at a live painting event, when showcasing his work at an exhibition or when guests visit his studio; and that is; "Kan Bu Dong!" (or, I can't understand what I am looking at).
While that can be annoying and really that depends upon the time of day, the length of the show, the mood the artist is in and a myriad of other frivolous or aggravating factors; it's going to happen and it is something as an artist you are going to need a reflex to deal with. Preferably, in a positive way.
One practical observation from hundreds and hundreds of hours at events and shows is that most of the negative reflections come from the Y chromosome. Perhaps as an artist, you may find, as the writer has, that this is some type of gender-based variant of the Pareto Principle or the old 80/20 rule. Interestingly enough, it has been suggested that most buyers and collectors of art in the Western world tend to be rich, old, white men. However, this writer and artist has found from overwhelming experience that most of the time in China, it is women controlling the purse strings when it comes to purchasing an original piece of art for their collection, home or office and women tend to be more diplomatic in their approach to learning about the origins of the work and what makes it special.
Some people say that if you apply the 80/20 Principle to certain areas of your work or life and you focus on the percentages of key inputs that give you your greatest results, while finding ways to downplay or eliminate the rest, then you may achieve your goals on a more satisfying scale. Apparently, we may now also have to compartmentalize the principle into geographic regions. It's a delicate balancing act, but most people and of course, artists as well, do want to win more often than not.
But let's get to the art itself. As with Mosaics, which we described in our previous column as "all around us, all the time"; the same can be said about Abstract Art. Mother Nature is without a doubt, the greatest abstract artist of all time. It is on this thought that the writer relies when approaching a hesitant or dismissive viewer of the work.
You ever watch Youtube vids of those guys milling timber in their backyard or shop?
Those videos can be 15-20 minutes long, which is an enormous commitment in terms of today's world of WeChat, Weibo and Twitter clips. But people watch them and do you know why they would sit there and watch a huge saw cutting through the massive logs of fallen trees?
Because they want to see the reveal. They want to see the beautiful abstract pattern that Mother Nature has formed within the grain of that wood over hundreds of years.
So my approach to those who may not understand abstract art, is that they do in fact understand it. The understanding is within them. That just may not consciously realize it. I may get into a little back and forth with them, like this:
Me: "Do you have hardwood floors at home?"
Them: "Yes, I do."
Me: "Why did you choose that particular floor?
Them: "I liked the wood grain pattern."
Or I may make a friendly wager with them, suggesting that I am 100% sure they have bought abstract art before. Another example:
Me: "Jade is very popular in China. Have you ever bought a jade bracelet for your wife?"
Them: "Well, yes, I have."
Me: "There are thousands and thousands of jade bracelets out there on the market. Why did you buy the one that you chose for your wife?"
Them: "Because I liked the pattern."
Me: "Bingo! Pay up!"
There are so many other examples. Take Coober Pedy or Lightning Ridge in Australia; world famous places for the mining of opals. So what is it about a stone, that people will go out into the middle of nowhere, dig a shaft down 20 or 30 meters into the barren ground and hope they get lucky? Of course; it is the abstract pattern, totally randomly created by nature!
So yes. Many people who claim they do not understand abstract art actually own many examples of abstract art already. The abstract artist may seem like they are in a random pursuit of beauty and there is nothing wrong with that being exactly true. But to get there, they often have to be unafraid of destroying a piece. They have to be unafraid of adding those extra elements or using unconventional methodologies that perhaps have never been tried before. All in the pursuit of creating a pattern that someone will find to be the right one for them and something which will hold their fascination. It's the feeling, the mood and the aura the creation is putting out. People either feel it or they don't.
The most common comment from buyers of the writer's own artwork is that they feel "comfortable" when they view the piece, closely followed by "happy" or "calm". Achieve that in your artwork and you will have work that sells.
Each week here in this column, we give some practical, real-world commentary about art, rather than paraphrasing historical or contemporary information on the web. We leave the research to you, but we'll give you some search terms related to the column topic, for you to check out on your own.
1. Live Edge Slabs
2. Lightning Ridge Black Opals
3. The Polar Pride Boulder
Also, each week, the writer will feature one of his own works, or provide feedback and commentary on any submitted works by other artists, whether new, emerging or otherwise. Such feedback will be practical and constructive and based on the writer's real-world experience of selling artwork in today's marketplace. As of publication, that would be over 280 original works of art in the past 32 months.
If you are an aspiring artist, art student, emerging artist, or fellow professional artist and you wish to have your work reviewed for some constructive feedback, please send a photo or representation of your work to the writer's WeChat (see QR Code) and perhaps your work will be selected for a published review. Please note, not all submissions will be able to be published, however, the writer will endeavor to answer all requests by private message.
This week the writer features two of his abstract works "Archangel" and "A Panda Celebration", which will demonstrate aspects of abstract art at both the macro and micro levels of view.
Composition: Oil and metallic acrylics on three layers of ink wash paper, fused to cardstock and set in a hand-crafted, gilded, ornamental frame.
The artist's "Archangel" is a showcase of a completely new style of artwork that was created in the artist's Chengdu studio. This technique involves the layering of traditional Chinese inkwash papers, which when fused together with certain types of medium will become transparent, allowing the underlying layers to show through to the surface and therefore giving depth to the work unlike any others. You can actually see down into the painting. Out of the seemingly random palette knife strokes made by the artist emerges a vision of an Archangel in the top right corner. Some people will see her. Others won't. Maybe they will see the very prominent half-face at the lower center left of the painting instead. This is what happens in all of the artist's abstract works.
The human eye (and mind) will seek out recognizable forms and shapes. They may occur at the macro (general overall view of the painting) or the micro (detailed scan of the work using a zoom) levels.
This is why the artist called his original abstract works "spirit paintings". For in each of them, there are a number of images of humans, faces, animals, creatures and other familiar objects. Some apparently hiding behind a leaf or a tree, only wanting to show a part of themselves, but definitely peeking out from the painting into the real world. Like a portal. It happens every time. And it is way cool.
The best part about it is that every person sees what they see, or they see nothing. Some see it right away. Others cannot wrap their mind around it. And that is fascinating in itself in as far as how the human mind works.
So, we leave you with this abstract work and wonder if you can guess why it is titled, "A Panda Celebration".
Title: A Panda Celebration
Composition: Oil and metallic acrylics on ink wash paper, fused to canvas board.
Matt Vegh is the curator of the M Gallery International, located in Chengdu. The M Gallery International returns to simpler times with a focus only on "Beautiful Art".