In Awe of Glorious Abstract Painting

Propelled by the latest edition of the German Art Magazine Kunstforum “Gegenwartsbefreiung Malerei” and a feeling that a few positions could have been added, I would like to sing my praises to ( mostly ) American abstract painters that in my view are under recognized and whose artwork has influenced my own greatly in recent years.

I want to start by writing about Harvey Quaytman, a New York geometric abstract painter ( 1937-2002 ) and father of abstract painter R.H Quaytman. Below are pieces in a series that I believe stem from 1972-1973. The pieces are sculptural in a sense that the canvas has been constructed in two pieces and grouped together in a painting that becomes both object and sculpture. Standing in front of these amazingly beautiful pieces, the resonance of the pigments, thickly applied and layered, evoke a sacral glowing. The retinal sensation of these paintings, large in size, are both saturated and ethereal- combined with the concrete formalism of the shaped canvas it leaves the viewer with a sense of completion.

Harvey Quaytman, Left: ‘Araras,’ 1973; Right: ‘Sine Nomine Singer,’ 1974.

Below is a piece in an elegantly two-part shaped canvas, that reminds of a Hebrew letter. The colors are carefully chosen to balance each other between severity and fleshy vitality. It’s title: “Like Pearls before Pencils” alludes to the biblical allegory and is maybe an ironic comment on the artist’s condition.

Harvey Quaytman, Like Pearls before Pencils, 1969

The art of outsider artist Forrest Bess I first encountered at the Berkeley Art Museum just like Quaytman. Bess ( 1911-1977 ) painted his retinal impressions in the mornings. The formats of his work are rather small and intimate, with self-made object-like frames. His artwork, that can best be grouped inside eccentric abstractionism have a unique strong visual vocabulary.

Forrest Bess, Untitled No. 6, 1959

Bess was a self taught artist and lived a secluded life as a fisherman and artist in a shack-like house on a marsh in Texas. He was represented by Betty Parsons in New York.

Forrest Bess. Untitled (No. 11A), 1958. Oil on canvas. 17-3/4 x 24 inches. The Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Duke Energy.
Etel Adnan, Sans titre, 2012, huile sur toile.

Etel Adnan ( born 1925 ) is a Libyan-American artist living in Northern California. In her paintings she applies paint with a palette knife.In muted colors, contrasted to vivid colors so prominent in the Northern Californian landscape, she creates self-contained universes in perfect balance of chromatic temperature. In shows and presentations Adnan uses wooden surfaces on which she presents her artwork lying on the floor in correlation to the traditionally hanged canvases. Adnan thus reinforces the link between color and landscape she creates in her painting.

Etel Adnan, Mudam Luxemburg, 2019

Mary Heilmann ( born 1940 ) may be the rebellious child of a kind of formalism. While she operates within a color field spectrum she forges new depths within a reduced palette.Is she a contained punk rocker of the color field genre or is she breaking the viewer’s habit into glorious avenues of crunched color?

Mary Heilmann, Go ask Alice, 2006

Heilmann works with canvases stretched into her conceived shapes, groups them together with regular canvases, positions several canvases en suite to a vernacular of painting in situ. She also conceived painted chair objects to go with her paintings.

Mary Heilmann, Memory Remix, Hauser & Wirth LA, 2018
Amy Sillman

I’m a big fan of Amy Sillman’s ( born 1955 ) work. Her paintings are abstract with figurative undertones and line work that is beautifully layered in with the color application. In both swift and bold brush strokes, she articulates dense rooms, where abstraction becomes narration without leaving the secure grip on formal interplay between color and composition.

Amy Sillman, Cliff 1, oil on Canvas 72 x 59″, 2005

Sillman, within her broad spectrum of painterly abstract expression is also an excellent draftswoman. Her drawings and cartoons show a beautiful and secure line work that puts her in the company of Silvia Bächli, Marlene Dumas, the Swedish artist Helen Billgren and Louise Bourgeois. In contrast to the above mentioned artists, her drawings inform her paintings and leave the abstract work on the brink of figuration without crossing the line.

Cybele Lyle, built environments, 2019

Cybele Lyle, a California-based artist, integrates painting in her installation work. Her canvas is the interior space and she draws lines with materials such as wood or other objects. She places photography, videos, painted cloth or cloth that seems photographically imprinted in a given space, where the viewer enters into an architectural mise en scène.

With a delicate and radical eye, she picks up on the hues of window views and counters this information with an image and a line in form of colored photographs, masking tape, wooden slats and other material.

Cybele Lyle, Adventures in Solitude, 2016. Photo credit: Andria Lo

I want to conclude with Austrian artist Franz West ( 1947-2012 ), whose work included performance art, sculpture, painting and curatorial and conversational exchanges between international artists.

His painted paper mâché sculptures on wooden and metal pedestals are a convincing statement of painting becoming form. Although many artists work in a similar vein, I think that (for now) West has perfected this idea.Using simple material, he brings the painted form to its crude authenticity. Rebellious and unique the shapes seem to hover above the floor and punch all bronze sculptures and gilded frame paintings in the face with a contemporary assertion of finding the stars in the gutter.

Below the incredibly beautiful uncle-chairs by Franz West.


One thought on “In Awe of Glorious Abstract Painting

  1. Truly glorious.

    On Sat, Jun 27, 2020 at 2:02 AM Retina Revolution wrote:

    > annmariestohr5483 posted: ” Propelled by the latest edition of the German > Art Magazine Kunstforum “Gegenwartsbefreiung Malerei” and a feeling that a > few positions could have been added, I would like to sing my praises to ( > mostly ) American abstract painters that in my view are und” >


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