Sunday, 3 February 2013

Paint Explosions

When you look at the following picture, what do you see?

Who Figures by Carmen Guedez

A prison cell? The floor plan of a house? A medley of conflicting emotions? Randomly arranged lines and colours? Whatever you say, nobody can tell you it's wrong.

I've always been fascinated by abstract art. I understand it isn't everyone's cup of tea - I know plenty of people who don't consider abstract pieces to be 'art' at all. To me, however, the separation of visual forms and colours from realistic representation allows endless freedom for interpretation. As impressive as the technical skill evident in some figurative art, I find it often stiff and limited compared to abstraction. Congratulations, you deftly recreated a landscape - but what does it mean? Why did you create it? Why didn't you just photograph the view? Perhaps I just need to hear more from the perspective of figurative artists but these questions often arise in my mind. On the other hand, experimentation with the basic elements of visual art allows such great imaginative freedom on behalf of the observer. You aren't being told what you're seeing.

It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it's true - aesthetics are subjective. Viewing and appreciating art is not a one-way process. Everything you experience is interpreted in light of your own history, beliefs, thoughts, and mood. What to me is a butterfly may to you be a bat, a moth, or an alien in desperate need of a hug. The same is true of all other experiences in life. The subjective nature of human observations is a critical limitation in science, giving rise to various forms of experimenter's bias. In psychiatry, the psychological baggage a patient brings to an interaction with their doctor is called transference (with the inverse being countertransference) and greatly influences the doctor-patient dynamic. Regarding photography, Ansel Adams expressed the same sentiment:

“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Inspired by the work of action painters like Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Wiener, I explored the use of semi-controlled splashes to produce simple bursts of paint on paper. I enjoy creating artwork over which I don't have full control - half the fun is seeing how it turns out. It allows careless abandon, and a certain degree of automatism. I never cease to be surprised by the results!


While at high school, I studied art every year. It was consistently one of my favourite subjects and I always looked forward to the classes and, dare I say, the homework. In my final two years of school, my Art/Design subject required I produce a selection of 12 formally assessed pieces backed up by a significant body of research, experimentation, and planning. Each of these was the culmination of weeks to months of work. While none from this series ever made it into my final dozen, they were some of the most fun to work on. There's something about throwing paint against paper that's quite satisfying - you should try it some time.

One of my school art workbooks

Aside from making a mess in my room (and creating a rather colourful computer), I think I also made quite an effective series. I find simplicity in art very appealing; the less one needs to include visually to convey a concept or feeling, the more powerfully it can hit. Just as more words don't make a story better and more lines of code don't make a program better, more brush strokes don't make a painting better. By keeping the portrayal concise, attention is captured and the underlying message is less prone to being lost. The catchiest headlines and book or movie titles are often the shortest.



A few months later I revisited the idea. I wanted to take it a step further, so I used a more vibrant colour range and continued until the entire page was covered in paint. As I was only working in A3, it didn't take long to finish but I really liked how it turned out. Despite not planning the piece in advance, I find the balance of colours and mix of hard and soft transitions quite appealing; it all just fits together so well. The piece feels happy, energetic, and full of life.

Circus of Life

I definitely see myself returning to this style again in future, perhaps upscaling to canvas, working in mixed media, or blending the techniques with other artistic styles I've explored. I know what I enjoy, and this is it.

"When I am in a painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well."

Jackson Pollock

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