Discovering Abstraction

Photo from SEE Magazine

Photo from SEE Magazine

While flipping through an old copy artSee, a North Carolina arts magazine, during my morning coffee I came across this photo which inspired the question, "I wonder if this man understands what he's looking at?" I ask this question not out of snobbery, but out of experience. 

I remember being introduced the abstract paintings of Mark Rothko in college through a framed poster prior to having read anything about moern art. I thought Rothko's work was a complete dud. As a business student at the time, I could not imagine how three, very flat color clouds stacked on top of each other, reproduced in the poster hanging in that Virginia Tech business school lecture hall was considered an artistic achievement, much less worthy of hanging there. I had no way of entry into this primitive and insulting color stack. It was a wall to me. The format of a framed poster within a institute of higher learning presumed in my opinion, significance and achievement. To me, this thing had attained none of the above. 

It wasn't until about a year after graduation that I first thumbed through the pages of an art history book on a work break and gave myself to reading about modern art. As most art history books do, this book ordered movements of art chronologically and explained the artists' intentions, including many quotes by the artists themselves, which I found fascinating. Seeing the evolution of visual forms chronologically over the pages and reading the artists' quotes were like a door of understanding opening to me. Visual languages I had never understood were now comprehensible. I began to see art movements as an evolving conversation about visual forms and ideas. From realism, to impressionism, to post-impressionism, to expressionism, to cubism, to pure abstraction, it was all a progressing conversation, and often an extremely heated one. Each subtle transformation of style, presented a chapter in a story and an argument of sorts, and each artist, his and her position in that dialogue. I realized pouring through this book during my work breaks that modern art didn't need to be all an insulting vault to me. I just needed the combination, which came to me mostly lucidly through the artists' mouths. I was hooked. I was hooked to the point that I wanted to participate. 

Within a few months of coming across this book, I bought my first set of paints at the ripe age of 22 and I've been painting since, engaging in my own way with the living story line of that conversation. Whether making it, appreciating it, or both, visual art is historically speaking, surely one field for humanity's highest achievements. It's a pleasure I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy and believe everyone can participate. Appreciation through an old magazine alone, certainly makes morning coffee and life rich!

Who do you think you are - Andy?


When I was an art student in Italy most of my professors were unofficial members of a very strict school of thought about how color should be used (unbeknownst to me when signing up for the school). They believed that color should always be exactly what the eye sees and always mixed, never applied right from the tube. So it's not an overstatement to say that for the most part, they openly despised my use of exaggerated color. In one critique a professor pointed out my painting and said, "Who do you think you are, Andy Warhol?!”, followed by his own smug laughter. 

In response to his commentary over the semester, this is one of several paintings that I made for my final art show at that school. As you can see, I used lemon yellow, dioxide purple (compliments on the color wheel which, as you may know, make the other color brighter) and cadmium red, all right out of the tube. I then signed it "Andy". The professor who was most vocal about his color theories refused to even go in the gallery where my paintings were hanging, which honestly delighted me. I stood outside the gallery, trying to hold back laughter and I smile every time I see it hanging in my studio today. It is a reminder to me of my own color theory, the freedom I believe in regarding art making and the right to use one's voice, no matter how high volume or bright it may be.