JOURNEY INTO THE ABSTRACT
by John Nolan
My journey into the abstract began when I first saw a painting by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) - Impression 3 ". Immediately I was enraptured by this masterpiece - It said something to me which I did not understand, but transmitted a feeling of awe and wonderment. I didn't realise that Wassily Kandinsky had challenged the conventional ideas of painting and developed a new visual language - a different means of expression in painting - "The Abstract ".
Thirty years later I still experience this wonderment and awe when viewing the same painting. At the age of 15 years, I was very familiar with the history of art as my father was an artist and we were continuously being bombarded with art books .On viewing Kandinsky I experienced an apotheosis which to this day remains with me and fuels my ongoing journey into the abstract.
After briefly attending Art College, I realised it wasn't for me ( not wishing to offend anyone but I thought and still think art college is a factory producing diplomas - it has very little to do with art ). After many years working figuratively, producing portraits, landscapes etc, using various media and developing a recognisable modern figurative style - the underlying focus of my work was always The Abstract. Unfortunately as every artist can appreciate, bills needed to be paid and saleable paintings were the order of the day. I became a closet Abstract painter, periodically displaying work to my family and friends while continuing to paint saleable pieces for the commercial market.
The common factor between my Abstract work and Modern Figurative work is always colour. From an early age colour was a major subject for me, like Kandinsky the image was less important, expressing inner vision for me through colour, this is my visual language.
It is difficult now to imagine the enormous and courageous leap into the unknown ( Abstract Art ) Kandinsky was taking when he turned away from representing the natural world around him, because even today there is very little appreciation or understanding of the abstract form, the reaction then 100 years ago is beyond comprehension.
Throughout my life I have been influenced by many artists, their work is a continuous visual feast for me. One of them stands beside Kandinsky in my personal pantheon of artists, namely Jackson Pollock (1912-1956).
Pollock went beyond everything that had happened in Art, his art expressed both action and contemplation. He allowed the painting to take on a life of its own, but he was always in control of the flow of paint. Pollock said he could be literally " in " the painting - while letting the artistic process take over, to the extent that he was guided by some inner force. He seems to have found the actual procedure of paint application increasingly expressive, not a means of depicting, in fact freed of depicting, this was a new kind of painterliness. His works are infused with surging energy, producing an immediate impact on the viewer, causing him or her to respond as an active participant rather than as a passive observer.
It seems to me that my drive and visual language should emanate from the same source. Abstract Artists obviously are influenced by some subliminal forms which may or may not manifest in the process of painting. More importantly, underlying this is the need to express something much deeper, that illusive form which drives us on in our artistic journey.
Me, the canvas, colour and brush, searching, exploring and expressing through gestural brushstrokes, - this is how I see my abstract work. It is a visual language therefore words are inadequate. I am interested in the qualities of the paint itself and the act of painting. The process sometimes becomes spontaneous and often a balancing act between colour and form. What I put on canvas is a pure creative exploration from my inner thoughts. Each piece I work on is a journey into the unknown, until that special fleeting moment arrives and a release of creativity seems to tell me I have arrived at what I was looking for - this is a very simplified and inadequate way of expressing the process, as I said it is a visual language.
My abstract work is devoid of representation, there is no image or object. The viewer is invited to study the colour and brushwork, to explore the layering of colour , and hopefully to experience the energy of the gestural brushstrokes which endeavour to move across the canvases, charging the paintings with movement and energy.
Whatever the inner pulse and the desire for certain colours and forms, which create the pure harmony on canvas, they will continue to dictate my artistic journey and remain with me through the proverbial agony and ecstasy that is the artists lot. ( Often more agony than ecstasy ! )
That original wonderment and awe thankfully is still with me every time I view a Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothco, Hartung, de Kooning, Hofmann, ----- the list is endless.
Recently I have cleared out my closet and launched an exhibition of my abstract work -" A Journey into the Abstract " The show displays paintings produced over a 7 month period, driven by a passion which so far has lasted 30 years.
A final quote to ponder on - " At the bottom of art, as its motive power and mainspring, lies not the wish to copy Nature or even to improve on her ... but rather an impulse shared by art with ritual, the desire, that is to utter, to give out a strongly felt emotion.....This common emotional factor it is that makes art and ritual in their beginnings well - nigh indistinguishable " - Jane Harrison ( Classical Scholar ) quoted in Herbert Read - "Icon and Idea "