The process of abstraction

It is interesting that we like to put labels on things. I was talking to a friend recently about my work. She asked me where the painting location was – where was the landscape I had painted. She wanted to name it; and expected the work to reflect the name of location. It made me realise that as humans we really do label things, the world around us, others, emotions etc… all the time. It provides comfort in some ways.

I recognise that I have differing views on labelling whether in normal life or in an artistic context. It can be divisive and stereotyping, whilst also be helpful. We label types of art, ways of painting, genres of work, eras of painting, we even label our own art into a style. Then we add a title to help guide a viewer to how we wish the art to be labelled. We label to put a position on art for ourselves and others. All this before we consider true abstract art and give room for someone viewing artwork to create their own emotional connection and interpretation.

This labelling – or categorisation – begins to constrain something that is inherently open and free. So, I prefer to take each work in it’s own right. I like to view a plein-air work or an abstract and just respond to it personally and as an artist. I don’t know whether labelling it “plein-air” or “abstract” helps me to respond to it. It may help me judge it against the whole genre it sits within, however as a single piece of art, I allow each piece of work to stand in its own right.

As painter of landscapes – avoiding the label of being a landscape painter – we often name the places we are painting or provide an adjective to describe a mood or time. I am guilty of this and have titles works relating to the local landmark of ‘Bury Hill’ for example. However my processes have changed in the last year. I still sketch in the landscape and go out and fill my sketchbook by the sea and up on the Downs. However I use these sketches back in the studio to inform my work. I never work from a photo. The photographic detail of the place is not necessary for me to achieve what I want with my work. The sense and mood of the place is totally necessary, however. I like a landscape to allow the viewer to go on a journey of their own interpretation of the sense of the place. By using sketches to produce a painting, I have immediately started the process of abstraction, removing the label of the place itself, some of the detail that makes it recognisable; and through that, to produce a piece of work that stands for itself, not the label or title it stands with.

So in a sense this a move away from labels and particular titles for me and I find it freeing. And I hope the viewer finds it liberating too.