Abstract art can sometimes be elevated to a superior – perhaps even pretentious – status in the art world; where it is paradoxically also condemned by many as ‘not art’, because it deviates from being overtly representational. There are often three camps of people that are suspicious of abstract art: the first simply dislike its aesthetic appearance; the second claim that ‘my five year old could have painted that’; and the third state that they ‘don’t know enough about art to understand that’. The first, we believe, is the most valid of the three. Believe it or not, you are allowed to think what you like when you view a work of art (despite what some art experts will try to tell you). It’s the latter two reactions to abstract art, that we can’t help but find a little bit disheartening. And that’s because they suggest to us that abstract art is taken unreasonably seriously. It seems that the caricature of the contemporary art connoisseur – staring wistfully into the large abstract canvas, and expelling the occasional knowing grunt of elevated approval, in response – has embedded in the minds of many the idea that abstract art is inflated; holding conceptual secrets that only the most learned art critics and historians can truly understand… We call bullshit. After all, it is quite simply a single way in which humanity expresses itself or represents the world; and it frequently serves to give form to playfulness or spontaneous emotional release. Yes, okay, abstract art is more often than not highly calculated, and arranged to trigger a particular response, or convey a certain idea; but this doesn’t mean it can’t be simple, relatable, or even (dare we say it) fun. We want to help refresh the public perception of abstract art, by showing you a few of our favourite pieces in the gallery at the moment; all of which, we believe, are rooted in playfulness.
The notion of playfulness is immediately present when looking at Jacob Littlejohn’s work, Untitled. The title itself directly subverts the notion of objectively representing the external visible world; and therefore it encourages the viewer to freely soak in the colours and forms – and not hunt for a linear narrative. At the same time, however, the arrangement of dislocated geometric shapes acts a little bit like clouds floating in the sky – it’s tempting to semi-consciously hunt for recognisable forms amongst the abstraction. In addition, the work is largely made up of lines – sometimes linear, or thereabout, and sometimes swirling, jagged, or impenetrably complex. These provide points of access; guiding the eye dynamically around the work. The thicker overlays of card are often clear-cut signposts that link up the detached forms; whilst the smaller pencil, pastel, and painted lines interchange between clarity and complexity throughout the work. In other words, sometimes the forms are easily consumed, but other times we become entirely tangled up in a knotted muddle of lines. But this process is largely instinctive and personal – what each person will see is not necessarily preordained by Littlejohn; instead, each viewer can contribute to the meaning of the work, and as a result, viewing the Untitled is a sort of active game. Ultimately it’s a near-dizzying burst of abstraction, that typifies playfulness to a T.
‘Joyful abstraction’ would be the two words we would use to articulate the work of James Tebbutt; and Funk Around is the absolute epitome of that. In this work, Tebbutt draws together pastel pinks, blues, and greens; with dark teal, ochre, and stark white bursts. The darker colours create a pictorial depth that is lifted and then sunk, variously, through oscillation between light and dark, soft and rich. These colours are brought together through a layering of various textures: moving between loose, smoky brush work; clear, deliberate lines; and sections of impasto detail. These many and varied layers enact the work’s title – they funk around; seemingly diving in and out of each other, sometimes clashing, and other times smoothly sailing past. The perfect layer of pale blue that underrides these colour and textural layers, blissfully peels into the background, and offsets the burst of gestural action; pushing it forward, and exaggerating its dynamism. It emits a dancing energy that perfectly represents our assertion that abstract art is a fun, engaging genre that can captivate us as wholeheartedly (and moreso!) as a work grounded in naturalism or conventional narrative.
In almost complete contrast to Littlejohn’s knotted puzzle, and Tebutt’s dynamic ‘funk’, Richard Marsden plays with shape and texture in a more compact form, in his Untitled II. The work is broadly made up of two concentric rectangles – one white, one black. Situating the black rectangle within the white, pushes the darkness forwards – creating an almost three-dimensional zone, or abyss, in the centre of the work. Within this space, three abstract shapes float around. Their painterly edges, and asymmetric positions within the black rectangle, gives the illusion that they are indeed gently floating around. The dark form of the grey near-rectangle seems to be fading into, or emerging from, the depths of the black rectangle. In a similar way, the bold clarity of the yellow square, that shares a form with the loose pink square, creates the illusion that the painterly pink shape is morphing into the hard, yellow form – or vice versa. Conversely, it seems that the yellow square could just as easily be floating across the yellow square, whilst crossing its path. In other words, these forms are quietly dynamic – they’re not wholly bold, firm, and certain; rather, they appear to have been rendered in a moment of flux. As such, their abstraction is seemingly complete – they stand proudly as painterly shapes, fixed on the brink of movement, or perhaps transformation. They don’t exist to transmit some grand narrative; instead, they’re a suggestive and playful interaction of shapes, colours and textures.
So, as you will have gathered, we are tired of this prevailing abstract art stigma, which characterises all art of a non-representational nature as reserved only for those ‘in the know’. We would love more people to see it as the powerful, fun, accessible and engaging genre that it is! As always, thank you for reading!