By Thom Wright Sep 2020
In pursuit of the aesthetic that less is more, I have pursued some rather atmospheric abstract paintings, along with my more accustomed pursue of color and harmony. In this blog I pursue and explore how that happens in my current series of paintings, “In Balance with Nature”. I hope to convince the readers here that “simplicity comes from complexity of thinking”, as one of my art professors kept repeating in his lectures, but one that I personally have had difficulty with for many years. An Asian American friend also critiqued some of my earlier paintings as “not having enough space”, suggesting that both equally contribute to the integration of the whole, as well demonstrated in several thousand years of Chinese brush paintings. It’s been a struggle for me to appreciate and then apply this concept, but I offer the following several examples of my efforts.
For the sake of contrast, the first image shown above is one of my latest abstract paintings in this series. Many more are also presented in my art website portfolio under the “In Balance with Nature” category. It is quite apparent how filled the work is with shapes and colors, almost a hierarchy of areas and shapes within them that create many movements and rhythms, a play among the repetition of shapes with changing colors, sizes, directions and values. It holds together by the comparable activity in each of the major divisions and how they relate to each other and make a integrated, whole work. This painting serves as a counterexample to my paintings that breathe.
Last year, while I was in the midst of my “In Balance with Nature” series, I made this second painting shown above as an abstract landscape. It was to be a wedding gift for my niece, Erin Rose, and her husband to be, Justin, who live in Denver, Colorado, a large state with vast plains. Rather than scale the size of the paper up to emphasize space in this landscape, I simplified the design to express space and openness. The high horizon line and small diagonal angles also contribute to the feeling of recession and distance. The light blue at the top is naturally recessive and suggests sky. The blue below the horizon line suggests water (their house sits beside a lake). A warm yellow-orange tone over most of the paper has light valued brush markings in shallow diagonals that contribute to the feeling of the plain. It also sets up the burnt siennas, reds, browns and dark greys in the major triangle with inner vertical brushstrokes that suggest the grasslands and prairie. But compared with the first painting, it effectively presents a design with lots of room, and negative space that amplifies the few lines and shapes in it. The composition sets up the distant house as a focal point, using a linear grid structure that leads to the distant house that was in then under construction. By keeping the painting simple and gestural, and keeping most of it light and thinly painted, all the parts become the whole.
Another one of my art history professors also repeated this theme of less is more. She pointed out many times in lectures that the greatest Western painters from Michelangelo in the 16th C., to Rembrandt in the 18th C., to Jackson Pollock in the 20th C., they all made paintings with room to breathe. She described it as having oxygen – ample use of space in landscapes, portraits and abstracts. I surmised that I was not the only art student who needed subtle advice.
My third and latest painting shown above applies the lessons learned from the second painting, an abstract landscape, to my ongoing “In Balance with Nature” series. This theme relates to representing the threat of climate change to both mankind and nature, and uses the California forests in stress from higher average temperature, more droughts and the increasing forest fires as a metaphor for the global threat. Finding a dynamic balance in the design is my metaphor for man finding a sustainable state of balance with nature.
I use triangles to represent the trees. The three horizontal divisions suggest three temporal states of the forests, changing from the cool blue-green (watery) at the bottom to the warmer and drier middle section, and then to the upper band with extremes of hot and cold in the red and blue colors. The top section also has the brightest colors and unbalanced shapes that make it more active and the center of focus. The rising diagonal lines indicate the direction of time from the bottom to the top. Thus, my abstraction has the feeling of space and scale much greater that the rather small size of the paper, and uses spaces, and symbols in lines and triangles to convey a image of finding balance.
At the present time, we are in a state of crisis with climate change, where science has foretold the future, given the past and the present conditions. My art does not attempt to solve the crisis, but possibly to focus attention on the problem. And maybe I succeeded with less is more.