On Finding Balance with Nature

By Thom Wright    Nov 2020

Reference: “Inspired 2020” art exhibition showing at the Huntington Beach Art Center through 10 Dec 2020. This annual juried show presents work by 91 members of the Artist Council of the HBAC.  Public access is limited to 25 people and admission with Covid safety measures requiring wearing a face mask, observance of social distancing, and temperature measurement by the art staff before entry.  Reservations can be made on-line at huntingtonbeachartcenter.org

In the art show above, I have two abstract paintings concerning my long term theme of Climate Change that I would like to describe in this blog. My two-sentence Art Statement posted with the paintings is the following:

“The Industrial Revolution advanced some of mankind to our present affluence.  Its side effect of Climate Change leads to the destruction of man and nature, until we find balance.”

“Balance with Nature #9”, Acrylic on panel, 36” x 36”, Thom Wright  2019

In my first painting shown above, the composition is hard-edge geometric grid of lines and rectangles on a square format.  Central to its design are the “saved” knotholes in the original birch hard-wood panel. Their random placement becomes the basis for relating the collection of lines and rectangles, and represent a metaphor of the trees of the forests of the earth.  Some of the knotholes also have a short vertical line suggesting tree trunks.  The curvi-linear shapes and complex organic vein structure emphasizes their natural growth pattern, and it also provides a strong contrast with the man-made, linear structure in the painting. And as recently published in a “Scientific American” magazine, trees communicate among themselves chemically through their root systems.  It was found that trees are helping each other find balance in their root systems, and possibly indicating soil and water conditions in the ground.

As basically described in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky in 1912, “the whole determines the relationship of the parts”. He was the first to document how abstraction works in painting, that shapes have inherent qualities of mass, color, texture, direction and distance.  Color harmony and contrast also create psychological relationships such as mood and intensity, as well as build relationships among the parts.  Thus, for me a successful abstract painting is made with interrelationships of all of the parts that express an aesthetic of order, sequence and hierarchy, making rhythms, movement and balance, and capable of expressing its meaning in the whole.

Just to make it more interesting, working to find a dynamic balance in a square format may be the most difficult to achieve, because of its static balance with all sides and angles being equal.  So in this first painting, the random distribution and size of the knotholes has to be dealt with in the composition.  They also represent nature, versus the more colorful geometric lines and rectangles representing man. The lines connect the knotholes and also connect, intersect with, and divide the rectangles. Notice too that the dark vertical shapes on the left and right sides act to define a large central vertical rectangle, thereby creating a major change to make a vertical rectangle within the square.  Within this central rectangle are large horizontal rectangles in yellows, reds and blue-greens. These build a vertical movement of their shapes.  The nested color intensities add luminosity within each of the major color areas, and they have their own rhythms of color value, transparency and chroma. 

Finally, there is a single white square at the upper left that repeats the square format of the whole, thereby gaining added importance besides being located at the top.  It contains a pale violet square angle that relates to the other neighboring lines, and it relates remotely to a small blue-green square in the lower right. Thus, a subtle diagonal relationship is expressed in the midst of all the dominant vertical and horizontal relationships.  Notice the absence of angular lines are triangular shapes that would unnecessarily add competing rhythms, forces and relationships.  Even though this white square is the lightest value shape, it is a static square that is held in place by neighboring lines, and finds its match with the group of knotholes at the upper center. However, it is not more important than the knothole group, but closer to an equality of differences.  Accordingly, this relationship builds on the dichotomy of the man versus nature meaning of the whole.

Without my title and art statement, this painting is still well done and interesting as an abstract by itself.  But in our contemporary culture with its high level of technological complexity and industry, we tend to unconsciously favor our dominance over nature to our own detriment.   Now as man has increased pollution and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we see that our waste products are influencing climate with more severe weather, rising ocean level, forest fires, and the beginning of animal extinction.  Our future is predicted to be even more dire as we collectively fail to make sufficient rates of cultural change. For these reasons I paint paintings that hopefully speak to this conceptual meaning and support an activism to increase awareness and support.

“Balance with Nature #18”, Acrylic and pencil on panel, 40” x 36”, Thom Wright   2019

In my second painting shown above, it is immediately clear that the format is a vertical rectangle versus a square as in the first painting.  Generally, a horizontal rectangle is used for landscape paintings, representing man’s two-eyed paradigm of his stereo view of the earth as a flat surface, with the bottom reading as closest and above reading as farther away.  Similarly, larger shapes read as closer to the viewer than smaller, and larger shapes at the top of a painting read as much larger. And in atmospheric distance, brighter and more intense color read as closer.  In value, darker and higher contrast with its surrounding values reads as closer.  Darker value also adds more weight, making a shape more static and making a directed shape having more momentum. Accordingly, these variations apply in the triangular tree shapes at the lower (forward) sections.

In the top rectangle, the complete black fills the shape and its value is so great that the black shape advances rather than recedes.  Its emptiness heightens the content in the sections below.  It also has connotations of the night, the void, outer space and death (non-life), and thereby heightens the contrast of the brighter and more colorful sections below. On the left side the brown ground color adds warmth and heightens the luminosity of the single orange triangle.

In the lower large section the horizontal row of triangular shapes create a dancing horizontal pattern, with interlocking “up and down pointing” triangles. In both orientations they suggest tall pine trees, but in a collective forest of trees in different states or conditions.  By sharing common edges and having a few triangular gaps in the group, the painting gains in its two-dimensional flatness. The variety of triangular shapes adds to their naturalness. The variety of colors and texturing also add a degree of uniqueness as well as separateness from each other.  In addition, there are two linear shapes above the triangle group that suggest atmospheric distance, yet still belonging to the group. With the warm orange gradient in the upper area, there is a suggestion of dominant warmth, although the green-grey triangles imply different conditions.  There is no ordinary green color in any triangle.  The small yellow triangle at the lower left feels closest and also talks with the single orange triangle in the left section. In spite of the variety of shapes, colors and textures, the three spatial divisions dominate the design.  Allowing for simplicity of shapes and balanced with empty areas, there is an overall unity to the composition.

Although not shown in the images, I usually frame the paintings with my handmade hardwood frames. They are stained a warm brown that reveals the grain of the wood, and it adds a complementary element that further unites the painting.  Besides being less expensive, they feel natural and work with most rooms containing wooden furniture.  Consequently, I have long favored using warm colors in most of my paintings.

To draw a comparison between these two paintings, I leave that to the viewer.  I think that they both conceptually present my intention and theme as well as make a good abstract.  I welcome questions and comments from the readers.

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

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