Dwight Smith, project director at Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery, had a specific reason to include a national abstract competition in the gallery’s 2018 exhibition year. Smith and Executive Director Calvin Mims both wanted to respond to a frequent question in the community: If representational artists paint in a way that depicts what is clearly identifiable, then what are abstract artists doing?
Two hundred fifty artists across the country answered the complex question by participating in an exhibition titled “Immersed in Abstraction: A National Juried Competition.” Of the 250 artists who entered the competition, 25 were selected to send original works for the gallery show at Ellington-White, and fifty-six artists are being represented in an online exhibition.
Artist Randy Akens was the final juror of a two-tiered jurying process. From Savannah, Georgia, Akens jurors’ statement is short: “The artists in ‘Immersed in Abstraction’ all provide quality of expression and reflect significant points of view nationwide.”
I think it’s important to expound on some central points about abstraction for anyone who would like to broaden their understanding about the abstract style.
The range of styles in “Immersed in Abstraction” confirms why there are countless texts published that examine the ideas or intent of abstract art. Of the many relevant approaches, I selected several significant and foundational modern/contemporary statements about the style – explanations that could alter one’s perception about a non-representational style when visiting any gallery.
As long ago as 1943, Ad Reinhardt’s statement about abstract works created clarity for many when he stated, “It is more difficult to write or talk about abstract art than any other painting because the content is not in a subject matter or story, but in the actual painting activity.”
The above statement is illustrated in all of the paintings in “Immersed in Abstraction.” For example, when looking at the brushy painted marks of Jean Banas’ “Misplaced Memories,” we know there are two figures in the picture plane – yet the act of painting becomes more important than the subject. The artist’s painting method becomes integral to the meaning of the work itself and the viewer’s interpretation.
Another important and well-known statement about abstract works was made by Douglas Huebler in 1968. Huebler, defending his position against being a representational artist, said, “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more. I prefer instead to simply state the existence of things in terms of time and/or place.” Huebler is not referencing the physical “objecthood” of an art object but is challenging the idea of why to reproduce or reference an illusion of an object or objects in a work of art.
When considering Huebler’s stance, I immediately think of the Hawaii-based artist Tara Cronin, whose work was accepted into the physical exhibition of “Immersed in Abstraction.” Hoping to “promote the idea of science and art as being symbiotic,” Cronin’s work is a pigment print with chlorophyll, pen, pencil and blood. Titled “Daybreak Archival,” something hair-like seems to float amidst a seemingly unknown language. The image conjures something that feels ancient with the universally personal.
When thinking about Cronin’s work, it’s easy to reflect back to Reinhardt’s statement about the importance of the actual activity of the making.
Cronin, an accomplished artist and someone who holds several co-patents with her partner, scientist Ed Chen, explores “the interface between the material and the individual by making photographically- based work involving images or prints combined with materials such as reconstituted hemoglobin and chlorophyllin as well as with dust and with liquid metals.” In lieu of practicing chiaroscuro to create the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a flat surface, Cronin shares her investigation of the expressive quality of materials.
Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery is pleased with the response of artists and the variety of mediums and styles in the exhibit. Ranging from professional and collectable works of art to works by emerging artists, the exhibit includes a range of media – monoprints, intaglio prints, paintings, mixed media, photographs and computer graphics. From the figurative to non-objective, visitors to the gallery will see painterly expressionism as well as hard-edged minimalism, social commentary and personal investigative approaches to art-making, science and politics.
The politics of M. Wilk’s mixed media work titled “Control Series: Regulation” investigates today’s culture. By combining a mix of stenciled flat people shapes floating above collaged papers, the painterly mark-making exudes an industrial essence. The artist described the “Control Series” as “a dialogue regarding our society and culture in today’s age. The works touch on surveillance regarding the digital landscape we live in, the Elite, consumerism and money.”
Here is one last statement about the possibilities of abstract art before this article comes to an end. In 2010, Bob Nickas, in his book titled “Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting,” said, “Maybe abstract painting has become a form of imaginative fiction. Here, the painter of abstract life reflects on the world without submission to its direct rendering and counters every other representation ... the painter of abstract life slows down perception ... Abstract painting can be its own subject, its own world, one that reveals itself slowly over time and may not look exactly the same to us from one day to the next.”
And so it is with all of the works in the exhibit. Visitors will need to attend the exhibit several times to see how the works can change from one day to another.
All of the above are reasons to visit “Immersed in Abstraction: A National Juried Competition.” Thinking about new ways of seeing can influence one’s appreciation of works of art in stimulating ways and can even alter one’s own creative approach.
The show will remain up until Sept. 22. Ellington-White Contemporary Gallery is located at 113 Gillespie St. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. View the online exhibition at www.ellington-white.com. For information on the exhibit or on a Sept. 18 Abstract Monoprint Workshop, call 910-483-1388.