This exhibition was arranged in three sections :
- Abstraction, Elimination, Revelation – which looks at experiments in abstraction
- The Emptiness of Precision – art dealing with the city and machine art
- Home-Grown America – art dealing with a return to the land
There were quite a few images which caught my attention in the first section –
- Edward Steichen, Le Tournesol (The Sunflower), c. 1920. The simplification of the shapes and the bold use of colour with complementary colours next to each other to increase their intensity.
- Paul Strand, Abstraction, Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916 and Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916. Both focus in on the subject to such an extent that the resultant outcome is an abstract image.
- Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Abstraction, 1927. Here is not the image and the narrative behind the image that attracted me – it depicts the moment as O’Keeffe is losing consciousness as she goes under the anesthesia.
In the section section:
- John Taylor Arms, The Gates of the City, 1922. The composition of one of the bridge towers fills the frame with the suspension wires crisscrossing the image and the lighter background images fading away into the distance.
- Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Bridge Cables II, c. 1940. The massive bridge cables soar from the bottom to the top of the image, they have a sense of weight and strength. Again, an image where close-up representational art becomes abstraction.
- George Josimovich, Illinois Central, 1927. A simplification of the shapes of the building and the city landscape is flattened in both shapes and colours. My eye moved round this painting picking out different shapes; colour had been repeated in different areas to provide unity and aid the movement of the eye of the viewer.
In the final section:
- Paul Strand, White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916. It was the narrative in this photograph which drew my attention – why is the fence preventing entry, what is going on in the barn and the house?
- Edward Hopper, Night in the Park, 1921; also, Night Shadows, 1921 and The Railroad, 1922. These drawings had the hallmark single figure so indicative when I think of Hopper’s images. They create narrative of a single figure in a vast empty space – what are they doing, why are they alone?
This exhibition made me think a lot about my personal project and how I needed to take my drawings further. I wanted to simplify them and make them more abstracted, to create a greater sense of narrative for the viewer. On my return home, I put a couple of the more influential images in my sketch book (left-hand side of page) and wrote about them.
Overall, the exhibition was thought-provoking and reignitied my interest in abstraction. At this stage, I don’t think I want to draw images that are fully abstract as I find the images based on an actual object/view have more narrative within them than those which are fully abstract. Of course, as I progress through the degree programme that might change.
Venue: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.