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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Paintings I've not Done Yet--Abstracts

I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth
One of the hallmarks of abstract art is that the work's design--composition, color, texture, shapes, and spatial relationships--are more important than the content of the work. They, in fact, become the content of the work. The two of the most persistent misunderstandings in art have to do with the term "abstract." The first is its use as a shorthand designation for Abstract Expressionism (not all abstract art is expressionistic). The second being the false notion that both Abstract art and Abstract Expressionism are synonymous with non-representational art. Though some (but certainly not all) non-representation art is abstract, by the same token not all abstract art is non-representational. As an example, the painting by Charles Demuth I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (above), from 1928, is abstract, yet it is not expressionistic, nor is it non-representational.
Copyright, Jim Lane
I Saw the Figure 15 in Gold.
Photo from Deck 15, Oasis of the Seas.
In a similar vein, photography has long been associated with Realism, almost to the point of being synonymous. Early on, that probably was the case as photographer's took on the onus of accurately recording the "real" world faster, easier, and better than could a painter. However, as photography developed more and more into just another art form, it began to follow painting into expressionism and abstraction (notice, I did not link the two). As I mentioned above, they are two different entities. Although I seldom paint abstract images and almost never in an expressionist manner, I am always on the lookout for "photo-ops" which suggest one or the other. The photo I have labeled I Saw the Figure 15 in Gold (above) is in the Demuth context, neither Expressionist nor non-representational, but it is abstract in that it represents an abstract numerical concept. Today, in keeping with my newfound spirit of sharing photos which I've taken, but not used, with other artists more likely to do so, I want to offer my "abstract photography." At the same time I'd like to demonstrate that the use of the two words together is not oxymoronic.

Copyright, Jim Lane
At the Orsay--the abstract concept of time.
Along the same line of thinking comes a photo I shot from the historic Orsay Museum in Paris (above). The museum was once a train station. The giant window clock is actually one of two built into the northern facade of the building. It measured and represented the passage of time. It wasn't until the development of rail transportation that time became such an important factor in daily life. Relatively rapid transportation demanded both accuracy and consistency. Around the world, time zones were established to cope with the fact that, for the first time, man could now "race the sun."

Copyright, Jim Lane
Balconies of the Seas, aboard the cruise ship Oasis of the Seas.
Abstraction can also involve visual elements as well as a intellectual concepts. For the photographer, one of the surest ways in which to demonstrate this fact is to shoot a large number of items of roughly the same size, shape, color, and visual texture grouped (or cropped) in such a way as to mostly eliminate any obvious or immediate association with familiar content. In the photo I call Balconies of the Seas (above) some, but not all, the units are Identical, differing mostly in the placement of the round table and cabin draperies. Only in two or three cases can be seen the intrusion of any human presence which, in effect, grounds the image in reality.

Copyright, Jim Lane
High in the Hyatt, Atlanta, Georgia, abstract design of a
more complex nature without a clue as to context.
The photo I call High in the Hyatt (above) takes the same content as Balconies of the Seas but presents it in a more complex form with little or no contextual clues as to scale or content. Even the one-point perspective or the sharp diagonal of the elevator housing (far right) doesn't help much. The futuristic Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, with its 22-story atrium, opened in 1967--hard to believe this groundbreaking architectural wonder is almost fifty years old.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Bluish Blooms Basking in a Field of Greens.
Even when shooting nature, the repetitious visual element, though usually not as tightly bound as in manmade examples, still presents many opportunities for abstract photography as seen in the photo I call Bluish Blooms Basking in a Field of Greens (above). I think this title suggest an abstract painting rather than a landscape or a floral arrangement. The key to good abstract photography is consistency as to shapes, color, and content.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Hearst's Ceiling, San Simeon, California
With the exception of certain carefully chosen elements of nature, abstract design tends to be of human origin. Even as applied to nature, the human factor is passively present with regard to the way the photographer chooses the content, as well as in the framing, lighting, and cropping of his or her shots. On the other hand, when dealing with manmade abstract fields, very often, in shooting repetitious elements of art or architecture, the photographer is, in fact, making art from art. An example can be seen in the photo, Hearst's Ceiling (above), from the living room of the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California. The ornate, coffered, tessellation once more makes use of one-point perspective as the overriding compositional element coupled with stark, dramatic natural light. Thus the photographer, far from copying or simply recording the original work of art, is adding compositional and environmental elements in creating a new (though derivative) work of art.


As with the other photos in this series, these are available free of charge for use by painters as source material for their own work on an individual basis. Simply e-mail me with a request to do so at and indicate which photo you would like to use as well as your full name (no nicknames) and geographical location. If you have a website, include the URL, and please, when finished, e-mail me a photo of your painting. These images are not for publication as photos (except on a royalty basis) nor are they in the public domain.

Cecilienhof Palace, Potsdam, Germany.
I'm not sure if this falls under the heading of
abstract photography but I was at a loss for
any other classification.


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