What’s more abstract than a rock (except maybe a cloud)?

The second thought I wanted to bring to the fore (see my previous posts here and here) is the issue of the empty square on the wall. I was not privy to all of the correspondence and decision making process involving Leah Raintree’s lack of participation in the exhibit. My comment is not about this. But her absence brings up an interesting issue as her recent work involves photographs of rocks, which I understand she had submitted to the exhibit. Naturally something relatively specific is implied by the use of the term “abstraction” in the title of the exhibition but I don’t recall any specification as to the degree of abstraction in our correspondence prior to the exhibit. It seems to me her submission is a really interesting move toward parsing (or blurring) the line between representation and abstraction.

This, like the previous thought, is still rolling around in my head and will probably stay with me for a while. With that in mind, I’m not sure that there is a train of thought to what follows, so bear with me.

There is something to the fact that my beginning drawing students struggle to draw common objects such as a bottle but I can give them a rock or a crumpled piece of paper, objects whose varying and unfamiliar forms defy simplification, and they are forced to see anew.

This issue is probably also on my mind in light of the Taking Shape show at Standpipe Gallery, a small group show that deals with this very issue. All of the work in the show calls on representation and abstraction, much of them never falling to far into one.

Much of the work in Gifting Abstraction seems on it’s surface nonrepresentational but as I’ve thought about this issue I’ve realized just how much many if not all of the works rely on this balance between, if not representational, at least what is definable and what is ambiguous or unknowable. The bow in Melanie Crader’s work acts as an abstract gesture and a real thing. The hammered out void in Matthew Deleget’s panel liberalizes the abstract blackness that may have existed prior. Brent Hallard’s painting is derived from a perspective drawing of a cube. John Hawke’s painting reminds one of a landscape in an 80’s arcade game or perhaps the lines on the court of some unknown variation of basketball. Among others.

I guess I’d be curious to hear from others about how they navigate what increasingly seems to me to be a spectrum rather than a dichotomy between representation and abstraction.

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6 Responses to What’s more abstract than a rock (except maybe a cloud)?

  1. brent hallard says:

    If you can’t trust a cube…
    I should probably mention here, Martin, that I don’t work from a cube. In fact I work with, from, and off of a white sheet of paper. The paper certainly is a thing, both ‘abstract’ and ‘as a thing that we know, which serves some kind of purpose’. But, granted, what gets created is an illusion not dissimilar to that of a draftsman’s three-dimensional box or cube, which we all know is just a bunch of straight lines and apexes
    For me, what is interesting is space gets manipulated and played with by going through a number of steps, making decisions along the way, changing materials, using color, none of which have anything to do with moving between figuration or abstraction. For me the art is in the illusion of the thing[s] in the illusion of our experience. And that’s the power of transference.
    That you see a cube, and think that it appears to be derived from a cube is the leap you make. It’s there so simple, and without a doubt… or, I should say, with ‘doubt’ \ construction.

  2. brent hallard says:


  3. tmartin says:

    Brent, I think my point has more to do with the product rather than your process. The product is an abstraction that almost no one would look at and not make a connection to it’s cubic appearance. Perhaps I should not have used the term ‘derived.’

    I come upon this all the time in my work. I’m not particularly interested in illusory space but using diagonals inevitably results in some degree of linear perspective. Recently, I’ve begun using air brush in my drawings that has also inadvertently resulted in illusion, as in the unintentional drop shadows in my submission to the show. Because of these results, illusion has become part of the conversation in the process of my work. That’s not to say that I will be making trompe l’oeil any time soon.

  4. tmartin says:

    By the way, I’d be curious to hear more about your process coming from the sheet of paper. What process do you use to get the diagonals?

  5. bhallard says:

    Thomas, (why did I write [/]martin?)right, as you say, it is what you see. And with your own work, too, the illusion is derived from the way the work is interpreted, not a particular thing.
    The paper gets its diagonals from folding the corners.

  6. mcrader says:


    I appreciate your thoughts about the abstraction/representation balance. This was definitely a thread of the conceptual thinking behind this body of work. One of the many aspects I was exploring at the time was how a simple line or a geometric shape could signify something with loaded meaning with only a slight modification. The two most common elements repeated in my work for quite some time were the bow and the scallop. I was interested in the economy of the gesture and how, with minimal intervention, the piece could take on a completely different meaning. For example, with the painting that I submitted for this exhibition, a line (of string) was simply twisted into a bow. The other element often employed in my work, the scallop, is made from repeated half circles. In each case I was interested in exploring how to gender an object with the least amount of manipulation utilizing a common element of design.

    When I received the invitation to participate in “Gifting Abstraction,” the work I chose to contribute seemed the most appropriate. Given the title of the exhibition, the bow took on yet another meaning, albeit different from my original concept.

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