What is abstract art?
Art attracts people like moths are attracted to flames. Abstract art is no exception, but it can be difficult to define abstract art because it is a form of art that evades definition and classification. We can say that abstract art has existed for more than 100 years, although we could find abstraction thousands of years ago in cave paintings.
If we look for a literal definition, abstraction is a mental operation aimed at conceptually isolating a specific property or function of an object, and thinking about what this property or function is by ignoring other properties of the object in question. In visual arts, this means moving a representation away from any literal and representative point of reference.
The first artistic movements which made use of abstraction were Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Cubism. All these were movements that made it possible to discover that art could be non-representative. Therefore we can say that modern abstract art was born at the beginning of the 20th century. When artists began to create works distancing themselves from realism, abandoning the references to the “real” world.
Wassily Kandinsky is recognized by some historians as one of the first artists to create non-representative paintings by the year 1912. At present, abstract art has diversified in a great number of forms, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and to a small or great scale. Contemporary abstract artists often create works that focus on different visual characteristics such as size, shape, color, or texture.
Terms such as abstract and contemporary art can be easily confused and are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably. But the truth is that these two terms are different and define different types of art. If we want to name correctly a contemporary artwork, this would be any work of art that is being produced today, more precisely art produced in the second half of the 20th century to up until now. If we want to refer instead to an abstract work of art, this term should be used when we refer to a specific art design or painting.
An example to illustrate this concept would be to understand how during the history of art, contemporary art has described several different movements ranging from impressionism to pop art. Therefore, it is contemporary abstract art, the abstract art that is being produced today.
The essential difference that exists in this system of the artistic concept is that the classification of abstract art is not particular to any period. As we have already seen, we could be talking about abstract art when we refer to cave paintings, or when we talk about expressionism, surrealism, or cubism.
We can find the first traces of abstract art in the early twentieth century with artists like Picasso in Europe, Kandinsky in Russia, and Jackson Pollock in America in the 1940s. In recent years this type of art has been revitalized and has regained relevance in the international art scene.
The beginning of the 21st century is characterized by the fusion and existence of a large number of different artistic movements. And it would be very difficult to find a representative style of the time. But even so, abstract art still has an important place in the studies of many contemporary artists and in the exhibitions of many galleries.
Redefining Abstract Painting
Today there is a new generation of painters who are working with different artistic techniques connected to abstraction and form a heterogeneous group of new contemporary abstract artists. Within this new wave of artists, we can name some like Jadé Fadojutimi born in 1993 in London; Ruairiadh O’Connell born in 1983 in Aberdeen; and Han Bing from Shandong, China, born in 1986.
Although they all have very different styles, they still share some aspects such as not caring about labels. They seem to be more interested in the many ways that paint can be applied. They all choose to develop suggestive and transcendent works. And finally, all of them work with resources from the digital era to generate new patterns and designs.
Contemporary abstract artists
Jadé Fadojutimi puts all her energy into her canvases with suggestive brushstrokes and a colorful palette. Her works have strong and marked lines, expressive contours, and colorful contrasts. At only 27, Jadé is one of London’s most exciting young artists and the youngest artist in the Tate collection. Her abstract style is striking, unique and she tries to reinvent the way we see the painting and the world in general.
In December, ICA Miami announced that it would be the first institution to acquire his work. His new exhibition called Jesture, at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London, features his latest canvases. “I want to paint the indescribable: moments that enthrall and challenge me with a stream of questions that continue to build over time. These include feelings of belonging, struggle, pleasure, conflict—aspects of reality which cannot be fully articulated through language.” Jadé said.
Ruairiadh O’Connell is an artist with multiple interests ranging from design to contemporary dance. O’Connell works with an abstract aesthetic and recently began working with the English National Ballet to investigate how dance can alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
His 2017 work “Profiles in custody” was inspired by the Air Jordan shoe print left at a murder scene. With great originality, he charged the incriminating marks into design elements working with rectangular shapes and the shape of a shoe.
He looks “to layer and confront complex ideas with material processes that I discover along the way, which results in surface quality and depth that excites me.”
Han Bing’s work is inspired by the city streets and architectural facades that he likes to call “poems with unknown authors”. He does not like to describe his work as abstract, and the forms of his works seem to have their origin in posters torn from New York City subway stations.
Some of his scribbles suggest graffiti and surprise is present in some sections of his canvases. In Silver Lining (2019), two abstract faces seem to touch, but in these works nothing seems to be resolved in the figuration.
Han said describing his paintings that “they are representational at times, but more moments of perplexity, when a few patches met unexpectedly and created a dynamic that made sense to me at that moment.”