Painting may be the artistic medium that has been declared ‘dead’ more times than any other, but for as long as there exists some kind of paint, some kind of painting surface and some kind of human being to bring the two together, there will always be some kind of painters – with abstract painters likely to be at the forefront of those.
Abstraction, too, is another concept that has been subjected to many an existential crisis, but it also continues to find ways to renew itself – as the following six artists help to show.
Even including the Manchurian Royal College of Art graduate in this list may seem to do her a disservice, given her own declaration that “I see my paintings as representational and this is why they work for me. It’s been a strange novelty for me to be called an abstract painter, because my concerns have always been that of a figurative painter.”
Indeed, it may be the comfort with which her seemingly intuitive, but actually intricately-planned paintings bridge the gap between the abstract and figurative that has much to do with her strong following among collectors since she was declared one of the Top 25 London MA graduates by ArtReview magazine in July 2006.
In an art world where many seem to have accepted true creative originality as a now-impossible ideal, the Los Angeles-based artist Math Bass appears to have genuinely achieved it. Her flat-rendered geometric abstractions, consisting of simple shapes, have a certain poetic ambiguity that encourages viewers to impose their own subjective interpretations.
Her Newz! paintings have been a focal point of such an approach, prompting Frieze magazine writer Dan Fox to ask: “Should we be reading these motifs as some form of hieroglyphic language – a pictographic message from an alien intelligence?”
Despite being widely admired, exhibited and collected internationally since 1970, the Middlesbrough-born and educated artist – later a student at Slade School of Art under the likes of Sir William Coldstream and Anthony Gross – remains something of a quiet man of the art world.
Nonetheless, Tillyer continues to stimulate with his radical studies often questioning the relationship between man and nature. For all of the sublime colour and brushstrokes that frequently make up his works, however, he has also long resisted any pressure to establish a consistent ‘brand image’.
For evidence that even in the seemingly thoroughly well-trodden territory of abstract painting, it is still possible to find fresh and exciting modes of expression, one only needs to look to this emerging Chicago-based artist.
Zuckerman-Hartung has gained rapid renown for canvasses that make the actual painted surface a mere starting point, with the likes of enamel, fabric,the frame and other collaged elements all key fixtures in her highly layered pieces.
The tactility and lusciousness of the London-born Cecily Brown’s handling of paint certainly conjure up sexual and erotic associations, and sure enough, these are also key themes in her work that, like that of several other artists in this list, straddles the line between figuration and abstraction.
Various expressive figures and nudes surface in Brown’s works, sometimes engaged in discernible copulation. However, her works also consider the wider breadth of human experience, and bring to mind key figures in the history of painting – from Paolo Veronese and Sir Peter Paul Rubens to Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning.
Auerbach’s inclusion in this list really does stretch the definition of ‘abstract painter’ – he is admittedly better described as a figurative painter nonetheless capable of creating some of the most remarkable near-abstract images of any British artist this side of World War II.
The German-born painter’s status as one of his adoptive country’s greatest living artists has been only further affirmed by his recent high-profile exhibition at Tate Britain. Running until 13th March this year, the exhibition has given a new generation of artists an opportunity to survey his career through direct experience and appreciation of his entrancingly in-depth and highly textural paintings.
With such painters as the above demonstrating the full breadth of forms that abstract painting can take today – even if some of them deny the ‘abstract’ label at all – it is clear that this field of artistic endeavour remains alive and well. Use these artists as your inspirational starting points for your own abstract painted experimentation and explorations in 2016!