I described my painting style as primarily lyrical abstraction to someone recently at an artists' networking event, as it's the most appropriate description for my painting, at least, but "lyrical abstraction" is not a term a lot of people are familiar with! I have become quite content with the fact that my painting style/approach might be viewed as a little dated and not current...though of course I do not agree with that perspective one little bit! I think there are many undercurrents in the visual arts, running along merrily, and what surfaces as being "current" at one time or another is a matter of trends and fashions, not a matter of what is really developing as significant. How can one discern the undercurrents which make a large wave? How can you see what happens until it culminates in a bigger movement? What determines the movement...is it due to something which happens above the surface, or underneath it? Who knows? The mystery is good. And here you see, I find myself slipping very comfortably into the category of a lyrical abstractionist (maybe not a word!) painter!
Some helpful pointers and considerations, features maybe, of what would place my painting in this category of lyrical abstraction. Lyrical abstraction is a term, and has it's uses. (Well, it does if people know what it means!) So hopefully my thoughts shared here will help you in your understanding of what characteristics may be dominant features of paintings defined as being "lyrical abstract" paintings. One will need to detach some aspects and add others, because I do believe that terminology has limitations as well as benefits. Also, what something was in one part of history, is never quite the same as what it is in other parts of history... Our times determine so much, and any artists responses are conditioned by the times they live in. I do, as you maybe know, love looking back into the past, and I think it's a good practice for any artist to ensure they look at those who have come before them and find out as much as they can, so that the can appreciate the work with the benefit of being able to look backwards... for from the past the future comes...
Anyway, I digress, as is of my habit...
The term "Lyrical Abstraction" is much debated. Which makes it very attractive I think! Larry Aldrich used the term lyrical abstraction in the late sixties to describe some of the artworks he had collected. The feature he felt was important was that they represented a return to personal expression following Minimalism.
An exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
May 25- July 6. 1971
"Statement of the Exhibition
Early last season, it became apparent that in painting there was a movement away from the
geometric, hard-edge, and minimal, toward more lyrical, sensuous, romantic abstractions
in colors which were softer and more vibrant. Painters were creating, in significant numbers,
works that were visually "beautiful" — up to then, in the art world of the sixties, a dirty word.
Though they were not going back to any previous style, these new young painters related
to men who have been doing painting of a painterly nature for twenty years or more — Mark
Rothko, Robert Motherwell and others. The artist's touch is always visible in this type of
painting, even when the paintings are done with spray guns, sponges or other objects.
Surfaces are never anonymous as in minimal paintings; they are delicately nuanced and
often suggestive of cloudy voids. These paintings all represent a distinct shift to an ex-
pressive interest. As I researched this lyrical trend, I found many young artists whose paint-
ings appealed to me so much that I was impelled to acquire many of them. The majority
of the paintings in the Lyrical Abstraction exhibition were created in 1969, and all are a
part of my collection now.
Take a look at the artists shown here:
A variation of the term was used decades earlier in the late forties by the French art critic Jean José Marchand; Abstraction Lyrique. This was with reference to a European trend in painting a bit like Abstract Expressionism. Free, emotionally inspired and very personal compositions based not on external appearances but evolving rather from the subconscious, instinctive parts of the painters. The evolution and construction of the painting coming from within.
I guess we could go even further back, too to Wassily Kandinsky in the first decade of the twentieth century! Rather than working with images from the external world and altering them in order to express abstract ideas, in the way that happened with Suprematist and Constructivist artists using recognizable forms in their art but in ambiguous, symbolic ways, another group of artists approached abstraction in a different way.
Not knowing what meaning there might be in what they painted was just fine! Painting freely, with no preconceived notions and the expectation that things unknown could be expressed through their work. Some likened their paintings to musical compositions.(ie Kandinsky) The general emphasis was that of expression emotion in an abstract form. Paintings were imaginative, expressive and personal. Unashamedly subjective, and poetic. Soulful work...not so much leaning towards objective academic interpretations, but learning more towards the mysterious, spiritual, and less tangible aspects of life. Painting as a source of seeking maybe...not attempting something which is defined and explained, but rather being all about personal connection with life and the universe.
Rather good! A search for what is essentially personal.
Harold Rosenberg wrote: “Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself...The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”
That was then, but surely this is also relevant for today? Maybe even more so...because the challenge of the self and the sufficiency of simply being, is with us, and maybe even greater with the influence of media, advertising, internet, etc?
Is "being" enough? This may be one of the most important questions we ask ourselves!
We have so much information and knowledge for the intellect to play with at our disposal now! It's great, fun, interesting. Yes, all of this. But is knowing things with our heads sometimes a deceptive liberty? Does it prevent us from walking freely in mystery, unknowing, and that which we cannot hold onto in our heads, but which our hearts and souls might testify is good and life giving?
I do ask myself these questions.
I think my work could be said to ask them, but does it need an answer? And if it doesn't ask for an answer, is it a question?
"Each artist must undertake to invent himself." Is sticking with me in this digression...
But what with lyrical abstraction today?
Movements move and change... tendencies run this way and that...Who knows? No one has the ultimate view. In the early twentieth Century artists like Kandinsky, Giacometti, Fautrier, Klee and Wols embodied lyrical tendencies in abstraction. Later Mathieu, Riopelle, Soulages and Mitchell moved them forward. When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's many artists continued and expanded the movement. There are many voices singing out lyrically in abstract paintings! There is an essential quest of lyrical abstraction, which is to express something personal, subjective and emotive, and to do this in a highly poetic, free and abstract manner.
I think this section of Ronnie Landfield's "Autobiographical Statement, 1997-2010" speaks with a resonance which I am happy to echo, (in my own unique way, of course!)
"My inspiration has been my conviction that modern painting is fueled by the combination of tradition and the realities of modern life. Spirituality and feeling are the basic subjects of my work. They are depictions of intuitive expressions using color as language, and the landscape (God's earth) as a metaphor for the arena of life. The revelation of a primal image that delivers an immediate response in the viewer is my goal. Hopefully my paintings convey a felt perception of life, an awareness of the history of art, and a clear expression of my passion and sense of spirituality. I sense a visual music that externalizes what I feel within me and in the air."
What a fantastic statement...
Below: Text that I often display with my romantic, lyrically abstract expressionistic paintings when I show them at open studios and other events. I hope this helps make them more easily accessible to those who may feel insecure on being confronted with a painting which has no recognisable "picture".
Jenny Meehan - Information on Paintings
The paintings I am showing rely heavily on the process of intuition, both in the making and in the responding to. They do not start out with any pre-determined concept in mind. However, as the work progresses through responding to the materials and the mark making process, associations in my thinking begin to form. I then develop the work formally and emotionally until the painting is resolved. The titles reference emergent thinking which evolves through the painting process.
I have drawn on my own life experiences of faith and uncertainty, the work of artists I love, emotion, and personal memory. My interest in working with a highly abstracted approach to painting is based on the interest I have in experimenting with both texture and colour. How these affect the play of light on the surface of the painting, and also, how these relate to compositional elements, as well as the less tangible emotional and poetic resonances, fascinate and motivate me.
Paintings with no, or few,obvious external references, rely on the viewer to navigate their way into, and bring their own sense of self, to the work. Give yourself time to respond without needing to "makes sense" or find meaning. The paintings have titles, but in all likelihood, these may hold little meaning for you personally. However, to respond to something visually is not an easily definable matter, relying on memory, emotion, and your own life experiences.