'A Necessary Aimlessness'

Drawing on the words of Jeanette Winterson in 'Land', and Jacky Bowring in 'Melancholy and the landscape', Ruth writes about the creation of abstract pieces.

Black tar and rust
Black tar and rust
I can't estimate how often and how many people have looked at my somewhat abstract paintings and (very politely) commented along the lines of…”but I don’t know what its about”, or “I’m not sure how I should be looking at it”.

It makes me wonder…

I rarely say more than ‘is there some aspect of the piece that you enjoy perhaps?’, thinking that the colour palette or the painting’s light or dark might strike a chord.

I’d love to hear more.

When I look at abstract pieces made by other artists, I respond to what I’d call their energy. And that may be a result of the nature of the marks they’ve made and the colour composition.

But this piece isn’t at all a ‘How to look at abstract art’.

I can however, share words written by more articulate writers than myself:

Jeanette Winterson in ‘Land’, on the general subject of ‘art’, offers….

“A lot of art is made while wandering about, either in your mind or on foot. It’s a necessary aimlessness….. the antithesis of goal-oriented… how-to manuals and inspirational talks. It isn’t organised…… (it) slows us down because we have to stop and spend time with it, not glancing or skimming… not looking for diversion.”

I like that. Necessary aimlessness. It describes fairly well how I feel before beginning a painting. I may have visited a site, maybe quite a few times in fact, and sketched there, noticing what it is about the place that particularly draws (!) me. I might also have a relationship to that place…I feel at home for instance, pottering about in the clutter and mess of boat yards. I may know something important (to me) about it: the threatened status of our coastal saltmarsh habitats.

Back in the studio, all of the above, will be shifting around in my mind. The sketches, may or may not provide a beginning, but what happens next is something I don’t seek to precisely control. A customer recently said to me that when writing, she needs her conscious mind to get out of the way. As soon as I begin to think about paper or wood, oil or watercolour, brush or palette knife, I am responding to some element of the subject that has impressed itself upon me.

My recent oils on board (“Black tar and rust’) for instance, are very dark, a joyful expression of my love of the old black huts at Southwold Harbour. Balanced with rusty reds and strong bright blues and ochres, the paintings convey, I hope, something of my joy in that messy and busy place.

Overall the on-going process is one of standing back, looking until I can see what works for my eye and what doesn’t, and what I want to change and how. And so it goes, slowly discovering the composition bit by bit, until it really is saying… yes: thats the place, the feeling, the light, the energy.

Jacky Bowring in ‘Melancholy and the landscape’ says:

‘Abstract art…. provides a challenge for the viewer to look within themselves for a reaction’. And quoting from Magritte: (people), because they don’t understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting…. (wanting) something secure to hang onto… to be comfortable, …. (they) hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of (the) quandary, and save themselves from the void’ (of not ‘knowing’).

Remember, none of this is a claim about ‘the right way’ to look at abstract art. Its just an attempt to take a tour around some of what, for me, goes into making an abstract piece.