A Painting Is A Real Thing
Abstracts are not abstract. The Apple Dictionary describes abstract like this:
1) existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence: abstract concepts such as love or beauty.
2) dealing with ideas rather than events: the novel was too abstract and esoteric to sustain much attention.
3) not based on a particular instance; theoretical: we have been discussing the problem in a very abstract manner.
4) (of a word, especially a noun) denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object: abstract words like truth or equality.
5) relating to abstract art: abstract pictures that look like commercial color charts.
When it comes to what is commonly called “Abstract Art,” I find these definitions are grossly inadequate. Furthermore, what is termed realism in Art, and the actions of painting which produce that art, still must deal with the very concrete materials and techniques that are common to any painter’s technical repertoire. Even when an artist’s subject is termed non-representational or non-referential, that is not accurate either. What is before us as a painting will instill our propensity to associate and derive meaning. This very act of “looking” is in association with all other acts of “looking.” A soft white blob of paint on a cerulean blue ground will most likely say “cloud”—even if the artist did not intend that association.
Paint is a real thing. You cannot “abstract” it. It is a real, palpable, feeling thing. It is a beautiful thing. It is an unctuous, thick or thin, liquid or pasty, colorful or dull thing. You cannot reduce it down to a meaningless and empty idea. It is a formative and demanding substance that can be applied to a surface to induce some kind of response. People have been painting, that we know of, for some 35,000 years. The images on the rock walls of the Chauvet Cave in France are some of the oldest in the world, and the most facile and exquisite in any era of art history. After seeing some of the oldest paintings in the Altimira Cave in Spain (Circa 33,000 BC) Picasso commented, “After Altamira, all is decadence.”
NO MATTER what artists paint, the thing of painting is definitely NOT ABSTRACT. It is concrete. It has a life, and that life lives and breathes in the present, even though it may have been applied thousands of years ago in the past. A painting lives NOW, and it always will. Painting is as visceral and palpable in the present as it is immortal over time.
This image from the “Cave of the Hands” in Patagonia, Argentina, is about 13,000 years old. It could be a perfect “color field” painting that later took the likes of Jackson Pollock, Jules Olitski, and Mark Rothko to pioneer in the modern context of painting. Yet, even though we are asked in some contemporary painting to “disassociate” the content from a real life image or experience, it is almost impossible for the human mind to not attach a relationship to the thing it is viewing. Even a Pollock instills a feeling of a concrete experience outside the picture plane. He called this color field action painting “Autumn Rhythm.” It conjures up many feelings of a seasonal meander through the woods of a molting layer of leaf encrusted earth. The dynamic action of painting such a thing is in our mind’s eye—which can imagine Mr. Pollock dripping and spattering the paint over the huge surface, like the falling of leaves in the autumnal season of accumulated compost.
Other artists like Picasso never gave up their connection to a direct representation of an actual scene from Life. People, the human forms, are always on his mind. And the female human form most definitely on his mind—usually one of his many “lovers” at the time. This portrait of Marie Terese in the Pasadena Norton-Simon museum shows a combination of bold graphic license, and a definite mood of colorful recline. The model is reading, pondering, and enticing with bared nipples—weaving her many qualities into our consciousness all at the same time.
I studied with a painter at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the 1970’s who was a master of geometrical compositions which employed the most astute use of color. His teacher was Josef Albers at Yale. All of us who studied art know about Albers’s famous “Homage to the Square.” He explored color relationships in this simple way of a Square within a Square, within another Square. Three Squares. Three different colors in a focused Relationship. Albers was the precursor of this kind of “geometric abstraction.” He was also one of the first to give attention to visual perception itself—just how does the eye see, what does it see, and how does it “put together” what it sees? There is a purity of our vision, especially if we are not associating it with the anecdotal reproductions of a more worldly experience.
Albers kept things really simple. Maybe too simple. But what he did get us to see is that colors have relationships, and these relationships invoke a mood in us. This was done with almost a “science of visual perception.” He reduces the pictorial elements down to such a simple geometric composition, that we cannot be distracted into other scenarios of association. Red Orange—Orange—Yellow Orange. This is about it. In that order. From the light to the more dense. It is as if the painting is “on fire”—and we feel that “heat.”
The color subject matter of Julian Stanczak is much more deep and complex. Having lost the use of his right arm from injuries inflicted upon him in a Siberian concentration camp during WW II, he became adept and determined to paint in a precise and stoical way. He used a series of precisely executed layers of color, with masking tape grids forming the reservoirs and orderings of these layers, to create a new “vibratory rate” in our actual seeing of these compositions. I would say Mr. Stanczak’s work takes us to a transcendental place, a place almost stellar in its physics beyond the earthly.
I inherited a color sensibility from Mr. Stanczak that stays with me still. My days with him were 1973-1977. He has since passed away, but in my aesthetic Heart, he remains burning in the passion to use color to take us to a place of inner order and bliss. His use of color and light far exceeded any others’ usage—of those Masters with whom I met and studied in my formative years.
A Cosmic Glow
There is a kind of “cosmic glow” emanating out of a Julian Stanczak’s paintings. What else would you call it? It is a kind of visual effusion of a spectral order we have never seen, yet now in his paintings we are undoubtedly privileged to never forget we HAVE SEEN. This is the legacy of a true Art—it brings to the seen what had hitherto remained unseen. We are the beneficiaries to whom the artist intends the most to be given. We who are willing to take the time and the energy to “look.” This is what “Art Look” is all about—to step outside our pressured and demanding routines long enough to have this bath in the “cosmic glow” of things. For this we have to disengage from the meaningless to engage in the beautiful.
I painted this small work years ago, calling it “Valhalla.” Valhalla was a kind of heavenly banquet hall of the Nordic Gods used to receive the honored warriors who had fallen in battle. It had a kind of nectar of gold which flowed from the fires of an immortal proscenium—honoring the divine sustenance offered to those who had given every ounce of effort to the Victory of Divine Life.
One could ask, “Is Valhalla a real or imaginary place?” It is the task of the artist to make the imaginary real; to bring the only hinted to the certain; to give shape and body to the mind of the Spirit. You decide. Is Valhalla real or imaginary for you?
I painted this about 15 years ago. It was a time, and still is, when the Middle East was embroiled in conflict. Jews and Muslims; Muslims and Jews—perennially at odds with each other, it seems. What could I paint to harmonize these two forces? “Heaven and Earth” is loaded with symbols—the “Star of David” is intertwined with the “Calligraphy of Allah,” with a slight indication of the Toa Sign of Yin/Yang. Darkness and Light come together in a unified field. All is “aglow” with a kind of chartreuse ecstasy.
One could call it “abstract.” But is it? What God has brought together let no man put asunder. The Peace of God is shining in us still, but are we willing to put the conflicts of belief and thought away, long enough for us to “love one another?” This painting began that process for me. What seems to be irreconcilable in worldly life is acknowledged and harmonized in Art. All is bathed in a “Cosmic Glow.”
The Peace of God
Ultimately, there is only God. And God is Peace, and Peace is God. Whatever an artist sets up for himself or herself to be the ultimate goal of expression, this all encompassing Life Force is the only meritorious subject matter toward which artistic attentions draw to and emanate from. Abstract Art is not Abstract. The Art of Living, which my teacher Tara Singh called the only “Art,” is in the realization of our God-Created Self. And this Self melds with the Cosmic Glow in Everything. It is not abstract. It is Actual. The paint that Jackson Pollock dripped and spattered on a canvas ground was as real as his own blood. And it lives on, in its kinesthetic vitality, in the ultimate Peace of God.
I complete this “Art Look” with another painting by Julian Stanczak, called “Vertical Succession.” Who can say what it means, or to what it refers? But one thing is certain, a “Cosmic Glow” emanates forth from it, and we are made glad in its presence. The colors harmonize our innards. We feel in the depths of our guts an “art love” growing ever deeper, and that another step in our ascension has taken place. We are uplifted in a new faith—that “truth and beauty” can breath new Life into our souls again.
Thanks for reading, Dears.