Forms and Formlessness in Abstract Painting

Many collectors wonder about the use of forms and formlessness in contemporary abstract painting. Throughout the history of art, painters would generally paint forms in space whether they were bison and antelope, Jesus on the cross or a cow grazing in a meadow under an azure sky. This made good sense, as a painting was painted to tell a story and the story depending on the depiction of forms in space whether those forms were painted large or small, clearly or less clearly, but overall the forms existed and were meant to be seen. Abstract painting in the beginning of the 19th century, and with Picasso in particular leading the pack, painters began to break up forms and questioned the integrity of form. Partly as a result of experiments in physics wherein physicists began to see that forms were less stable than expected, composed of smaller particles that were themselves forever moving in space and these theories were somehow in the ether and painters being intuitive and tuned in, generally speaking, picked up on this issue of form and formlessness. Cezanne in the late 19th century began to break up forms whether they were human or trees or rocks and Picasso and Braque in Paris continued these explorations with analytic and synthetic cubism. Following this in the mid-20th century Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko further exploded forms in space, Pollock by dripping paint across the large surface of canvas he placed on the floor of his studio in East Hampton and Rothko by applying thin layers of paint, layering one color over another to dissolve form and create abundant and terrifyingly beautiful...

Komarin Exhibition in Japan at the Musee Kiyoharu

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to have a solo exhibition at the prestigious and privately owned Musee Kiyoharu in the countryside of Japan. This is a pivotal and quite important exhibition for me as the exhibition was by invitation only, through the auspices of one of my Asian collectors who was in turn well connected with the owner of the museum who was a major collector in his own right. The show featured approximately twenty-five large works on canvas. The exhibition was titled: ‘Moon Flows like a Willow.’ The title came from a poem that my son Wyatt wrote when he was only 8 years old it had a beautifully oblique and resonant quality for me and also dovetailed very well with the Japanese fondness for willow trees and nature itself. We flew to Tokyo and took a train to Kyoto and from there a taxi to get to the museum which was set in the countryside of Japan which is quite extraordinary with its swaying bamboo trees, most much taller than any I had seen in America. They bend in the wind in the most magical fashion. The show was a big success, widely reviewed in Japanese press and was followed by an outdoor concert featuring huge kettle drums that were played loudly with long wooden sticks.                         Painting, especially abstract painting, speaks to all people. The voice of abstract painting speaks to all languages and language in a curiously happy way drops out and viewers can appreciate color, tone, texture and shape free from...

Running into de Kooning

Although it seems far more recent in the mind’s eye, it was back in the late 70’s that my dear wife and I rented a house out in the summer of 1979 in the Springs, East Hampton, where I was painting for my very first New York exhibition at Maxwell Davidson Gallery. Little did we know till a few days had passed that we had in fact rented next door to the world famous and very talented painter: Willem de Kooning. I had been a devoted fan of de Kooning’s work ever since I was introduced to it in art school and very much loved his free swinging brush, and the way he would put a painting together, take it apart and put it back together, usually much stronger for the passages and necessary torture, it (the painting) went through. I am writing this piece from a cottage in Southampton, New York, looking out on grassy fronds and blue green bodies of water, all of it reminding me of that summer in the Springs. East Hampton and other sections of the east end of Long Island had great attraction for many painters of the early 50’s who were working in gritty downtown lofts, often dark and dank, and noisy from trucks rambling below. For de Kooning, the Springs reminded him of parts of Holland with its low lying land and pools of water and grass and a big sky overlooking everything. One would see de Kooning bicycling around in high white painter pant overalls and we chatted just a bit and he rounded this and that curve in the...

Scribble vs Drawing in Contemporary Abstract Painting

Collectors and curators often ask about the scribbles in Komarin paintings and works on paper. There is a curious set of differences between drawing in painting and scribbling in painting. Many people equate scribble with childlike play and there is much truth to that. Children draw and scribble openly, free from the constraints of order and clarity. They may attempt to describe a form of some kind, or more often the scribble will be a kind of energetic release, visual play with crayon or paint or pencil. Cy Twombly, a most respected abstract painter in this country who lived and worked in Rome for many years, used scribble often in his work. Twombly combined his sense of Greek and Roman history with aspects of American abstract expressionism and the free swinging of the brush. The works appear completely unplanned and have terrific energy and beauty. They often seem accidental and allow for a great variety of mark making. A Komarin painting incorporates scribble along with drawing in paintings and works on paper. The drawing often loosely references vessels and hats and common shapes from everyday life, though from to time an alien spacecraft of two will seem to pop up. So that the drawing in initial stages at least may describe consciously or unconsciously the description of “forms in space.” Scribble in a Komarin painting will be most often unplanned. A Komarin painting will ‘need’ to have a certain amount of mark making to open up the space and bring new life to the drama unfolding. The scribble can be put down/ painted out and put down again. These rhythms...

Work or Play?

Many people, whether collectors, curators, art critics or simply curious individuals with an appetite for learning ask: is abstract painting work or is it play? Of course answering this question depends a lot on how you define work vs play as these terms often overlap and mean different things to different people. For me, painting is a lot about play. One gets into the studio not really knowing how the moments will go. The loaded brush moves quickly on the canvas, dripping this way and that, a form filled in with paint, scraped, removed, and then perhaps repainted in a different or parallel fashion, playful decisions keeping the too thinking brain out of the way. When a child paints, whether with fingers or brushes, they lose themselves in the painting. They tilt their heads, sometimes even resting on an extended arm and sing and dance their way into the painting. A child under the age of ten rarely cares about proportion or perspective. They are ever so free to deal with color and shape and this freedom is a beautiful thing to observe. Top and bottom, east and west, north and south all get happily lost in the painting process. Work for many individuals is a daily grind, something they dread or look to avoid and the term work implies seriousness, intention and a final product or series of decisions. For me while an adult with a ‘playful’ state of mind painting allows me for a time at least to return to a childlike state Picasso said, “when I was 14 years old I could paint like an old master. It took me the rest of...