The Unexpected in Painterly Abstraction

Many people, whether collectors, curators, gallerist or appreciators of the visual arts, don’t fully realize or realize at all how much the ‘unexpected’ plays a part in painterly abstraction. For me, as I work without a prefigured plan of any kind, the painting leads me as much as I lead the painting. Allowing for wide sweeps of the brush, paint has a tendency, if you allow it, to create movement and drama with relatively little direction. In fact, if you control things and ‘lean’ on the painting, areas of great fluidity can go quite dead. Painters have long known this, but in earlier centuries, when figuration was a desired goal, the end point was to make an image that the viewer could read and understand, whether a barn, a cow, a road, a tree or Jesus on the cross. Mistakes, changes of heart, erasures of sorts, or whatever you choose to call them, were not desired. Picasso and Matisse, amongst others, opened the door to the use of the accident and the unexpected in their work. While both these painters may have had an image in mind, whether a still life or a seated woman in front of a window with palm trees on the beach, they allowed for accidental movements, marks, and gestures to breathe unexpected life into their work. When Komarin paints a painting, he allows for the unexpected and even welcomes it. The drip, the soft edge versus the hard edge, the overlapping planes of color, a tornado of color, a reduction in color — all of these are embraced rather than denied. The painter works with the...

On the Surface/Under the Surface: What is Going on in Painterly Abstraction?

A painter, whether abstract or not, makes marks on the surface of the canvas. The brush hits the weave of the cloth and leaves behind marks of some kind, whether broad or short or drippy or creamy or wide or narrow, thick or thin. But what happens, often in a quite magical way, is that a certain drama begins to unfold ‘under’ the surface, in that repeated layers of paint create a whirlwind of forms and energies and swaths of paint, that can speak to the viewer, collector, and admirer……in ways that are somehow even more poetic and oblique than what sits on the surface. One thinks of a person, a human being who has an outer surface, a certain physicality, color, tone, texture, skin – smooth or rough , hair – long or short or in between brow furrowed or smooth, wrists thin or thick. There are nearly infinite possibilities. And yet under the surface, there are things seen but also ‘felt’ that have as well – a life of their own, and we as sensitive beings can feel and somehow know this under the surface world. It can be an angry person under a calm visage or a shy person under a rumpled outer layer…..or any number of combinations. An abstract painterly painting can in fact, have yet more going on visually and emotionally ‘under’ the surface than on the surface the viewer must engage with the painting, breathe a bit or a bit more slow things down and come to know the under layers where “life” with all its attendant joys and sorrows plays out for...

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...