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 mystery.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, 1907

Cave paintings in Lascaux, France

Swiss Positions by Gary Komarin, 2017

Komarin also paints forms and breaks them up as did Philip Guston and Cy Twombly. In a Komarin painting, forms are drawn and painted in a quite intuitive manner and often destroyed and moved around. They become more and then less form, and Komarin is open to the interpretation of these forms. The painting has a life of its own, and the forms populate that painting to varying degrees. The great mystery and magic of painting is that they can continue to move and explore after the brush is put down, the lights turned off and the studio door closed.


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