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 all who have the patience to watch and feel and even listen.


Lady Jane in Creme and White, 74 x 68″, by Gary Komarin

No. 61 (Rust and Blue), 45 x 36″, by Mark Rothko 1953

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett


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