Abstraction in realist painting

What is abstraction? Webster says: ‘..expressing ideas and emotions by using elements such as colors and lines without attempting to create a realistic picture.’

There is a lot of abstract painting in my work. During this exhibit some people commented about how realistic my work looks until you take a closer look. I pointed out to them that most scenes have very little to do with reality. It just feels that way.

There are a few different methods that can be done to achieve this.

One is the exaggeration or manipulation of values contrast. Here’s an example in my work. The buildings appear very soft and ‘tonally wrong’ compared to the rest of the picture, i.e. the contrasty figures up close. In real life, the figures would not be as strong and the buildings would not be as weak as I painted them.

A NewYork minute

Andrew Wyeth was a master of this. Here’s an example. Notice the dark background hill? It feels like a ‘realistic painting’ but has very little to do with it.

wyeth

Colors can be altered within an object or shape. A shadowy white building might have blues and pinks in it. Here’s an example of an oil painter who achieves this within the girl’s hair (Daniel Gerhartz)

Daniel Gerhartz

Others introduce a different color scheme to an already existing light situation, blue juxtapositioned with orange/red, the way Van Gogh did.

Van Gogh

‘Loosely painted nothingness’ in backgrounds or unimportant areas, is another. If you look at the background in this painting (Paso Robles Acorn) the lines and shapes make no sense. They don’t have to because I established what it is by painting the middle ground more defined, so the background ‘reads right’.

downtown Paso

My friend Josh Clare, another oil painter,  did this so well with the close up of his cow painting: Can you see the second cow on the left? It works because the first one is all there.

josh clare

All this illustrates how much abstract painting so called realist painters actually do. More than we might think!

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8 thoughts on “Abstraction in realist painting

  1. lesliepaints

    This is so well said. I am constantly pointing out abstract passages in student paintings and commenting on them. At first, my students could not think of abstraction in any other way than the literal definition of it such as lines and colors not moving toward realism. They were trying to actually eliminate wonderful things their eyes and hands were recording from their interpretations. Good post, as always, Frank!

    1. frankeber Post author

      I know exactly what you mean, Leslie! I know you’re also a teacher. If you teach for a while it’s amazing to see how some students think sometimes. As a painting teacher, I always try to write it all down and come up with new ways of teaching…thanks for the visit!

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