Browsing Art Miami and CONTEXT Art Miami, I was especially drawn to work abstracting the figure. Now, abstracting the figure is as ancient as the cave paintings and as universal as a stick figure, familiar to all of us from our earliest attempts at art. Because of that, artistic skill is often measured by ever-increasing realism in the depiction of the human form. However, the work of these highly accomplished artists shows how many ways the vocabulary of abstraction can be applied to the figure to communicate ideas, convey modes and emotion, and even create narratives.
Carly Silverman, a New York-based artist, is breaking down an image into abstract shapes in a familiar way, Her approach is not far from all the conventions of traditional portraiture or photography. The work in Silverman’s new exhibit, All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go, on display until January 9, 2021, is almost anthropological in nature, the loosely painted watercolors perfectly capturing the attitude and experience of a certain class of American women during the quarantine. The loose, gestural approach to the work lets Silverman explore the femininity, independence, and power of these women as expressed in their posture, clothing, and environment.
In contrast, Polish painter Jarek Puczel’s semi-abstracted portrait of a woman sleeping conveys a sense of intimacy, repose, and comfort. Puczel’s hard-edged forms and pared-down background palette seem to borrow from the conventions of the minimalism of the 1960s and 70s. However, the gestural treatment and use of wet-in-wet technique to render the women’s hair are reminiscent of abstract expressionism.
Similar to Puczel, Kenichi Hoshine incorporates flat hard-edged forms in his semi-abstract painting. But unlike the calm feeling of Morning Fantasy, The Superhero is all about movement and energy. The feel of this painting is created by the use of saturated colors, patterns, and a variety of lines. This approach to abstracting the figure gives Hoshine’s work a fascinating narrative quality.
Another artist whose work shares this sense of fantastical narrative is Lynn Stein, whose figures are treated in an expressionistic fashion and arranged in a way that gives her work a sense of surrealism. However, this image is an example of figurative abstraction not so much because of the way the figure is treated, but how the use of color in both the figure and the background create an overall composition that alludes to abstract works. While this compositional style is not typical of all Stein’s work, I do like the additional interest it brings to this particular piece.
Finally, Henry Jabbour is an artist working in the UK who explores the human condition. He writes that he seeks to combine the “vulnerability, fragility and impermanence of the individual with a sense of common and shared humanity.” In Jabbour’s work, the figures are present and he uses their posture to convey a specific attitude. However, emotions and ideas are just as strongly suggested by the rich color palettes and the obvious presence of the artist’s hand in mark making. In the diptych It Feels Like Hope the right panel stands on it’s own as a purely abstract painting, while the left panel has a more narrative quality.
If you would like to see more works that abstracting the figure, Hollis Taggart’s Figure as Form exhibition “highlights the ways in which artists use line, gesture, light, and color to convey emotion and sensation, pushing beyond the creation of naturalistic human likeness to achieve broader imaginative effects.” This exhibit is on view in New York and online until December 30.