One Way To Understand Abstract Art

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LAST MINUTE by Gregg Fedchak

Above is my recent abstract painting, LAST MINUTE.

I began it the way I begin most of my paintings, by facing a fresh canvas and applying paint and materials until a way forward becomes clear.  I keep working until it feels finished, until it looks pleasing, or until I am stymied.

Sometimes, I park the painting upstairs next to the TV and keep on eye on it while relaxing, to see if it’s done, to see if it grows on me, to see if it needs more work (and to see what that work might be), or to see if I reject it and paint over it.

It’s only when a work is finished that I try to figure out “what it is.”  More often than not, I can.

I realized, well after the painting was done, that it was my abstract interpretation of an unknown graphic artist’s DVD cover of the movie “Slaughterhouse Five,” as shown below:

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I saw the movie in 1970 or thereabouts.  I went to the American Theater in Canton, NY, with my friends Mark Simpson and Steve Merrill.  Mark’s father took us, because it was an R rated movie and you needed adult accompaniment.

That alone – the nude Valerie Perrine, my first naked movie star – made the movie stick in  my mind.

But the entire movie stuck.  I knew nothing about what happened in Dresden.  I knew very little about World War II.  I was in 8th grade and about 13 years old.  I bought the Betamax version, the VHS version, then the DVD version.

The cover art on the DVD version combined with my viewings of the movie over the years.  My unconscious mind delivered LAST MINUTE when my first doodlings produced images or colors – that “way forward” – that made me move toward an unconscious image in my mind that had excited me many times over.

You might ask, “Why should I be interested in an artist’s stray unconscious images reproduced in abstract form?”  Especially images so personal and possibly so obscure.

Hopefully, the abstract art urpped up by the artist will connect and resonate with the viewer.  The viewer will feel something of what the artist felt.

In my case, hopefully you’ll feel a bit of what I felt of the horrors of Dresden, of the firestorm, of imminent death, of the culpability of the Allies, of Valerie Perrine’s incredibly distinctive breasts as played out in the mind of a forever-13 year old.  Even if you don’t explicitly know the subject of the painting.

You may come up with your own imaginings, your own ideas of what the painting is about.  You should.  They may be completely at odds with what the artist thinks is going on.  Good.  The key is that the life in the painting excites your life, your mind, your imagination.  There is no right or wrong.

The graphic artist did his or her job.  He or she made me buy the recordings.  Their image mated so well with the movie that it’s now a part of me, deeper than I can know – at least until I paint.

And hopefully, just hopefully, a little of Kurt Vonnegut lives on in LAST MINUTE, too.

 

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The Strange Case of Charles Sheeler

Was photographer and painter Charles Sheeler a fan of the machine age, or did he hate it?

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GOLDEN GATE Charles Sheeler  1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first glance, Sheeler’s work looks like a celebration of all things modern and shiny.  How can that not be the case when you look at something like STEEL CROTON from 1953:

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STEEL CROTON Charles Sheeler 1953, source unknown

Which, btw, was probably a distant influence on my own even more abstract work, STRUCTURE from 2013:

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STRUCTURE Gregory Fedchak 2013  http://www.greggfedchak.com

Wanda Corn pretty much makes the case for the straightforwardness of Sheeler’s art in her book THE GREAT AMERICAN THING:  Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935.  To be honest, I think Corn is correct.  On a gut level, I think Sheeler is in love with all things modern and mechanical.

But . . . then things get darker.  In his VIEW OF NEW YORK from 1931, we are looking out from a very mechanical place, a typesetting shop, and through an open window seeing clouds, clouds of freedom from . . . the mechanical, the technological, the 9 to 5.

1931 Charles Sheeler (American artist, 1883-1965) View of New York, 1931

Karen Lucic talks about Sheeler’s ambiguous feelings about modernity and the changing scene of early and mid-20th century America in her book CHARLES SHEELER AND THE CULT OF THE MACHINE.  Like most people, he felt a tug toward the traditional, and often painted or photographed early American objects and architecture.  Also like most people, he was comfortable with his powerful new cars and the financial rewards of 20th century life.  He could go either way.

Mark Rawlinson, in his CHARLES SHEELER:  Modernism, Precisionism and the Borders of Abstraction, goes all the way to the extreme and makes the argument that Sheeler may  have been a covert critic of the machine age that he lived in.

Little things in his work are “wrong” in that objects/subjects are inaccurately portrayed in terms of lines, shadows, and perspective.  Everything is odd or edgy, “not right” as in a “Twilight Zone” episode.  But it’s subtle.

Look at STEEL CROTON and GOLDEN GATE.  wtf?  It’s so precise, so realistic, and yet . . . so wrong.  Which is, of course, why Rawlinson titles his book ” . . . and the Borders of Abstraction”.

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I know how I feel about technology in my painting, STRUCTURE.  Tech is broken, shadowy, incomplete, weak, sketchy, dangerous, hidden, evil, ironic.

As I write this, my wi-fi has gone out several times, thwarting the saving of my work.  I don’t know why.  Neither does AT&T or Apple.  I live with it.  My work could die at any moment, for no good reason except that I am working with high tech.

I no longer feel wonder toward tech.  I feel a deep sense of alienation.

We aren’t sure exactly how Sheeler felt.  I’m sure he felt good/bad/ambiguous, but, back in that more optimistic time of the 1939 World’s Fair, it’s the good that (mostly) shines through.

Two on Salinger

current reading –

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J. D. SALINGER:  The Last Interview and Other Conversations

The book that Streitfeld has edited isn’t really full of interviews of J. D. Salinger, because Salinger never willingly gave interviews.

Some of these pieces are encounters milked out of him when he felt wronged and wanted to set the record straight.  Some touch on legal matters, as in his deposition when he was suing to have a biography aborted.  Some came from reporters both savvy and sane, and some from reporters and writers who were having . . . issues.  Issues that came from being obsessed with Salinger and his remarkable works.

The book is interesting if you, too, are obsessed with J. D. Salinger and his writing and life.

You have to be even more obsessed with Salinger to read

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J. D. SALINGER:  The Escape Artist

Beller has written an odd one.  And a self-indulgent one.  It’s not a biography, but a random walk through Salinger’s life.  That could be interesting, if only the reader was Thomas Beller and not me or you.

The problem is that J. D. Salinger’s work feels like it’s uniquely yours.  It belongs to you, the reader.  Your relationship to Holden or Franny is special.  Beller can’t speak for you.  No one can.  Not even Salinger would.

So the book is kind of voyeuristic.  Beller is a fine writer – he is a Tulane professor and has worked at Salinger’s old haunt, The New Yorker.  It’s not an essential read.

Unless you’re a Salinger obsessive.  You know who you are.