Lightness is an aspect of abstraction that I particularly value. It is allied to the comic, which has been an important strand in art since the Baroque, and became dominant in the west in the early 19th. century. In its strict formulation, the comic means the treatment of ordinary people in preference to nobility and heroes. In modern times it means more the provocation of laughter, but that’s good too. Lightness in modern art is a feeling that doesn’t necessarily result in open laughter, but it loosens and refreshes in the same measure, and reminds us that the purpose of art is to give pleasure. I was taken with these thoughts many years ago when I first saw this photograph. However seriously theoretical

Robert Morris, Green Gallery installation

Robert Morris, Green Gallery installation 1964

minimalism might be, it still has the lightness of valid modern art. The gray “cloud” floating in the upper right suggests that even the most remote figurative associations, an unbidden memory of nature, might enable such lightness in abstraction. In the case of these works, relative lack of physical weight also helps.

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4 Responses to Lightness

  1. Sam Cornish says:

    I agree lightness (as a physical quality – I’m not sure about its relation to the comic), is a major part of a lot of abstract art. This is a paragraph from an essay I’m still working on on Gary Wragg’s paintings:

    Many types of abstract painting, even when they avoid the ultimate reduction of minimal art, involve attempts to heavily regulate the space which modern painting opened up from Impressionism and through Cubism (the fields of American painting were an attempt to avoid this regulation, but unfortunately they found that infinity was strangely shallow). Geometric artist corral and flatten space within orthogonal pens; other artists build up paint to such an extent that it (when successful) controls space through exerting an enormous pressure on it, with space seemingly forced through a painting’s structure. In contrast Wragg’s paintings rely on this space being uncontrollable, constantly out of reach. If one thinks about it the marks he makes must proceed the spaces they exist in, but in the experience of the work, these spaces – or the general feel of space that exists throughout one of his pictures – often seem about to overcome his marks, his structures to almost fade or flutter away into space. The most effective parts of his paintings are often details, glimpses which emerge out of the general melee. When considered as wholes, the openness of his paintings gives them a fragility, as if there were temporary and liable to change. Even when his paintings become densely colouristic there is a sense that they function like mirages, vividly present but somehow without mass, imagined as much as seen.

  2. Interesting thoughts about space. Both the striving for space or the desire to flatten the picture as kinds of regulation of space is a new thought. But that must be pre-existng space, no? Space being forced through the paint intrigues me though I haven’t seen or felt that. Maybe I’m missing something. Do you mean that Wragg’s marks precede the space? Or is it space, normal Newtonian space, which precedes any mark? I guess we’d like marks and space to create each other. Or do we? These are interesting questions.

  3. Sam Cornish says:

    Yes, precede. Wow – I must have read that passage a hundred times (I wrote it right at the beginning of what has become a very drawn out and interrupted process) without noticing that. What I mean is that there is no space on the canvas without the marks he makes on it; but when looking at the picture these marks seem lost in this space. Is that clearer? Forced through space – I am thinking of, as an extreme, a painter like Bram Bogart; but also someone like Alan Gouk moves toward this.

    • I think I can see what you mean about heavily built up paint, but it’s not something I had thought of. Marks and space as effects of each other is, to me, the idea of cubism, and still a good one. That the space somehow emerges at the end of the process and takes over is interesting, but I wish we could stand in front of a picture and you could show me. The idea of putting pressure on space is also very interesting, as in any thought that does not treat space as passive, empty, pre-existing etc. – or maybe it does, but at least doesn’t stop there.

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