Abstraction from Life

This blog is about abstract art, and I think it offers some interesting and novel ideas. It also has some unconventional ideas, and makes no apology for that. The recent post on Ian Wallace’s work is, for me, a bit of filler. I love the work and the ideas it gives me, but it’s not in the main line of what I’m doing. In fact, when I got into abstraction, so many years ago, I saw it as a break away from the Vancouver context—a healthy thing for me. So I’m not exactly happy that the post provoked comment, since there are better things to talk about, namely any other post. But now I can see that Ian’s work could be a good example of a point I make in the book. According to the artist the works in the Poverty series, and everything he’s done since, stage an irreconcilable opposition between the ideals of modernism—represented by the monochrome—and social content—represented by the documentary photograph. These are two kinds of artistic practice, with two different politics, and Wallace saw both as valid at the time. The important point is that the concept is completely formalist. The particulars of the photo don’t matter so much, it just has to stand for a certain kind of documentary; the precise color and form of the monochrome area is not so important, it just has to stand for a certain possibility in art. This is an “abstract” attitude; the contingent details of life are not eliminated, but they’re minimized and subordinated to an overall abstract concept. So today (and Wallace is not the only example) abstract art might include imagery and even photography. That pushes us toward a new definition of abstraction.

Ian Wallace, from Poverty, 1987

However, in Wallace’s work the particular photos do matter and that’s where the fun begins. For another post.

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