Category Archives: Abstract

On Abstract Art

And without the title, “Portrait of an Englishwoman,” I doubt whether Mr. Lewis’s drawing would have suggested to anybody even the most violent and revolutionary of ideas on English femininity; but might have left them still puzzled whether it was a design for a new sort of magic lantern, or a railway signal after an accident.

Page 35,  Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed

lewisenglishwomanI am inclined to agree with Mr. Speed.


I don’t know about normal people, but I experience a lot of inspiration during that magical world between awake and asleep. Whether waking up or falling asleep, I often see vivid images behind my eyelids, usually taking shape from whatever I’d been thinking about that day. Sometimes the images are purely random, though, and from one of those incidents came inspiration to paint an abstract.

I’d never been one to do abstracts. I found them interesting to look at, but not necessarily challenging to paint. After all, it doesn’t actually have to look like anything. That’s true, but after having painted two of them, and after studying some of Casey Klahn‘s work and his posts on colorist theory, I may have changed my mind. Casey does very interesting work in pastels using pure color, and he has some recent posts about Jackson Pollock, an artist whose work I’ve always liked.

Abstract work removes the challenges of representation, leaving only color, value, and composition. I think that makes it “purer,” in terms of art. Not better or worse, just less cluttered. It frees the artist to explore those artistic concepts, hopefully teaching them valuable lessons along the way. I’ve never felt more stereotypically artsy than I did when I was slathering paint around creating these two paintings:

Population I by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on canvas – $100


Population II by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on canvas – $85


The first one was random, starting with my half-asleep brain and going from there, just doing what felt right with the brush. When I was done, I noticed that it reminded me a bit of a population graph. I named it accordingly, and set off to do another that looked more like a graph. That’s it. I enjoyed using color straight from the tube and letting my intuition play with the compositions.

The best part about this experiment, and the reason I’ll do more of these, is the response from viewers. No two people see the same thing when they look at these paintings. Usually people look at my work and say, “nice octopus.” This time, I got impressions ranging from “pretty close” to “I would never have thought of that.” People say these remind them of a beach, warring factions, flags, elections, political parties, and tectonic plates. How cool is that? I am fascinated by the things people see in these paintings, and it really makes me want to do more.

What do you see?