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Sunday, 12 May 2019

Spotlight: Who is in the Shapes?

It has been a very active couple of months for LAS, with the Spring exhibition and preparations for summer.  Spotlight took a break in April, so as not to… well, not to steal the Spotlight from the important plans and activities of the Society.  LAS is still very active now, in May, as the year is blooming, so I hope that this does not get in the way of the many notices of our LAS blog.
'To the Lighthouse' by Michael Fairfax (detail). Stainless steel needle public sculpture, Millennium Park, Llanelli


What is abstract art about?
What is it for?
  Why do people make curved abstract shapes in bronze and marble?  These shapes are not really “of” anything – just forms and curves.

  Why do we like them?

This month’s Spotlight is curved light.  Its beam takes a sweeping shape by bending around gravitational black holes and heavy, heavenly bodies.  In the Universe, in space and time, light makes shapes and forms and volumes.  We could say that abstract forms in art relate to those Universal shapes.
If you look at diagrams of gravitational fields you are shown the planes and paths and possibilities that a planet or particle can take.
A computer model of the gravitational field around two black holes as they circle each other.  The waves came from two black holes colliding.  MPI for Gravitational Physics/Institute for Theoretical Physics, Frankfurt/Zuse Institute Berlin
“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh” - Edward Weston (1886-1958).  Weston, an early photographer, captured objects to represent them as something unsuspectingly sublime. From furniture to shells (pictured here)
From 'Iron Man' film, 2008

Is this what draws us to abstract forms?
  Do we see ourselves in the shapes and curves, the spikes and holes and planes of colour and texture?
  Usually we say that a part of our engagement with a work of art is that we relate to it personally.
'Fleeting Parts', Milana Naef.  MDF and plaster, 2016
'Wizzom' (detail) by the author, 2019

Some curvy sculptures look shapes of the body, and can be sensual.  Other works might evoke the undulations of a forest or a desert landscape.  But most abstract forms have no ostensible physical equivalents, and have little to do with such tangible life sensations.
'Sculpture 2', Anthony Caro
Right-angled steel constructions, for example, are far more diagrammatic than sensuous.  And it is not convincing that the appeal of such brutalist forms is due to our being enamoured with the industrial age which begat their authoritative angles.   Is there something else going on in our minds when we are pulled into the shapes of abstracts?
'Red Duet', Wyndham Lewis, 1914 (Vorticism)


This month I have an article in a business magazine*.  It is based around Jeff Koons, and is mainly about art’s return to aesthetics, the function of art in business, expressing a mission or ethos, the emotions in consumer choice, and how art’s true investment value is not that you might re-sell it later for millions.  Art's value in business is its cultural and emotional power.
  What I did not include in that article is part of the main reason I find Jeff Koons interesting: the impression of those shiny sculptural surfaces on a viewer.  They literally are a mirror.
'Venus', Jeff Koons

Where are you now, in your life?
  Where are you going?
  Where have you been, physically and emotionally?
What are the choices you have made, and the paths your life could have followed?  Do you face choices now, that could lead your life – and the lives of others – in a variety of directions?  Have you spent a long time contentedly in the same state, without much fluctuation in your behaviours and circumstances and desires and interests?  Have you had tumultuous weeks?  Have you sometimes drawn back, doubled in on yourself, or found yourself back where you started, and wondering about making other choices?  Where do these paths and shapes go?
These are all geometries.
  I think that a part of what we like about abstract forms is that we relate to their shapes and topographies as a description of our life.  A sculpture or a painting can be a subconscious representation of moments in our life.  We do not just appreciate a curve or a spiral.  We somehow feel a kinship with it, or a desire to be like it.
These sensations are, of course, very subtle; probably never surfacing in our conscious thought, despite them literally and physically being the surfaces of what we look at and touch.  And our impressions are also affected by emotions of colour, and rough or smooth textures and tone.  The art of colour and shape.
  It is almost impossible to tell with these sensations are real or imagined.  Whether these concepts really are a part of our interaction with abstracts, or just a hard-art fluffy theory.  And maybe we shouldn’t find out.
I leave you with this notion:
  How would you sculpt your life? 
How would you depict your life as it is, or how you might wish it to be?
  We do this shaping of our own time and space every moment of every day.  And sometimes we get our hands dirty. 
  Let’s keep making shapes.
'Sophisticated Though-forms', Alexander Varvaridze

Further information:
Angled metal sculpture: Anthony Caro. http://www.artnet.com/artists/sir-anthony-caro/


*  Article: ‘Modern Art’, Matt Smart, B4 magazine issue 57, pages 110-111.  https://issuu.com/b4-business/docs/b457-karthik-ramanna-editionhttps://issuu.com/b4-business/docs/b457-karthik-ramanna-edition  The article is about the purposes and meanings of 3D surfaces as forms that describe timelines and choices in our lives and work.
These subjects will be part of a talk and workshop at B4 HQ, Weston-on-the-Green, Oxfordshire, on 13th September 2019


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