The advent of photography had a lot to do with abstract art. Freed from the confines of direct representation, painters ventured inward and outward, challenging our eyes and souls to explore further into our consciousness.
The early to mid 20th century brought forth a period of expressionism, ranging from the purely abstract (Mondrian) to the organic (O’Keeffe) to the surreal (Dali). Soon after this, painting took a drastic turn, influenced by mass media and flash-in-the-pan imagery.
My feeling is that abstraction, particularly the organic abstraction of O’Keeffe and Kandinsky, was not fully explored. It was as if they were touching on something the public didn’t want to recognize, and they quickly turned away from it. That thing could well have been the exploration of the soul.
When I hear and see many of the celebrated installation works and video art projects of today, the thing that gets me is how clinical and plastic they tend to feel: psychological experiments made for entertainment. Yes, many of them are successful and touch people, but I’m still left wondering: where’s the warmth? And how is this going to represent my generation?
Figurative works are still around and popular, though it seems that they suffer from the illustrative/decorative aspect being mostly taken for granted. One good exception to this was the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 80s (Francesco Clemente is one of its champions).
My theory is that organic abstraction holds the key to promoting contemplation in a society that desperately needs it. The figurative elements suggest the narrative that viewers might be expecting; yet the abstraction draws them to think about it deeper than just on the surface. Whether they choose to accept it or not is the dilemma. The public might run away again. I will go on making such works anyway… perhaps a select few will benefit from them, or perhaps they might inspire another generation as the Expressionists did me.