Art Informel

The artists associated with Art Informel are sometimes called the international equivalents of the Abstract Expressionists. Coming to prominence in the years following World War II, they rejected pre-War art logic and made paintings from improvisation and experimentation. But unlike Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel wasn’t so much an art movement as it was an umbrella term for a number of loosely related art movements, all of which had one thing in common: the rejection of reason in favor of intuition.

Lyrical Abstraction sits underneath this umbrella term Art Informel.

[The] common attitude among artists at the time [was] that historical logic is what had gotten the world into its tragic mess and that everything had to change. Many embarked on a quest for something deeper than logic that could guide their art. Seeking something to which all humans could relate they abandoned form. They abandoned planning. For the first time in art history, rather than beginning with an idea and then finishing with a painting, painters simply began painting, guided by instinct, letting their gestures, mediums and subconscious feelings guide their creations. Only when their works were finished did they venture to assign them meaning.

In the US this thinking rose to be Abstract Expressionism. In Europe there developed a few different groups of which Art Informel is the umbrella term. The most famous group under the Art Informel umbrella is ‘Tachism’ which is the European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism.

The unifying, driving force that guided all participants in Art Informel was what the Surrealists called automatism: actions without conscious premeditation… Perhaps this way of making art helped the entire culture to re-imagine civilization through a return to primitivism… [The] most consequential about Art Informal was its aspect of improvisation. It was pure personal expression. It elevated the importance of the individual artist. It valued self-discovery, and encouraged viewers to interpret the work, offering them a chance to discover themselves as well.

Art Informel were so intimately connected to the inner psychological workings of the individual artists who made them, they can be seen as truly humanistic. They elevate the precious nature of the individual above all else. After decades of so-called civilization doing everything in its power to make individuals feel worthless except as bullet sponges, workers, corpses and tools, the artists of Art Informel reversed the tide, returning individual creative dignity to a world in desperate need.

What is it that makes my paintings new, modern, contemporary? The rise of secularisation? The decreasing wild spaces in Britain? The personal benefits one can get from being in nature? Is this about how I frame my work or the work itself or both?

Lyrical Abstraction

A term I had not heard of until now. There’s a great definition of it on this website: , where it is defined as:

Lyrical Abstraction is a seemingly self-defining term, and yet for generations its origin and meaning have been debated. The American art collector Larry Aldrich used the term in 1969 to define the nature of various works he had recently collected that he felt signaled a return to personal expression and experimentation following Minimalism. But the French art critic Jean José Marchand used a variation of the term… decades earlier, in 1947, to reference an emerging European trend in painting similar to Abstract Expressionism in the US. Both uses of the term referred to art that was characterized by free, emotive, personal compositions unrelated to objective reality.

I know this has a link to my work.

The website says these ideas can be traced back to the artist Wassily Kandinsky. The website states that there was a group of artists, embodied by Kandinsky, that approached abstract painting differently from the Cubists, Futurists etc. Instead of expressing objects in abstract and sometimes symbolic forms, this group used abstraction without knowing what the meaning of it was. This approach was much more free, with no links to ‘the objective world’. This allowed for paintings such as Kandinsky’s that communicated emotion, imagination, passion, and subjectivity. (‘Kandinsky likened his paintings to musical compositions’).

The Lyrical Abstraction of Kandinsky… was not specifically associated with any religion, but there was something overtly spiritual to it. Other artists associated with styles like De Stijl, Art Concrete and Surrealism were making art that was secular and lent itself to objective, academic interpretation. Kandinsky was seeking something that could never be fully defined or explained. He was expressing his personal connection with the mysteries of the universe in an open way. It was like he invented a kind of spiritual Existentialism.

Lyrical Abstraction became prominent again after WWII because of the existentialism that rose from the war.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, a great number of abstract art movements emerged that all in one way or another involved subjective personal expression as the foundation for expressing meaning in art. Abstraction Lyrique, Art Informel, Tachisme, Art Brut, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field art… One of the most influential art critics of this time, Harold Rosenberg, understood this when he wrote, “Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself…The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”

This is so interesting to think about because my work deals with the spirituality, holyness, greatness, atmosphere of the woodland and its ties to interior religious buildings. Then my painting is based on the personal, subjective experience of a location i.e. a modern and post WWII way to think about the world and my place in it.

It’s interesting that I am dealing with spaces and ideas connected to those spaces that are old – they tie to the old medieval model I have been reading about, to pre-WWII ideas of a person’s place in the world. And yet my painting is modern in the sense that is individualistic, subjective, and as I saw at the end of last term, verging on the existential!

Artists listed on website that deal with Lyrical Abstraction:

Early 20th c – first embodyment of the (later coined) term:
Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Fautrier, Paul Klee and Wols

Decades later:
Georges Mathieu, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages and Joan Mitchell

Late 1960s and 70s ‘revitalized & expanded the relevance of the position’:
Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Mark Rothko and many more

Contemporary artists:
Margaret Neill, Ellen Priest, Gina Werfel, Melissa Meyer.

What holds all of these artists together in a common bond is the fundamental quest of Lyrical Abstraction: to express something personal, subjective and emotive, and to do it in a poetic, abstract way.

Glazing light in painting: digital mock up

I want to put this shape of light onto my most recent large greyscale painting. This building – the Pantheon in Rome is the same building that Panini painted, and I am fascinated by this hole in the ceiling and the effect it can have.

Before I go straight in and paint on the canvas, I want to do some digital mock ups, to wrap my head around how this column of light would sit in the abstract landscape.

To do this I photographed the painting and used Affinity photo to edit some transparent layers into the painting, very similar to how I would with paint and glazing.

Firstly I drew a cone shape for the stream of light.

Then I erased the bottom of the stream of light gradually so that it would look as if the light got dimmer as it got further from the source.
This is what the light does in the photos of the Pantheon, but in this painting which I keep referring back to:

The light is unnaturally bright. I need to see how the realistic, softer light will affect the painting, and whether this more alien and intense kind of light will look better, more intense and sculptural perhaps?

This is the first mock up. I layered a pale yellow on top of the white, like in the painting Oratio Obliqua. The yellowness has a kind of eeriness to it which I think is interesting. I erased the light cone around some brush marks to place the light in the landscape.

Looking at this mock up image, the light looks kind of alien! It’s a little jarring that the source of light doesn’t fit with any form of the abstract brushstrokes. I considered this and edited an image where the light is streaming in from gaps in brush marks at the top of the painting:

This looks even more alien to me! It reminds me of the medieval model C.S. Lewis text I was reading, The Discarded Image. All about the way the universe is ordered. It’s as if these streams of light are streaming down from some heavens above.

When the light streams in from gaps in the brush marks, any reference to the architectural structure is lost. The painted landscape becomes centre of attention, and the landscape looks really holy to me.

When the light comes from a source unseen in the painting, it is suggested that there is another sort of structure in the painting that has not been marked out. I think this works better. It has more depth. And seems less shallow as a painting.

Doing these mockups prompted me to think about how the light would fall on the brushstrokes in the painting. I realise I don’t understand how the brushstrokes would be hit by the light: would they leave shadows etc? So I am building a 3D model of brushstrokes and shining a light through my sculpture structure from last term to understand it better.

Writing this up now I realise one issue with the mockups: the brushstrokes are either behind or in front of the light, due to how I have handled the transparency; either behind or in front.
I realise now that the brushstrokes would have a scale of transparency glazed onto them, to make it look like they are in the light. Like this:

This looks SO much better!! It’s amazing that that small change can make such a difference to the effect. This is making me excited to paint it now!

Next thing is finish the model. I think that will really help with figuring out if I need to add in shadows to the brushstrokes.

Large canvas en plein air -thoughts

First time painting on a big canvas in oil paint outside!

Weather: heavy grey sky to begin, very windy, stormy, then oncoming rain, then rain stopped and intense grey clouds behind me, blue skies and sunset clouds beginning to appear in front of me – unpredictable weather!

I used only titanium white and ivory black, and no medium.
The reason I thought I shoudn’t use a medium was that these greyscale paintings are about texture, and I didn’t want the medium to affect the paint so that the texture wasn’t evident. I liked the idea of thick paint with brushy marks that have a clear gestural direction.
In retrospect this was a mistake because it meant I was battling with the paint from the very beginning, and the textures of the painting were all a bit samey.

I picked a spot in the woods that I have never painted or sketched in before. I had great big beech trees to one side, but not my main focus, which I usually do. I made sure I was fully surrounded by trees.

I like the painting at this stage. You can see I am immediately drawn to the movement in the tops of the trees due to the wind. It is also evident that I am battling with the paint a little. Because I am working without a medium the paint is very thick and dry. I have to apply a lot of it to achieve good textures, but then of course I know later on in the painting I will be going over those marks and battling with them.

I liked the painting at this stage. Especially the marks up top were full of the stormy energy that the trees had to me. Covering up the bottom 2/3 of the painting at this stage:

The camera has blurred the brush marks some.

This top 1/3 of the canvas has depth and a structural quality. The paint has been applied thickly and with clear tonal differences between brush marks. These two traits are evidently what make this top half successful.
The bottom 2/3 of the painting at this stage look like this:

Pretty flat. I really wasn’t very interested in this part of the painting. The focus for me was on the tops of the trees and the way they were moving.
But I felt I had to record this part of the landscape anyway, so I made some marks without much feeling attached and this was the result.
The block of paint I applied look so flat and this is the issue with this part of the painting.
What I have learnt from this painting is that I don’t need to paint an area of the woodland if it’s not jumping out at me. What could have done was paint a few marks for anything that vaguely got my attention in a neutral grey, thinned to be a background mark. And then put marks over the top that describe the parts of the landscape that did capture me.
I am realising I don’t have to paint the landscape in a traditional sense: land, horizon, , trunks of trees, canopy. If yesterday the tops of the trees were capturing me, then I could have filled more of the canvas with that!
If I don’t hold myself to the convention that the painting needs to be of some framework composition then I can let my responses happen more naturally and I hope new compositions will happen.
The possibility of this is that my paintings will no longer all have the same ratio:

They could be lots of the ground, or all of the sky, or anything in between.

I think I was doing using this ratio framework subconsciously. I was intending for the abstract painting to look like a landscape, so it made sense to me to use this framework to describe that.

But now I think I am braver and can break out of that ratio framework and see what the outcome is. It could really diversify my painting!

Back to the plein air painting proccess: !

The finished plein air painting.

At the end of the process and I took a massive brush with dried paint on it and made marks on the surface. This was Gerhard Richter inspired; a way of making marks that are semi transparent without applying more paint.

This worked well here:

Adding energy and cool semi-transparency.

But it didn’t work well here:

It’s a really strong mark, and just too much for me! Calmeth downeth next time.


Perhaps this painting will grow on me with time. But I think the composition learning above is important and thanks to this painting!

Now I have to wait until it dries so that I can start glaaazzzing. Yessss. My plans for glazing are to try painting in a block of light type thing, as well as glazing to give individual brushstrokes / areas colour. It’s going to be a big learning curve!
I think I should design the block of light on photoshop first.

Imagery Inspiration: Gothic cathedral stain-glass windows

Another web find. I don’t think this idea would translate so well to a painting because the light I would be painting is ‘flat’ i.e. the panes of glass that are letting the light in are flat, and so if I painted the light onto the painting it wouldn’t describe the depth I would like.
Regardless of this I am going to log the idea here, in case it is applicable in the future.
The idea is to glaze window pane shapes into the painting, which is essentially adding the opposite to what the structure lines were: where the structure lines describe the structure of the building, the frame of the building, this glazing window pane idea would fill in everything but the panes. Suggesting there is a structure present.
The flatness of this idea is the only thing. Unless I painted ‘panes of light’? That would look kinda sci-fi video game-esque! Panes of semi transparent light arranged as planes on the canvas. Hmm.

Imagery inspiration: Pantheon Rome

I was doing some dissertation work and I stumbled across these amazing images of the building Panini painted. I’d not thought to look at the real building because I assumed it wouldn’t be as grand and amazing in photographs, but it is! This stream of light coming down is exactly the type of thing I want to paint with glazing. The light defines the empty space, giving it dimension. And it represents the whole in the building that lets the outside in.
I am going to use these photos as inspiration when I am glazing my paintings. I think that would be a good place to start: just glazing this cylinder of light into the painting. And then also adding colour to the brushstrokes, but focusing the intense glazing on this stream of light.

Group Crit notes (based on recording)

Response to these 3 paintings before I said anything about the work:

Explain why didn’t those experiments go very well.

Responses after I finished the presentation:

  • The paintings are good at giving the viewer introspection because your painting feels like your lost in them. But I think that’s a good thing, I like it.
  • Have you look at more modern architectural buildings? Or combine modern and old architecture / spaces?
  • Do you make your sculptures with an idea in mind of where you’re going to go and paint? Or is it completely random? In which my response that I am matching the sculpture to the woods and not the other way around.
  • In response to my answer above: That’s interesting because seeing your work on instagram and in the studio I thought your sculptures were based on trees, looking up at the structure of the trees and the sky and the leaves overlapping.
  • Do you think the colours enhance your structures however they sit in the painting?
  • Good examples of how religious architecture and contemporary architecture are specifically structured so that light falls in a particular way. Things like Stone Henge was built so that light would fall in a particular direction on a particular day. Jen said she had been in a building that had the same dome (but less ornate) as the painting I included by Panini:
  • And the hole in the ceiling was letting rain come through on the day she visited. There was something interesting about the idea of the outside coming in. And with your work and the idea of the inside and the outside I think there’s something interesting about the idea of a pierced building. Artist Gordon Matter Clark (sp?) would cut into buildings, so that the whole building became a sculptural object. Other religious architecture, a church in Bulgaria?, where a window was cut so that light would scan round a particular level throughout the day and spotlight really specific parts of the painting (?) on the wall. Tada Ando (sp?) architect, who slices through buildings as windows and the light will fall and pan across the floor. So there’s loads of architecture and light things that might be really interesting to look at.
    • Thinking about this idea as I type this up: The question, where the line between a building/piece of architecture and a sculpture/sculptural object?
  • Chris Agne (sp?) running painting workshops for the first year next week. He lives locally, successful artist! He has a process where he paints, and then etches into the painting, with really thin precise line drawings, it might be useful to look at that process.
  • It’s interesting when you talk about phenomenology and why is it all contained within a structure. When I was looking at your paintings it seems like you have a frame and then inside it was this structure and inside that, that’s how I looked at it. You were saying you’re trying to put your experience onto it, so I was just wondering about that.

It’s really interesting to see what people thought of my work with and without context. I’m so glad that the feedback described feeling small infront of it, looking up, being lost in the painting. These are all things I want to achieve.

I think it’s interesting that one person didn’t realise the structure shapes were based on cathedrals. Perhaps this is something I could cover more in my social media? It’s great that she thought the sculptures were like trees and the woodland, since the connection between the religious architecture and the woodland architecture is what I was interested in conveying. The fact that the sculpture is interchangeable between woodland architecture and religious interior architecture is maybe a positive thing.