A Balance of Simplicity and Complexity in Abstract Art
// Artist's Network
If you haven't seen the newest issue of Acrylic Artist magazine yet, you're in for a treat. I've shared the work and acrylic painting techniques of some of the featured artists, and because the issue has so much to offer, I'm happy to give you another peek inside. In addition to advice on how to paint with acrylics and use acrylic mediums, this resource gives you inspiration and insights from artists such as Katherine Chang Liu. In this excerpt, Judith Fairly takes you into the abstract paintings of Chang Liu, who strives for–and achieves–balance in her art.
At a time when Chang Liu was deeply involved in caring for her elderly parents, she created Undercurrent (acrylic and collage, 36×36) with its "cheerful, bright red" in the upper three-quarters of the picture plane and neutral tones at the bottom. She also thought the color red suggested the "currency" of trillions of texts crossing digital space every day. The lettering is partly generated by computer and partly painted directly on the canvas. Photos courtesy of Chiaroscuro Contemporary Art, Santa Fe. Click here to "pin" Undercurrent on Pinterest.
Constructing a Stage
"Chang Liu paints as if she were constructing a stage; each painting has a minimum of eight layers, and some have as many as 20. Though she finds paper the most 'seductive' surface to work with, it's not as practical as wood panel, which is sturdy, lightweight and easier to ship than canvas or paper. She gives the panel two coats of flat gesso, letting them dry between layers without sanding in order to maintain the texture. Subsequent layers include applications of acrylic and collage–found objects, letters, family documents, magazine and newspaper clippings, as well as designs and drawings created on her computer for the specific painting. On top of this strata of paint and collage, she draws with Pitt oil-based pastel pencil and India ink.
"I'd kept the word qualia (plural of quale) in my 'notebook of words' since graduate school," says Chang Liu. "Of the word's many definitions, the one I chose for the painting Qualia (acrylic and collage, 36×36) is 'a unit of conscious thought of any kind."??? On the right is a textured area that she built up with layers of cardboard pieces cut into small, random shapes. These pieces represent complex, random thoughts always passing through a person's mind. To unify this area with the rest of the painting, the artist painted over it several times with a grayish, neutral color. ~Judith Fairly
Subtraction as Process
"Over time, Chang Liu has changed her approach to how she uses color. Though she seems to work from a relatively limited palette now, often staying with neutral hues, she has become more mindful of using color in a meaningful way rather than as a decorative element. She's likely to use more color in the foundational layers, diluting or strengthening the hues as she builds up the layers. As she works, she pays as much attention to taking things out as she does to adding new ones. 'When I paint, I don't back up or try to 'fix' problems until the painting is almost complete,' she says. 'I'm quick to find fault, and that takes the joy out of painting.'
"At the end of the day, Chang Liu makes painting observations on sticky notes and affixes them to the work; this draws her back to the studio with a place to start the next day. Once the painting is 70 to 80 percent done, she gives it a critical evaluation. Her analytical left brain dominates when it comes to planning her paintings and judging artwork; she can give a painting the 'quick eye'–a cool-headed, objective assessment–to ascertain whether it's working. Two or three days after the painting is completed, she comes back to it and adjusts the elements, simplifying them or making them more ornate, always looking for a balance of simplicity and complexity. Finally, she coats the piece with a couple of layers of matte acrylic polymer varnish, using a flat, natural-bristle house-painting brush and allowing each layer to dry completely before applying the next." ~J.F.
Read Fairly's full feature article in Acrylic Artist, which is included in a special 50% off sale at North Light Shop. Score an extra 10% off and get free shipping with the details below. Browse the sale–you'll find books, DVDs, and more on every subject, in every medium.
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