Assignment 2: From sketch to abstraction: looking

One of the biggest challenges for me is using my own sketches to arrive at an abstract image. (I know that this is not what the coursebook suggests as a direction here, but it is recommending starting by looking, even if, this time, it is looking at the work of artists.)

If I take abstraction to mean simplification, then I try redrawing, reducing the number of lines: that may result in seeing patterns and balance of shapes, in the creation of a certain rhythm, or the identification of certain analogies between one thing and something else. But there’s a risk it will end up as a mere pattern, something predictable and repetitive, or it may end up looking like a piece of graphic design. Where’s the line between these? Early 20th century abstraction, in movements such as Cubism, Orphism, Futurism, was influenced by changes in perception of the world. The typical Renaissance landscape, single point perspective, static eye view was now outdated as a means of representing the modern world of movement and speed. Visual art could now be a moving thing, with layers beneath  the surface, hidden depths, a state of changing from one place to another, from one state to another.

I started with a series of life drawings of my favourite model, Vangelis, who pops into HK at various times in the year. He does balletic movements which are a great inspiration for gestural drawing, but these were still poses. How could I make these more abstract? I started by tracing, simplifying the drawings into fewer lines, accentuating the sculptural shapes, making the body into blocks.

At the same time, I had to think of my resources. Monoprinting is the most straightforward when you have few specialist resources to hand. I had painting materials, ink, sheets of perspex, Chinese rice papers, tissue paper and heavier cartridge. The techniques that suggested themselves were transferred paint, masking, and backdrawing so I had my “language” of seeing in the form of shape, colour and line. At its most basic, any form of translating a solid 3D person into a pattern of shape, colour and line, is a process of abstraction.

This first image is an “abstraction” by analogy- the lines are simplified, the colours arbitrary, the naturalism is lost, the limbs are no longer articulated but are fused into the body, which now suggested an analogy of a piece of gnarled wood, something perhaps sculpted and primitive.

Analogy: monoprint A2

The second image is using the soft mottled colours of wet paper, and backdrawn outlines, but the two layers of the print exist separately, and emphasise the artifice of both. The body seems to be a collection of atoms, barely held together by a porous outline, man as construct. Now the pose fits too, coincidently, as the image of the folded hands mirrors the idea of encapsulation.

Containment by line
Containment: Monoprint A2


This image is the most explicit and self-conscious: a reflection on the act of looking- shape as the congruence of internal structure and negative space.

Negative space
Negative space: Monoprint A2


This wasn’t inspiring though. Below, this was the first print that I felt enthused by- a fast impression of a group of objects- apples, a plate, a bottle, a cloth- torn masks, blind painted and then blind backdrawn. This shows the three elements of shape, colour and line as three distinct entities. The texture of the lines, the textures of the colour and the fluidity of the shapes, suggest things trying to come into being, to form themselves using this visual language, parallel to how Cubist paintings resolve themselves from splintered planes.

Still life
Still life


So I tried to use the figure in the same way, using a mask, painting and backdrawing,  The mask creates an empty space and a negative shape. Warm and cool colours and white spaces suggest form, and an illusion of 3 dimensions. Backdrawn lines posit an alternative space to the masked shape. Mis-registration is the element that creates the “abstraction” from life, the deliberate juncture with reality. That is to say,  the “language” of printmaking can do the job of suggesting that what we see is an unstable thing, dependent on perspective. On the other hand, the images also suggest movement, in the  same way as “Nude descending a staircase” works by showing transitions into and out of a place in time, as if the figure is getting into or out of position. The separate elements “become” a figure because we interpret it from our habits of seeing.

Technically, I used different degrees of paper moistness to get different line quality. The middle one was using wallpaper lining, very strong, and quite damp. The other two are on Chinese rice paper, dry on the left, slightly dampened on the right. The same images seem to move in different directions, away from the masked shape.


What I like about this experiment is the emphasis on the monoprinting processes, but this could go in so many different directions that I’m not feeling I have found a focus yet.


Author: chrisocaprintingblog

Studying visual arts part-time with the Open College of the Arts

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