Abstraction and meaning

CHAPTER 5: Pure form

Around 1910 and the decade that followed, artists in both Europe and the United States began exploring purely abstract forms–ones not tied to any system of representation but standing on their own–as a new type of art. This revolutionary concept created what is now an incredibly rich tradition of global abstraction, especially in the medium of painting, a tradition in which shape, color, texture, scale and the materiality of the medium itself are emphasized above all else. The Blanton’s collection is especially strong in painting of the 1960s and 70s from both the United States and Latin America. In this period, artists found endless ways to explore the possibilities engendered by the basic concept of an art that represents nothing but itself.

Rock Bottom

Joan Mitchell
Chicago, Illinois, 1925 - 1992, Paris, France

Rock Bottom
Oil
198.1 cm x 172.7 cm (78 in. x 68 in.)
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991
1991.276

Joan Mitchell made this painting on Long Island, New York in the summer of 1960; it is one of the only works she painted outside of France. Mitchell often looked to nature for her abstraction, and the cobalt blue paint that dominates this frenetic work is a color she begins to use frequently after her summer on the Long Island shores. Mitchell often painted scenes as seen through the filter of her memory, describing her works as “remembered landscapes . . . [which] become transformed” through the act of painting. In a review of her first solo show in Paris, which opened the year this painting was made, French critic Pierre Schneider wrote that Mitchell’s works divulged “conflicting hesitations and mutually abolishing decisions.” With its raw energy, dramatic drips, and emphatic gestures, "Rock Bottom" reveals the agency Mitchell exercises in her approach to abstraction, movement, color, and the picture. “It’s a very violent painting,” the artist once said of this painting. “And you might say [about] sea . . . rocks.”

Black and White No. 2

Franz Kline
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1910 - 1962, New York

Black and White No. 2
Oil
203.9 cm x 155 cm (80 1/4 in. x 61 in.)
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991
1991.248

Espacio horizontal limitado [Limited Horizontal Space]

Carlos Rojas
Facatativá, Colombia, 1933 - 1997, Bogotá, Colombia

Espacio horizontal limitado [Limited Horizontal Space]
Oil
126.3 cm x 126.2 cm (49 3/4 in. x 49 11/16 in.)
Gift of Barbara Duncan, 1986
1986.309

Carlos Rojas emerged in the mid-1960s and soon established himself as one of the leading contemporary abstract artists in Colombia. This painting is part of his series "Ingeniería de la visión [Engineering of Vision]." Inspired by urban architecture, Rojas undertook a rational exploration of the square with the utmost economy of means. Here his visual vocabulary is limited to narrow stripes in black and white, composed of dashed and solid lines, which run parallel and turn at right angles on a black field. With a few lines Rojas implies a complex geometric configuration.

Physichromie No. 394 [Physichromy No. 394]

Carlos Cruz-Diez
Caracas, Venezuela, 1923 - 2019, Paris, France

Physichromie No. 394 [Physichromy No. 394]
Vinyl paint, plywood, cardboard, plastic, and metal frame
121.3 cm x 62.2 cm x 6.3 cm (47 3/4 in. x 24 1/2 in. x 2 1/2 in.)
Gift of Irene Shapiro, 1986
1986.333

Carlos Cruz-Diez began his "Physichromie" series in 1959 and continues it today. Its title is a combination of the words “physical” and “chromatic,” a reflection of Cruz-Diez’s lifelong ambition to create situations in which viewers could experience color not only visually, but also physically. According to the artist, “color is constantly in the making . . . it happens in time.” "Physichromie No. 394" is composed of parallel columns of plastic strips, whose colors are reflected and refracted through other translucent plastic strips, thereby generating colors and forms that change depending on the perspective of the moving viewer.

Superficie activada núm. 2 [Activated Surface no. 2]

Ary Brizzi
Avellaneda, Argentina, 1930 –

Superficie activada núm. 2 [Activated Surface no. 2]
Acrylic
170.5 cm x 168.9 cm (67 1/8 in. x 66 1/2 in.)
Gift of John and Barbara Duncan, 1971
G1971.3.12

Ary Brizzi’s geometric paintings are elegant, technically rigorous, and conversant with Kinetic and Op art of the 1960s. At the time, Brizzi painted compositions of thin parallel bands that generated optical vibrations. In this example, the subtle color gradations and precise change in trajectory of the blue, black, and gold lines suggest two mirrored shapes that seem to overlap in a shallow space. Brizzi’s use of a diamond-shaped canvas and vibrating cerulean blues enhances the dynamism of this piece.

Image credit:
Joan Mitchell
Rock Bottom, 1960-1961 (detail)
Oil on canvas
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991

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