To understand the Abstraction or the Abstract art.
The legibility of a figurative painting : a landscape, a portrait or a scene of kind, do not pose any problem. The spectator has sufficient reference marks which are as many stakes which enable him to apprehend the subject of the picture, pictorial space, the prospect and all the elements which compose the painting. The Abstract art gives up any relationship with visible reality. The line and the structure replace the object represented. As well as the Abstraction is of a geometrical type or expressionism abstracts the relationship with the object rare and are sometimes completely removed. To understand the Abstract art it is necessary to go back at its origin and its first sources. Paul Cézanne while introducing gradually into his works the “forms - colors” is the first to indicate that the visible one can be reduced to elementary geometrical forms. Picasso and Braque will push the step of Cézanne until the end, until his ultimate consequence. The first inspiration of the abstract art are the shapes colors of Paul Cézanne the second influence comes from the African sculpture. Between 1900 and 1905 Paul Cézanne carries out the Large Bathers. This topic is familiar to the great painters and was approached by Ingres, Renoir and well of others…
In the painting of Cézanne, a little with the impressionist manner, the faces are simply outlined. The interpretation of Pablo Picasso in 1907 of the painting of Cézanne, the Young ladies of Avignon is regarded as the first abstract painting. The faces are not outlined, they are stylized in the manner of sculptures and of the African masks. The form is reduced to basic elements: ovals, circles, squares, triangles… In order to better understand let us take for example another painting of Paul Cézanne, the Card players (1892). Let us reduce the faces, the bodies, and the objects with simple and of the same geometrical forms with the decoration. With final we obtain the abstract variation of a figurative painting. In 1910 when Picasso carries out the Portrait of Ambroise Vollard it applies a geometrical deformation to the image which makes that the character seems seen through a prism or of a broken mirror. The abstract art breaks the forms but it also fixes in only one image several points of view different from the same object. In space and time…
At the beginning the abstract art is simply tiny to the analytical cubism which is destroying because it disregards figuration and color, form. In the painting Landscape (1908) of Georges Braque one recognizes an abstract landscape indeed but nobody fear of defining about which place it is… In the same way it is happy as work Violon and Jug (1910) of very Braque has such a title because the spectator recognizes the two objects indeed. But can you identify the others ?
Between 1912 and 1919 the cubism is directed towards one synthetic period and reveals the Juan Gris painter. The artists introduce joining into painting…
In Still life in the Caned Chair (1912) Picasso uses a true piece of oil-cloth.
The analytical cubism is an analysis of the subject, the synthetic cubism becomes an insertion of objects one in another. By the means of joining, newsprint, paper false-wood, reality returns in force in works. These fragments of reality are metaphors of the objects represented.
Braque and Picasso and even Fernand Léger and Juan Gris simplify their cubism. The plans are fewer, fuller, they are imbricated in more readable structures, more aired, in which the color is reintroduced and becomes independent of the form. Nevertheless a still life of Paul Cézanne does not have anything any more to see with its copy by Pablo Picasso. Already the Eiffel Tower of Robert Delaunay who characterizes the destructive period of the painter is of a coloured cubism which announces already the orphism which is a cubism where the color dominates. Even Fernand Léger during his Mechanical Time leaves much place to the color.
The work of Wassily Kandinsky illustrates an abstraction impressed of overflowing (With the black arc, 1912), it represents the artists of Blaue Reiter, expressionist group of which he is the leader in Munich. Yellow-Red-blue (Wassily Kandinsky), painting of Wassily Kandinsky, carried out in March 1925.
Kazimir Malevitch proposes with Composition suprematist (1915) an assembly of coloured elementary geometrical forms being detached on a white zone, its picture illustrates the will of radical abstraction to which the artist turns, eager to create a world without object as from 1914. He wants to put forward in his art, the relationship and the pressures existing between the forms and surrounding space.
The abstraction of Piet Mondrian is worked out starting from a Cubist grid, reduced to an opposition between verticals and the horizontal ones which frame plans of pure color.
In 1920, Piet Mondrian creates her first composition of perpendicular black lines, this one wraps in an asymmetrical grid of the primary plans of colors (yellow, red, blue) and of not-color (white, black, gray). It gives to its new pictorial language the name of neoplasticism, it theorizes of them the bases in the review De Stijl.
In Russia, after having been the principal one representing futurism, Malevitch breaks in a radical way with the figuration and exhorts with the monochromic one: Black square (1915) and
White square on white zone (1918) it seeks : “a philosophy of the pictorial creation which arrives to the without-object and the absolute” : suprematism, a radical movement which finds an echo and a prolongation in Poland with Unisme (1923-1934) of Wladislaw Strzeminsky. In parallel, Vladimir Tatline creates with his abstract reliefs the first formulations of the constructivism (1917-1932).
In opposition to the constructivists abstractions develops an abstraction with the forms flexible and generous inaugurated by the reliefs of Jean Arp at the end of the years 1910 and also taken again by artists like Joan Miró and Alexander Calder in sculpture.
Theo van Doesburg, initially follower of the neoplasticism, renews in a decisive way the abstract art by driving out from any artistic creation subjectivity with the profit of the compliance with logical rules. Its Proclamation of concrete art (1931) gives rise to the tendency of the same name or Concrete Art. This tendency have important developments in Switzerland with Max Bill and Richard-Paul Lohse, in France with François Morellet and in all the forms of systematic art. These ways are opposed to the various movements tachist, nuagist of Benrath and Duvillier and with the gestural tendency. All this corresponds to the prolongation of the various schools of Paris J. Bazaine, A Manessier, P. Soulages, G. Mathieu, O. Debré…
It is in the United States that the abstract tradition finds a development decisive at the end of the Forties with the action painting or informal art: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and the abstraction color field : Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, 2 movements gathered under the name of School of New York (1950-1960). In substituent the image with the creation of an event, Jackson Pollock draws painting towards the performance. In reaction, the minimal art as from 1960 offers a return to the rigor with an interest shown for the structure and the geometry : Franck Stella, Agnes Martin. In Europe the kinetic and optical adventure (1965-1978) calls in question the certainty of the geometric abstraction of the Thirties of Abstraction-Creation, by introducing the factor movement Vasarely, Morellet, Soto.
The abstraction remains always present in contemporary creation, one can see ironic geometrical painting like those of Peter Halley (1980). This one interprets geometrical cutting like having a prison significance, it represents the Néo-Géo movement which reintroduces the idea of figuration within a device presented like the roof of the abstraction. It is devoted even to a play of quotation, the two squares of Two concealments (1987) present a strong similarity with those of Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-1951) of Barnett Newman this highlights the absence of renewal of abstract painting. Claude Viallat continues in France the demonstrations of Support/Surface, Alain Clément repeats the tradition abstracted colourist, Dominique Gauthier gestural virtuosity and symbolic system. It seems that the young generation expresses an renewed interest for an optical art.
But some still declare that abstract painting is in a dead end…