Fractured Space

from the No Hassle at the Castle blog, Nov 21, 2010 by George Hofmann

Some thoughts on space in abstract (and other) painting... 

A few years ago, the painters Tom Barron, Arthur Yanoff and I began to think about what has changed, spatially, in painting, wondering if this is a result of a change in seeing itself over the last thirty years.

In the shift to visual information in society, millions are looking - a lot - at constantly changing images on their TVs, computers and hand-held devices. The world is awash in visual information - unedited and torrential, pixellated, flickering, backlit, and instantaneous; this hasn’t necessarily resulted in greater pictorial literacy, but it probably has affected the way we look at art, and the making of art. In painting it probably accelerated what was already happening:  more and more fractured, shifting, unexpected and surprising pictorial space.

Frontality persisted in painting – in Pop, in Minimalism, in Color Field, even in Conceptual art - the dominance of the picture plane has ruled since Manet, since Cubism, common to all schools. Color difference and scale alone made for spatiality – so it was mostly thru splitting that space could be alluded to; fracturing led to differentiation itself - the breaking-up of space in a shallow field - as subject.

Eventually, the combination of frontality and fracture, the mix of virtual and real, the juxtapositions of subjects, and the speed that characterize media began to underlie, more and more, the feeling of almost all paintings. The reverse, of course, is also true: collage and fracturing are now everywhere in media; Cubism probably made Windows possible.

Yanoff notes that newer abstract painting presents a subtle difference from the classical abstraction of previous generations – that there was a sense of wholeness in the relationships in paintings which is no longer part of our experience. The elements in our paintings don’t “lock” now - there is a somewhat disjointed distribution of pictorial elements - a “piling on of history, experience and emotion set the stage for fractured space”.

Barron wonders if ‘fractured space” now is more about our way of responding to what we see, or if it refers to the fractured nature of reality. “Probably, it is both”.  “Our ‘fractured space’ is inextricably connected with time – in this case, ‘fractured’ time – the rhythm of our dynamic reality:  the steady, linear continuum of time and space as we perceived it and on which we once comfortably depended has given way to the reality of infinite simultaneous happenings almost instantly perceived everywhere.  We ‘multi-task’, jumping back and forth between reality and virtual (other) reality, we are plugged in to infinite impulses” – as people, and, it is important to remember - as painters.       

Now, it seems, the confrontational/then fractured space we’ve known in painting is giving way to paintings that hint at depth, subtly suggesting it, opening pictures and giving us surfaces that invite us in: in Barron’s words, ‘we have kept open the cracks, the spaces, the passageways between realities. We don’t cover up or smooth over the seams – we keep the relationships between spaces and forms, the visible and invisible open-ended, malleable, porous and breathing – like life”.

Perhaps we are just tired of in-your-face, we want to enter pictures, but it seems more likely that this is a natural change – something that has grown, and then comes to an end – and a new beginning. It may be stating the obvious, but for a big change, not much is being said about it, but that also suggests that it is a natural development.  For those who are thinking about it, it is exhilarating, and it is exciting to think of all the unforeseen possibilities open to us, in art.  

Fractured Space, Part 2from the No Hassle at the Castle blog, July 18, 2011 by George Hofmann

I am forwarding something I wrote to Arthur Yanoff, who was asked by Ken Moffett why Fractured Space was different than Cubism. And I got kick started by Mark Stone's Courbet article, which I thought was really excellent!

I think the main thing about what has changed is the centrality of Cubism – the point of view of the artist, and ergo, the viewer - versus the diffusion and increasingly all-over, up and down, in and out quality of FS. Clearly, to me, Pollock was the precursor here, as were Newman and others, and clearly, again to me, why Jules Olitski and Ken Noland especially were so important in the development of this.

The other point is a more elusive one: the prettiness that was a legacy of 19th century painting still echoes in painting today - the desire for harmony in composition (Renaissance) and even the appeal, through the everyday-ness of the subject in Impressionism, still hangs on as a guiding idea and an unspoken foundation of art. People still make paintings that appeal, that are composed to balance, to be attractive, etc. We all do!

But to shift the base of composition away from this is difficult, because it involves going against a long tide of what we believe to be right. I still find that wish resonating within me, and know that it is so ingrained as to be almost unerasable.

I think the Cubists still had the old idea about Appeal (only the Expressionists and a few others didn't quite) but, because this idea is so deeply ingrained, it is a very hard one to shake, and we only see it loosening, somewhat, in FS, in part because of the diffusion in images - and this is all to the good.

But it takes a fundamental, psychological shift, I think, to really change - and as I also said to Arthur, I think we are seeing a lot of shifting point-of-view in Installation, because it is a kind of proving ground for art. The much more serious painting and sculpture are bedrock, and slower to change, because when they do it is seismic. I think it is in the nature of sculpture and painting - the two mainstays of art - to seek great themes or subjects; after all, what befits bedrock?

A good example of a seismic shift was the development of genre painting in the Netherlands. What brought this about is a bit of a mystery. Was it just competition, or the desire to bring in a new theme, or was it the result of different experiences – not the high-flown Italian experience of the religious deeply embedded in the historical. Add to this the new-found wealth and power in the North. Who knows what alchemy was at work? But it brought about something new in painting, an intensity and a focus, and a physical sensuality quite different from that of the Italians.

These things take a long time to cook up - decades, at least. But I think there is sufficient generation for real momentum in society now. I am seeing the recent past much more historically myself, and see, increasingly, how very different now is from then. You have only to look at a Noland to know it is not possible now.