Formal Considerations Text

James Yuncken

Private Exhibition Space, Richmond

Exhibition Dates: 7 May - 29 May, 2005
Opening 7 May, 2.00 - 6.00 pm

- this is the text from the exhibtion's catalogue. To view the catalogue click here

At first glance the abstract paintings of this exhibition are a far cry from the landscapes of my 2003 exhibition, Sense of Place. It might therefore surprise you to know that I don’t consider them to be much of a radical departure.

One could summarize the themes in this series of paintings as maps, plans, networks and patterns. I suppose maps and plans relate to landscape being abstracted or aerial overviews of land. The transition to networks and patterns is only one step further. But that isn’t the reason I say these paintings aren’t a radical departure.

The reason is that these paintings are made in exactly the same manner as the paintings in all my previous exhibitions. They are the same ‘found objects’, found on the surface on which they were painted, found through a painting process which tries not to presume what the end result will be, but rather is a journey in which one painterly gesture incites the imagination to another and another with the image attaining ever increasing complexity, until finally a satisfying and coherent result is “found”. The only difference each time is in what one is looking to find. That’s influenced by one’s preoccupations while creating the work.

This time around one of my main preoccupations was colour. I began to open up the very restricted palette of previous exhibitions in Sense of Place. Prior to that exhibition I was using only four tubes of paint. In Sense of Place I expanded the range to seven or eight. Now the gloves were off and there were no restrictions.

Initially abstraction was a reaction to the intense labours of attempting to create paintings with the level of realism of those Sense of Place landscapes. It was liberating to enter an object free world. But even in an object free world a lot of familiar old problems arise in the course of achieving a satisfactory, coherent result. The composition must be right, colours, shapes and textures must be adjusted: Formal considerations.

Those formal attributes are the tools with which parts of the painting are given their roles and their voice. They create the music, harmonies and contrasts, define major and minor themes. They determine whether we see the painting as tragic, joyous, dramatic, uplifting etc. After all, two paintings of exactly the same objects can evoke very different responses in us.

The objects in a representational painting act as a foothold for most people. They push forward and grab our attention. Recognising objects is what we’re used to using our eyes for and the objects seem to offer a way of understanding of what a painting is about. They can distract us from how we’re being influenced to look at those objects by the less obvious, less tangible properties of the painting.

Confusion often reigns when people are confronted with abstract paintings where the objects are difficult to make sense of, or there are none. We generally have no difficulty with music, which is very abstract. Hearing is used to dealing with abstraction because speech is abstract but vision, at least in its everyday applications, tends to be more literal.

In these paintings the focus is on the formal considerations that create the kind of music that’s an essential part of every painting. It’s about the fundamentals of what painting is about.

James Yuncken

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