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   What is abstract painting?
Zhenya Men «Red apples and a flat vase»
oil, lainwand, 60 х 50 cm, 2006

When is it possible to touch beloved objects? Coming really close to them is the answer… As close as possible!
Close-up means the possibility of touching. As a result of touching comes knowledge and possession.
Seeing an object from a distance does not give the possibility of touching it. Therefore it is impossible to know it and possess it. Technically, only close-ups allow us to see things from the shortest distance, or from no distance at al

Closer... Closer… As close as possible to the beloved object! So close you can touch it! With no distance at all! It’s the only way to know the object and to possess it.
These are almost the exact words that the artist herself said about making her abstract paintings. They come out abstract not because they show something non-existent, but as they are painted at zero distance.
Look at any realistic painting, say, a landscape. You, the painter, are somewhere here with all your paints and brushes, and your subjects – trees and clouds – are somewhere out there. There is a distance between you and them, and you observe the scene from this distance. This is the way realistic painting works. Nothing changes in case of a mystic or fantastic landscape which can never be seen in reality. The idea is the same – you look at your fantasy from some distance.
Abstract painting is something altogether different. Malevich’s Black square is not an abstract painting, by the way. The artist decided to paint a black square, that's it. He displayed it the same way another artist would show us a bunch of flowers. What is so unreal or abstract about it? Haven’t you seen the same black square tiles on your bathroom wall? Go, look and paint them if you wish, but do not call it an abstract image!
Kandinsky’s works cannot be called purely abstract, as well, despite his outstanding effort to escape the realistic outlook. He still made his paintings "from the distance". He would make five steps back away from the easel and throw a cloth soaked with paint at the canvas. Something ultra-abstract would come out, which he afterwards augmented with realistic elements: diamonds, circles, triangles.
To create a truly abstract painting, you have to have something to abstract from. The painting must have a subject. Though, the challenge is to show it as if there were no space between you and the subject. How would you get over this ever-present confrontation, the eternal dualism of the author and the reality he looks at?
We are talking not just about visual arts. This is the cardinal point of any creative process, including literature. What does it mean: to depict something from the zero distance?
Actually, the real world gives us no strict distinction between the reality and the author. It’s all our ideas, our images. It’s just our perception of a table, a pot, an apple or a personality. An abstract painter depicts the process of perception of reality rather than the reality itself.
We perceive the subject matter using our five senses (sometimes more, which doesn’t make any difference), and it is this continuous perception of the subject using our senses that we see in an abstract painting. This is how you can come as close to the subject as possible, so that the author and the reality merge into continuous perception process occurring in our senses. This is the way an abstract painting works. The subject is still present in an abstract painting, but just as a reminder of itself. The essence of the painting is not in the apple, but in what’s around it, showing the processes it is build up from. The painting presents a meditative contemplative analysis of the perception process. It is not an arbitrary piling up of colored lines and shapes, but rather a rigorous deduction based on our inner impression.

What are those deep brown, almost black, wedges that cut into the canvas plane?
It is the SEEING. The impressionists already used this device to convey the idea that the painting is being viewed at a certain angle. You may look through thousands of abstract paintings and you’ll always see these wedges made of straight lines. They represent your eyesight.

And what about those curves?
By the way, artists tend to avoid excessively complicated curves. They usually put short arc-like circular segments. We can suspect that these arcs denote the HEARING. You may ask why the hearing? An apple does not make any sounds, it doesn’t scream! Yes, indeed, it doesn’t scream or squeak. That’s exactly what the artist shows us with these vase-shaped curves – the apple quietly lies on the table and just crunches when bitten. The curves are always to the point.

But why two apples? Two shadows, two plates -- all in pairs?
It's crystal clear! Number two here has the symbolic meaning showing us that we are contemplating the process of sensual perception of the subject. Two eyes, two ears, two hands for touching, two nostrils, and just the tongue is singular.

Did you notice that only one apple is nibbled at?
This is not just a bitten apple, but the TASTE. So, how is it? Do you see it's black inside? The black color sort of sucks out your soul – you cannot tear yourself away from that apple. It tastes so good! If it were sour or bitter, the painter would make it yellow or green, and the resultant color discord would turn the whole painting to the worse. An apple like that could not be let into this painting. And since we see no discord, the apple must have an excellent taste.

But how is the SMELL represented here?
The white color enveloping the subject is used for that. The white color is the soul itself showing intimately up in fine scents. The tints of white convey the smell. Again, if it contained some yellow or green, that would mean something venomous and foul.

Now, what about two pink plain shapes that look exactly like apples? They look like the most mysterious part of the painting. Where do they come from?
These are our tactile senses, the TOUCHING – something like the fingerprints. It’s our own pinkish body laid upon the subject. The color also transmits the sense of WARMTH: if the apple is warm or cold. The shapes would be of different color if the apple were cold or hot.

Finally, what are these strange formations looking like fragments of broken tiles?
They symbolically depict our physical world, the real spatial physical object that we should have escaped from. The artist has to break it to be able to abstract from it and achieve the internal spiritual comprehension of the painting. By doing this, we can reach the spiritual world.

Traditionally, depicting the subject from the distance was a self-evident and the only way to paint. Decomposing the subject and looking from the inside was considered worth the blame. Approaching the apple closely, touching it, feeling it from the inside, breaking it, digging your teeth in it and devouring it with your art would be an impudent and blasphemous act equal to sexual intercourse. The fruit you are painting should stay intact! Make your art but do not make any attempts on your art’s subject! Slowly and timidly did the artists dare to leave realistic painting for cubism, surrealism, expressionism, mystics, fantasies, etc, and came up to true abstraction by showing the subject from the inside of our perception. We can call this new trend the realistic abstraction. Well, it’s time to partake the forbidden fruit!

© Copyright: Michail Andreev, 2008

Translated by Alex Lelchuk

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