The musings of a landscape painter, art teacher, and art history lover
Here are five famous and living abstract painters that you should know. These guys are already in the history books and are just warming up. They are sure to inspire your own creativity and motivate you to make some art of your own. Let me know what you think.
1. Brice Marden
Brice Marden (born October 15, 1938) is generally considered a minimalist abstract painter. In the 60s and 70s Marden worked on large monochromatic canvases that he placed in conjunction with each other. The images are meditative and quiet, with mostly muted tones. During the 80s, Marden began to experiment with linear mark making, referencing Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. His empty canvases soon filled with scrawling black lines that somehow contained themselves within the rectangle. Those lines then began to be more standardized into even lines that swirl and intertwine around the canvas. Brice Marden gives himself rules as a means of restricting his paintings to really get at a subject.
Lately, he has gone back to his monochromatic roots with a series of paintings based on nature and landscape, called "Terre Verte." The paintings have a Zen-like minimalist quality about them and speak of moss, air, and earth. One must sit quietly in front of them to feel their pull on your spirit. These deceptively simply paintings are all made with the color terre verte, which has been used for centuries, and each paining is exactly eight feet by six feet. They each consist of a large square in the upper portion and a smaller rectangle in the bottom. They speak of the process and history of painting, while remaining firmly grounded in the present.
I have been an admirer of Marden's paintings for a long time and love to watch old interviews with him on YouTube. The way he discusses painting, and his philosophy of art, is captivating. He has recently changed galleries and is now at the Gagosian gallery in New York.
2. Terry Winters
Terry Winters (born 1949, Brooklyn, NY) is considered a painter's painter. He is an artist that I was inspired by, as an art student. His dreamy and nebulous worlds caught my attention as a young man, and I have followed his work since.
Winters uses the language of abstraction to discuss spatial arrangements as he mines the natural world for imagery. His earlier paintings referenced biological phenomena such as cells, cytoplasm, and other molecular structures. Those paintings feel like you are looking into a petri dish through a microscope. They are dark floating worlds that speak to our own inner spiritual selves. To me, they are quiet worlds that shut out the exterior noise of contemporary life. They are places where the imagination can swim in solitude and contemplation. Winters has a great work ethic, and he even mixes all of his own paint from scratch. Lately, he has been using bisecting lines that seem to discuss string theory and naturally occurring fractals. They invite you to look deep into the plane of the canvas to exam the depths of the images. Winters is also a superb draftsman and often displays his drawings and prints alongside of his paintings.
If you don't know this artist, he is worth a look. His artwork is collected by the world's major museums and institutions. You can find his work at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York.
3. Peter Halley
Peter Halley (born September 24, 1953) is another amazing abstract painter. He became known during the 1980s as a new crop of young artists was springing forward. Halley's geometric paintings are grounded in the tradition of minimalist art, which seeks to reduce imagery to its most essential state. However, Halley's paintings are far from minimal. They are often large works filled with colorful boxes that seem to link and entwine. These bright rectilinear shapes move backward and forward, following the push and pull method established by the late Hans Hoffmann, in his abstract expressionist paintings.
Peter Halley's paintings, however, are about more than abstract painting theories. They also reference the urban environment and contemporary architecture. The images, at times, feel like informational maps or flow charts. They also resemble the clustered piling of skyscrapers and the Claustrophobia that one can feel in our overpopulated cities. And yet, they remain playful, almost lighthearted. These paintings seem designed to simultaneously call our attention to our urban plight and make us forget that it exists! I love these paintings and am always cheered when I come across one.
You can learn more about Peter Halley at: http://www.peterhalley.com/
4. Thomas Nozkowski
Thomas Nozkowski (b. 1944, Teaneck, New Jersey) is another abstract artist who is known as a painter's painter. His small scale paintings are both whimsical and nuanced. Nozkowski works tirelessly to build the surfaces of his paintings. Through a process of painting in areas, and then sanding them down to partially remove them, he develops a layered painting with the history of his process immediately accessible to the viewer. The images consist of grids, swirls, drips, and doodles. These paintings seem to both reference the internal world and our external society, as they vary from dark, moody images to bright and playful cartoons. The wonderful thing is, you can keep coming back to them to find new meaning depending upon your particular mood or state of mind. They are funny and serious at the same time. That's a pretty amazing trick!
Thomas Nozkowski is a lot of fun, and you can find him at the Pace Gallery.
5. Frank Stella
Frank Philip Stella (born May 12, 1936) may very well be the most famous American artist alive today, and with good reason. He has been a major figure in the art world since the late 1950s, when he began painting his black painting series. These austere paintings are minimalist in style, consisting of black paint broken only by small white lines running in patterns across the surface. They feel like dark mazes that one must follow to discover some pure truth. At the time, Stella was breaking from the traditional abstract expressionism style of the era to create paintings that were meant to be objects in their own right. That is, they did not reference anything, but rather stand alone as a new thing in the world.
Later, Stella began to add color to his work, using ribbons of line in geometrical patterns. He also began to add more physical depth to his paintings, blurring the lines between what is painting and what is sculpture. These paintings have since become increasingly dense with lines, colors, shapes, and grids. They are playful images that seem to balance between graffiti, commercial clutter, and some kind of unique language. They are hard to decipher, but they are delightful to look at and just enjoy as images. Perhaps that is what he is after, even after all these years, an object that is wonderful to look at.
In addition to painting, Frank Stella is also a sculptor, and printmaker. He has had exhibits in many of the world's great museums including the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art and is collected all over the world. Stella has already made it to the history books, and I have a feeling his best is yet to come!
Frank Stella is represented by the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York.
Abstract art, also called nonobjective art or nonrepresentational art, is generally considered to be artworks created with either limited or no recognizable representations of the outside world or conventional reality. The images are entirely unique and manufactured by the artist and often describe an internal, emotional, world. Contemporary abstract artists use this medium to facilitate a range of picture making methods with varying degrees of symbolism, metaphor, or personal meaning. Each of the artists that I have mentioned in this article are very much at the top of their game and, as such, are well worth further research.
Author: Bruce Black
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