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The challenges of creating the abstract

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

The latest challenge set by #charlottebellamy was 'Abstract'. This really was a challenge as I guess the majority of my ICM photos could be described as 'abstract'. So, first step, some research on the concept. I started with the Tate Gallery and found this quote:

"Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect"

Ok, so confirmation of my guess that a lot of my ICM photos would fit into this category. But I was still uncertain.

I read on: "It is also applied to art that uses forms, such as geometric shapes or gestural marks, which have no source at all in an external visual reality. Some artists of this ‘pure’ abstraction have preferred terms such as concrete art or non-objective art, but in practice the word abstract is used across the board and the distinction between the two is not always obvious."

Clearer. I need to be creating an image that is not a depiction of reality but look for shapes, colours and marks for representation. But 'have no source at all in an external visual reality'? That is not possible as I have to start by photographing something that is real.

So an image like this could be an abstract? But I am not sure. It is not a depiction of reality as the ICM 'abstracts' the essence of the wave, it's colour, sparkle and movement. I can still tell it is a wave though.

I then had another thought. What if the image were so cropped and blurred that it was not possible to say what the 'reality' was? Here there is colour and shape, and the opportunity to make one's own mind up as to what it is and what it represents. But that led to another thought. For me, this image evokes a beautiful day on a Norfolk beach. And so there is a 'reality' of a piece of rope blowing in the sea breeze. So is this an abstract?

I then remembered a session with the ICM photomagazine group where Stephanie Johnson talked about 'abstract expressionism' so I looked that up. The abstract impressionist painters, such as Pollock and Rothko "aimed to make art that while abstract was also expressive or emotional in its effect."

This resonated well with my approach to creativity. There has to be an emotional investment in the work.

I decided that for the challenge I would have to create some new images, not dive into my archive. I wanted some images that had a sense of joy, with bright colours and movement. As I was sorting out some clothes for the local charity shop, I had an inspiration. I pulled out some of my 'best' dresses and scarves, ones that had been worn just a couple of times for a special event, like a birthday, and now sit uninvited in the wardrobe. No longer useful yet to hard to let go. I recalled the laughter and the happiness that I felt when I was wearing them, time spent with the people that I care most about. Memories woven into the fabric.

I immersed myself playing around with arrangements and combinations of the different materials, looking for contrasts of colour.

and now I was finding so many possibilities.

This one is a la Rothko with its blocks of colour.

and the delicate colours in this one evoke the joy and light-heartedness that I was after.

(NB: I submitted 4 images to the RPS Creative Eye online exhibition and this was the one that was chosen to be included

And then came the post-processing. And once more I lost confidence and started to anticipate what the judge would like. It was Stephanie Johnson, who creates amazing sunset ICMs. Some of the other entrants to the challenge were playing around with textures in Photoshop. I had not done that before and I was impressed with the effects. I found a favourite sunset image and had a play. Really liked the outcome. Then pivoted again. Was this an abstract? Perhaps not.

Back to the party dresses. and here is the one that I submitted. It has contrasting colours, movement, and represents the joy of dancing - and is definitely an abstract! Or at least it fits the definition that I started with: "Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect"

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