An evening storm had expanded the horizon—here, the meeting of sea and sky—and given the scene the quality of an abstract painting, something like a Rothko, but horizontally oriented. I’d never seen anything quite like it on one of our annual family beach vacations in North Myrtle Beach, SC. The colors of sea and sky, at a distance, uniform within themselves, were joined by a fuzzy but definitely defined dark blue belt. The belt waxed and waned its girth, largest at the beginning of the two and a half hours it existed and smallest at the end, retreating almost to the thin horizon with which we’re so familiar.
I got out my camera.
I wanted to capture the day’s semi-abstract expressionist offering before it disappeared. On the balcony of our room, I began taking shots—framing green sea, storm-blue sky, and even deeper blue horizon into imagined canvases. I noticed a lone man in red swim trunks on the beach, who, as I expanded the view of the camera, could only be positioned at the very bottom of the frame if I also wanted to include the unique abstract sky and ocean. I decided to include him, flirting with the idea of inserting a figure in an abstract painting while also thinking about the nature of abstraction itself in relation to human beings and other earthly beings and things
People gradually came out of their houses, hotels, and condos to walk the beach. I captured their movements in photos like the individual pages of a cartoon flip book, and reflected on motion as the subjective proof of time and space—of limit.
At home I decided to take the photos from that evening and play with the ideas of abstract and figurative as well as the concept of the abstract vis-à-vis living, breathing human beings (and the “concrete” world at large). I did this by taking the original photographs and digitally painting over portions of them to further suggest an abstract painting, but using placement and level of opacity to emphasize the figurative and/or abstract possibilities in the original. I hoped to draw attention to the contrast, but also to trouble the distinction itself, especially in dealing with issues of representation. After all, one could argue that photography is an abstraction of embodied life. I take a step further and form simulacra not just of human beings and the natural world, but of what is already consciously made abstract.
This project is an exploration, an asking of questions—not digital image answers. While I don’t expect to come to any definitive understanding of these relationships, I do hope that the process offers insights from time to time—and I hope those insights—or their own—are reflected in what the viewer sees.
Below are beginning images from the project. I’ll be posting more from time to time. Some “paintings” are also being paired with Daniel Boscaljon’s “Letters To You,” an experimental writing series at Creative Thresholds (the first is “everytime i write i feel myself disintegrate”). These images, in dialogue with Dan’s writing, put the ideas of abstraction, embodiment, and representation (as well as relationship) in a whole other light.
This is one of the photographs taken towards the end of the evening’s abstract show. In the photograph, you can see, slightly, sky and ocean. Lighter areas in the sky (top part of the image) reflect the presence of clouds. The yellowish greens in the bottom corner are actually rolling waves. The overall effect of fairly uniform color seems due to the precise conditions of a sky swallowed by storm clouds, a fully hydrated haze blanketing the sky–deeper the farther one looked out–and the light of evening. Actually, I’m not sure what caused it, but I’m glad it appeared.
This was one of my first attempts to “paint,” building layers of low opacity color, leaving some transparency where I did paint. The clouds are not painted at all. The horizon’s blue belt is painted very minimally–just at the bottom edge, red overlapping its blue. The scene includes part of the beach and the dots and figures seen here include people, trashcans, and beach paraphernalia.
I played with the same image further still, reaching for more abstraction. I deepened the layers of red and brushed thin, wide strokes of white over some of the clouds.
The same image, again, but I decided to toy even more with being “Rothkoesque.” (This image is the one at the top of the post.)
A different base photograph, starring the man in the red swim trunks. The original image contains much more of the ocean in the frame. My “painting” leaves a hint of its crashing waves and underlying color beneath the layers of white. The original blue belt horizon is barely visible, some of it painted away in the red and white. The color boundaries in the lower half of the painting are not clearly defined. The whiter section with the man merges with the greenish white, troubling the idea of abstraction but also bringing in the idea that we ourselves aren’t separate from abstractions–if only because we are the ones who create them.