I didn’t go out seeking abstraction. Far from it – I went out in search of reality, the natural world. I went to feel the solid ground beneath my feet. On the first snowy day so far this season, late though it was, I took a walk in the forest. But what is this reality?
It is a bit of wilderness – or the idea of wilderness – ensconced amongst a well-groomed landscape in the middle of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. How abstract is that?
I photographed a few things that caught my eye. Photography, that most utilitarian and democratic of art forms, has always teetered on the brink of abstraction, despite it’s reputation for verisimilitude.
The snowfall had been too light to blanket the earth. Instead, like a painter’s deft brush, it established highlights, created emphasis where there had been uniformity. The snow, the reality of that natural phenomenon, helped me to push photographs over the edge into abstraction. First, remove most of the color. The overcast sky and the leafless trees, along with the snow, conspired to establish a monochromatic canvas, a nearly black and white world.
The more I looked the more the forest resonated with art. Picasso said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” I started with the snow-dusted trees and my mind filled with familiar images of abstract art.
The straight line of a giant log became a Barnett Newman.
A lyrical swirl of branches reminded me of Franz Kline.
The regularity of textured bark and snowy interstices on another fallen tree created an optical consonance that evoked the work of Bridget Riley.
Though lovely to behold, these small epiphanies were hardly surprising. I’ve been an artist too long for that (and as a photographer I often do go out seeking abstraction.) But they were welcome reminders of the power of art and its inseparability from the human spirit.
|Cody, Barnett Newman
I went out in search of nature, paradoxically a nearly abstract ideal in twenty-first century society, in order to reanimate a spirit dulled by the stresses of living in the “real world.“ Is it really surprising that I discovered abstraction?
|Chief, Franz Kline
The abstract works of art that came to mind were all created in the fifties and sixties, at a time of great social upheaval and when the threat of nuclear annihilation seemed frighteningly real. I’ve never believed that the artists of that time were immune to those fears, although, unlike some of their predecessors of the previous generation, their art has no obvious connection to real world events. A retreat into abstraction can serve as palliative, if not quite an antidote, to life’s travails.
|Arrest, Bridget Riley
Today, too, the real world can seem truly frightening, from the state of the economy to the deterioration of the environment, spiked with political polarization. And so I offer what I hope will be a little holiday cheer: a jolt of abstraction. Art can heal. So can a walk in the forest.
Don’t wait for the season to bring you peace. I invite you to go out and seek it.
For another, very different, take on the same hike in the County Grounds go to Urban Wilderness.