Abstract Expressionism – Royal Academy of Arts
As I flash my Friends membership card for the fifth time in the last few weeks, I have gained the same sense of purpose as Miranda Priestly walking into a room. After my smooth, unquestioned entrance I am faced once again with my ultimate dinner party, their work embellishing the iconic walls of the RA. Unfortunately, unlike my many plus ones and myself, the majority of the crowd are wearing a soul-destroying device designed to ‘inform’. When one analyses Abstract Art I believe it is for the voyeur to let the painting take them to a sense of meaning. Whether that be; a reassuring sense of commitment and decisiveness in the large brushstrokes of Kline or that you really want to paint your drawing room walls, including the wainscot, in the mystical colours of Rothko. Our understanding should be fuelled by our personal experiences, much like how the work was created, and not what some scholar has said on repeat a thousand times to every victim of the hideous headset. However, on a positive note it means no one can hear my running commentary of scaring opinions that is repeated to each one of my victims.
Being a groupie of the Abstract Expressionists, clearly born in the wrong era, I find comfort in highlighting what offends me most just to bring these masters of colour down a couple of rungs of that ladder of legends. Number 1: Self-Portraiture. There is a clear reason as to why these artists are famous for their abstract work, Rothko should never have his portraiture published; in fact I think he knew this himself as he just left two gapping holes for eyes mirroring the response of the viewer. Clearly he didn’t want to look at it himself either. This painting was definitely hidden at the back of his studio cowering behind empty paint pots hoping never to be found. However those eager Art Historians hunted down that paining with the only gain being to provide an insight to the artists behind the artwork. Perfect for curating this exhibition.
What I loved most about the large array of work presented was that more often than not I found myself saying, ‘I’ve seen this in a book’. Now I can say, ‘I’ve seen that at the RA’, when I’m looking in said book or boasting at a dinner party or just on the tube – if I ever take my eyes of the floor and start a conversation about the Abstract Expressionists with an unassuming commuter. As a fan of Rothko’s work already, minus the portraiture, it gives me great pleasure to see the luminescence of his paint in front of my eyes. You can never appreciate the work of Rothko fully until you have witnessed the poised beauty that he skilfully creates. The detail in his brushwork is divine and only Rothko can make ‘mauve’ sexy. As I stare longingly into the refreshing summer watermelon tones of, Untitled, 1954, I am horrified to notice a void of flat darkness to my left. I have a real issue with this work, No.4 (Untitled) 1953, if I was Dr David Anfam and Edith Devaney I would have taken the executive decision to send it back to wherever it came from. There is no comforting border surrounding the beautifully mellow but imposing blocks of colour that suspend evocatively before me. Instead a black hole of flat black paint that looks as though its covering a terrible mistake, pulling down the bottom of the canvas, looking as though it should self implode. I quickly exit my oasis of Rothko ignoring the solitary discomfort to reinvigorate my mind with the wild monochrome motion of Franz Kline.
When you think Kline is just a monochrome palette and you stand before it and realise you are oh so wrong. His work Andrus, 1961, is infused with a potent purple and ochre that give life to the simple brush stroke statement that shouts at me from the canvas. Kline creates a proclamation of harmony within ferocious movements and that smidge of blue is just the most satisfaction I have had since reading Sadiq Khan’s eloquent views on feminism. In fact these subtleties are a common delight throughout the exhibition. The tiny details of complimentary colours or a change in texture exemplifies the reason these artists have this epic exhibition curated around them. Does your headset tell you to notice that? I wouldn’t know because I never succumbed to that, not even for research purposes, but I’m assuming not.
Abstract Art for me is enjoyment. I love it. And I love enlightening others about the wonders these tortured souls created and there is nothing better than discovering a new love for the first time. The initial lust and need you feel for your new lover is recreated when I gaze longingly at William de Kooning’s Villa Borghese, 1960. The motion in the brushstroke, the ice cream colours, the perfect balance of paint and raw canvas; composition worthy of the Queen’s birthday honours due to the way I fell head over heels for it. Naturally I was then contractually obliged to purchase the postcard. It is now stuck to the wall with a 4-year-old piece of Blue Tac that is on the verge of giving up, just awaiting the day I can replace it with the original de Kooning.