Theoretical Notions of the Nonrepresentational



Ringling College’s Selby Gallery explores the world of abstract art in the modern age with tonight’s unveiling of Defining Abstraction, the latest exhibition bringing 34 artists from across the country, each working in the abstract, to showcase the varied creative approaches within the highly conceptual field. Featuring a variety of mediums as well, including sculpture, printing and painting in acrylic, watercolor and hand-ground inks, Defining Abstraction is ambitious in its conception as a microcosm for a greater movement, one constantly expanding and experimenting. “I wanted artists who were wrestling with the idea of abstraction and putting their own spin on it” said curator Mark Ormond. “And when the objects get in the space, they start to have this dialogue with other works.”

Take for instance the contributions from Siebren Versteeg and Kyle Trowbridge, who both address the ascendance of computer technology through their work, but in different ways. Versteeg creates compositions such as the displayed Just Pepperon!, an abstract work both ordered and chaotic, that appear as painting, but are in fact “algorithmically generated” on the computer from code written by Versteeg and printed on canvas. “Every one is a different variation of a program,” explained Ormond; none is mass-produced. “They are unique works of art.” On an adjacent wall, Trowbridge uses acrylic paint to recreate the now ubiquitous black and white grid of the common QR code in full color, merging modern technology into his craft in his own way. “He’s interested in how we use technology to communicate,” said Ormond. If scanned, Trowbridge’s code says, “Recycle your life,” according to Ormond.

And as much as the work speaks to each other, it engages with the past as well. Looking at Ali Smith’s painting Bone Shaker, seeing the artist utilize the textural qualities of oil painting to its height, in a frenzied and layered creation of crooked turns and dynamic coloration, Ormond sees history. “She acknowledges a debt to abstract expressionist painting from the ‘40s and ‘50s,” said Ormond, “but she has a totally different sensibility because of the way she approaches putting marks on a canvas.” Similarly, Ormond pauses in front of Ernesto Garcia Sanchez’ Untitled, a gridded and patterned composition on cut canvas that bridges abstraction and minimalism and makes Ormond think of the artist Frank Stella from the ‘50s. “If an artist is conscious of what came before, they might reference approaches that other artists utilize, but they make it their own,” says Ormond. “Because this doesn’t look like a Frank Stella painting.”

There are too many artists in Defining Abstraction to list here, including locals and favorites such as Jean Blackburn, Gay Germain, Peppi Elona, Mike Hodges and Mike Solomon, and therein lies the strength of the exhibit, something that Ormond thought long about. “Understanding art is very much about the comparative process,” said Ormond, where everything new is compared to everything seen previously. “That’s what the gallery experience allows visitors and why it can be really exciting.”

Defining Abstraction opens tonight in the Selby Gallery at 5pm with an opening reception with artists and Ormond running until 7pm. The exhibit will be in the gallery until Aug. 5.

Pictured: "Bone Shaker" by Ali Smith. Courtesy of: Mindy Solomon Gallery

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