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The power of Abstract Paintings during difficult times
Art is the only way to run away without leaving home - Twyla Tharp
We are all coping with ongoing pandemic and COVID-fatigue. On top of many people's normal winter fatigue, or SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Most of these symptoms can be relieved by engaging in our community if all basic needs are met. Yet that is the one thing we cannot get to during this time. Making art one of our few escapes; The American dancer Twyla Tharp excellently put it: Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.
A lot of Happiness (2017) by Monique Leliefeld. Mixed Media on Canvas.
Solo Exhibition: Monique Leliefeld
Monique Leliefelds (1950 -) abstract paintings' inherent power has with infusing bursts of powerful positive emotions in her artwork. We could all use a bit of positive emotional infusion from Monique's extraordinary powerful abstract paintings. Come on a journey to learn more about abstract art and why it is meaningful to engage with abstract art, like Monique's paintings.
Mysterious Power VI (2019) by Monique Leliefeld. Mixed Media on Canvas. 40cm x 80cm
After the festive period comes January and February, which are often trying times for many people to keep up normalcy and productivity, March and April are the last winter stretches, luckily sprinkled with a few intermittent warm days flowering spring blooms. However, we find ourselves in a weird period right now. Due to the ongoing global climate crisis, winter starts later in the Northern Hemisphere and often continues through the traditional period of spring. We do not know when relief from winter or de pandemic will come. But we know it is imminent.
Finding resilience in difficult times
Monique Leliefeld painted her abstract paintings during a period of great stress. She was also unsure of when relief would come; she painted two types of paintings during this time. The small joyful artwork for her community and larger pieces that visualised the immense personal and mental strength she was not even aware she had.
Her larger paintings from the series "Mysterious Power" are a set of teal and red paintings. They captured the tenor of tremendous emotional fortitude of hope, rest, and strength she needed at the time to put one foot in front of the other.
Intermittently she also painted smaller paintings to hang in nursing homes to spark joy. She was engaging with her community and adding value and beauty to spaces. And when you stand in front of her paintings, that spark of joy and that tenor of power is sparked in your own physical body.
And at the heart of all forms of abstract paintings is the use of colour and shape to convey intangible human consciousness. Monique has also actively chosen to capture positive emotions in her paintings. In a period like this, this is the grit we need. Her painting style is very deliberate but still intuitive.
Understanding Abstract Art
The Beginning: Vasily Kandinsky
Let's get to the core of abstract art; Vasily Kandinsky (and his Blaue Ruiter Group) are considered the starting point of abstract art. Vasily wanted a way to combine nature with humanity. He used the analogy of a rider and his horse working, becoming one moving entity working together. As the rider masters the horse and combine their strength, the horse and rider become one moving entity. * Kadinsky argued that one should use the mastery of colour and line to capture emotions and immaterial concepts in art. Every colour and every form conveyed a different and unique inherent feeling that it could envoke.
Shapes, colours, textures, and lines in art could signafy intangible sentiments. Kandinsky made a list of how one could use different colours, shapes, and lines to create the invisible sentiments; like Circles were soft; triangles were jagged, blue was calming, and red was aggressive passionate. But more importantly, abstract paintings are inherently subjective. The viewer and the artists' own experience with the painting gives credence to the meaning, even though specific colours and forms have a similar physical impact due to our physiological response and collective consciousness.
*The rider's wishes regulate the horse's movement and speed, so there is some patriarchal and colonial subtext of the rider's guidance and needs imposing on the horse as the best partnership, but I digress.
Collective and Cultural Consciousness
Mind the Red Line I (2019) by Monique Leliefeld. Mixed Media on Canvas. 80cm x 40cm
Collective consciousness is a blanket term to describe a group or society shared set of beliefs and experiences. Cultural consciousness is the individual's recognition, respect, and tolerance of others and their own culture. We understand that most people associate with different sets and subsets of identity. The mix of the collective and cultural consciousness is external factors influencing how we interact with abstract art.
The cultural interpretation of colour influences how we approach a colour positively or negatively. When we see a colour green, we subconsciously bring all the cultural knowledge associated with it to the painting.
Colour theory helps us dissect abstract art. How colour, lines, and texture interplay with each other. There is no recognisable narrative inherent in abstract paintings as there are in figurative paintings. Understanding abstract art is a little bit of theory, but a lot more of being comfortable exploring what a painting does with yourself. It is not essential whether you or even the artist is aware of Kandinsky's list of how colour, line, form, and texture interplay. Because how those elements interplay is partially subjective or grounded in how the body reacts to specific colours.
Physical reactions to colour
Physiologically, green is the colour that is most easily absorbed by our eyes. The wavelength of the colour green requires absolutely no strain on our part to see the colour. That is also why it is a colour that alieviates stress for us. The best way to consume the colour green is while talking a walk in nature. If that is not available, looking at a picture of nature, has similar effects. And lastly looking at the colour green is the third-best option to bring rest to your eyes.
Similarly, red have different cultural and social interpretations, even depending on your mood. Red can be warm, sensual, aggressive, or violent. At the core, red motivates you to start, whether that is a positive or negative action depending on your perspective or by what surrounds the colour. According to Kandinsky, a red circle is a positive red; the circle softens the colour's intensity. The colour red will always have an intensity due to how our eyes process the colour. Red jumps out to you; blue creates depth. A red hallway will feel like the walls are closing in on you; that is why red is often used in smaller elements to attract attention.
Physically colour garners a similar physical reaction in everyone but is filtered through the external cultural lens of association. Those who have variation colour deficiency, commonly known as colour blindness, react to colour differently according to their eye's physical limits. And even though philosophically we know that no-one experiences the world exactly as you, because we simply cannot see what another being sees. That does not matter that much in abstract art. If you see green instead of red, abstract art's subjectivity allows your interpretation and experience of the painting to be the only one that matters. That is also what makes abstract art so frustrating to discuss and yet so perfect as an art form when visualising the intangible world we live in.
Reflecting on the Intangible
Piet Mondriaan is well known for his black striped paintings with some square or rectangular parts painted in a solid blue, red and yellow. Those paintings are deliberate in their use of colour and line in a way that is balanced. The colours are spaced and placed so that they all take up equal attention in the viewer. Artist can play with colour, line, and texture to visualise the intangible. Abstract art is a space of contemplation. There is a play between what the artist wants you to contemplate and what you end up reflecting as the viewer.
Returning to Monique's abstract painting, Monique paints in a very deliberate and time-consuming way. Even though abstract art is actively rejecting figurative or modelled paintings, one needs to have an excellent grasp of figurative art and technique before one can reject it. Monique was foremost a figurative painter, deeply inspired by paintings from the Seventeenth Century, "Dutch Golden Age". Before finally finding her signature style in abstract images that cleverly capture fleeting emotions, often through circular forms juxtapose from its background.
Figurative versus Abstract Art
This absence of recognisable objects stood in stark opposition to the Renaissance Model and Figurative art. A considerable amount of theory, history, and practice in figurative arts go into understanding and appreciating even "pretty picture". But a figurative painting always contains baggage outside of the image. Every recognisable object and element in the painting can delve into stories of mistresses, muses, rivalries, biographies, and circumstances, which pulls you out of experiencing the artwork. Many Renaissance and Figurative paintings are visual showcases of complicated theory of skill, technical expertise, or moralising element. Their goal is not the same as abstract arts goals.
In comparison, abstract art needs you as you are and how you react to an image. We understand that art only exists when it creates an interaction, from complicated to a doctoral thesis or a whole foundation to a simple viewing interaction. Art stops being art, the moment it stops eliciting interaction. And why abstract art can be so difficult to interact with is - that it is so subjective. Abstract artworks can be the core of an art foundation, but they might not elicit a response from you. You might be unable to find the same meaning listed by an art foundation, curator, and artist inherent in the painting.
It is subjective
That is the point.
Mysterious Power IV (2019) by Monique Leliefeld. Mixed Media on Canvas. 70cm x 50cm
Does abstract art leave you confused? That's a response! Lean into why it leaves you confused. Does it elicit disdain? Think about why it produces contempt; unpack what you think you know what art is. If you believe it is too easy, your child could do it. The main question is but did you or your child think to do it? Document and present it in a meaningful way? There is deliberation behind abstract art, not merely looking for the most convenient and effortless way to create art to sell. It is made in contemplation of the intangible.
Mysterious Power V (2020) by Monique Leliefeld. Mixed Media on Canvas. 40cm x 80cm
We have grown up in an art world that has heavy foundations in a hierarchal understanding of art. We are decades away from this, yet we feel the deep impressions in our collective psyche. Understanding and admiring art is something that should be close to yourself. Monique has focussed on eliciting joy and strength through her paintings. In a period like this, her visualisation of strength and joy are positive sources of guided contemplation to explore our resilience and find strength safely. At the same time, we plough ahead until spring or the end of the pandemic. Both of which have no exact grip of when a release will come.
Exploring Monique's paintings offer a form of release. She painted her big paintings: Mysterious Power, to grapple with strenuous periods in her life, where her resilience has pushed her further than she thought it was emotionally and physically possible. Joy, her smaller paintings are like the little moments of joy that make for a happy life. The link between small moments of bubbliness and the paintings' size makes them even more moving: a flat black frame the little bright yellow and orange circular and oval bubbles. Life is not constantly joyous, but joy can be found in the small moments. Finding joy in our every day is a matter of noticing the pockets of beauty through the mundane slog.
Her larger paintings capture the deep current of ongoing themes, strength during adversity, the trajectory of long-term relationships.
Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.
Stella Adler (1901-1992) – American Actor
About the Artist: Monique Leliefeld
Monique Leliefeld (-van Rooijen) is a Dutch painter of emotion. Her figurative technique is excellent, and she uses her precise style to capture fleeting emotions inside abstract paintings. Her work is either made from a personal space, or how it can best serve her community.
You can read more about Monique and her work at the Gallery here.
About the Curator: Tascha Sciarone
Tascha is an Art Historian that branched out into Anthropology. She has a Masters degree in Museums and Collection, from Leiden University. She combines her specialisation in community development and museums with running and owning Gallery Sorelle Sciarone.
You can learn more about Tascha here.
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All paintings are for sale.