Friday, March 6, 2009


Oil on board, 6" x 6"
$125 plus $6 shipping in U.S.
Email for purchase

Even in these realist paintings, I always search for the abstract. I believe good representational work gains its power from abstraction. The underlying vocabulary of design, color, light-dark values, spatial relationships and character of the paint is critical to the painting's visual coherence and impact. These elements are not just coldly formal concerns--they also carry emotional weight. In fact, they are probably more important to conveying feeling than whatever the subject might be.

Non-artists often think the significance of a representational painting resides only in what is depicted, so subject becomes all-important. This allows them to sometimes make blanket pronouncements that make no real sense, such as: "I don't like paintings of pears." Here's a way to think about it in musical terms: if the words to a song can be thought of as its representational aspect, then the melody is the underlying abstract language. How many songs can you think of that convey everything there is to know just in the words alone?

Of course the point I'm driving at is that one needs to look deeper than subject alone to find significance in a work of art. And you shouldn't try to separate the realist from the abstract--they are really two sides of the same coin. In fact, I think they're both on the same side.


Cheryl Anderson said...

I completely agree with what you've written here, but it does take awhile for someone who has just started painting to understand this. It's a deeper level of the language of painting, and the good thing is that those levels never stop--there's always more one can learn.
I very much enjoy receiving your daily emails, Don!

Don Gray said...

It's so true, Cheryl--artists are lifelong students. Degas said "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do."

Thanks for your thoughtful note.

Dianna Woolley said...

Thank you for your words - they make such sense to me. Recently touring a gallery with truly beautiful pieces, both abstract and realism, one of my granddaughters quoted that anyone could paint THAT! It's just a big red block with colors around it.

Her good grandmother, that's me, then launched into a quick lesson about how what you see is made up of myriad colors and strokes, layering, refining. I'm not sure she bought it the first go around but with more trips to galleries and her maturation, I would love to be "growing" a visual artist:)

Thanks again for your dailies - really enjoying them!

Sheila Vaughan said...

Don, going back to my academic life an "abstract" of an academic paper was a "summary" of the key points and maybe abstraction in art is the same thing. It's not a reduction - it's an emphasis on what the writer (artist) feels is truly important in that piece of work. I do think also there is a lot of truth in the saying that all painting is in fact abstraction because it is not the "real thing". Rather it is an interpretation of the real thing, however "realistic" it may seem. There are many ways we can paint a pear but there is no 'objective' pear, only the way we see it at a particular point in time.

Dean H. said...

Amen to the commentary here. A good abstract design is behind every good realist painting.

Dogs by Bri said...

I don't know... I still won't paint cats even if it is all about the design.

Nice work here Don.


Don Gray said...

Thanks for sharing that story, Sunrise Sister. At the very least, you are "growing" her mind--expanding her vision and comprehension. That's a wonderful thing.

Don Gray said...

I appreciate the visit, Cathyann--thanks for your thoughts.

Don Gray said...

Sheila, I agree. The distinction between realist and abstract is artificial. And all seeing is conditional. I love your last sentence about their being no 'objective' pear--exactly!

Don Gray said...

Thanks for the comment, Dean.

Don Gray said...

Work on the painting upside down, Bri. Then maybe you won't notice it's a cat.