Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes

By Ellen H. Johnson | Go to book overview

8 The Object in Jeopardy

Mathematics and the New Abstraction:
Hinman, Poons and Williams

The illusion of space and motion through colour, and the deliberate ambiguity and contradiction between space, volume and plane relations characteristic of cubism and most abstract painting, go back at least to Cézanne, and even the impressionists. For Cézanne, colour was a primary instrument to evoke, and at the same time deny, space and volume; and in the 'deliberate' impressionism of Seurat and the 'instinctive' impressionism (to use Signac's terms) of Monet and the others, the potentially kinetic power of colour was explored and engaged. Thus the new abstraction, represented by the work of Hinman, Poons and Williams, has its roots firmly planted in the viable soil of modern art.

Larry Poons's paintings (101), vibrant and dynamic but of an extraordinary sobriety and beauty, begin with drawings on graph paper on which he places progressions of dots or 'notes' (the musical analogy is almost inescapable in considering his work). One theme of notes falls in a certain place on each of the series of squares or parallelograms in which it appears - say, the first-theme notes are placed in the centre of the parallelograms and the second on their edge. The progressions move clockwise and again counter-clockwise. In painting, he first applies the ground colour, a uniform surface on the canvas, and then lightly pencils in the scheme, indicating the rhythmic distribution of dots or ellipses. Although any given element in a progression will be painted the same colour whenever it appears, Poons arrives at his subtle colour relationships through a trial-and-error method, overpainting all the dots several times before he finally decides that the painting does what he wants it to do. And frequently he discards paintings on which he has worked over a long period of time if they do not 'breathe', as he says - a lovely word for the way his coloured dots and their after-images move and beat rhythmically in and out of their expansive space. His earliest dot paintings, of 1962 and 1963, were relatively simple, the dots being single in their progressions and all of one colour (black on white, blue on gold, green on orange); but they become increasingly rich and complex. By multiplying the sequences he sets up a staggering number of alternate relationships; the parallelograms shift and interpose their directions

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Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface to the Revised Edition 7
  • Preface 9
  • 1 - Modern Art and the Object from Nineteenth-Century Nature Painting to Conceptual Art 10
  • 2 - The Object Painted and the Painted Object in Quiet Collision 65
  • 3 'the Mountain in the Painting and the Painting in the Mountain' 78
  • 4 - The Painting Freed 97
  • 5 'I Am Nature' 110
  • 6 - Object as Art 135
  • 7 - Art as Object 171
  • 8 - The Object in Jeopardy 196
  • 9 - Women Reshaping the Object 216
  • Notes 261
  • List of Illustrations 273
  • List of Figures 280
  • Acknowledgments 281
  • Index 283
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