Exploring Abstraction

Depicting certain ideas requires a departure from the rules of physical reality. In these instances, artists often turn to abstraction where concepts and emotions are untethered from the traditional conventions of verisimilitude, form, line and color.

Agnes Martin's The Islands is one of the many works by the artist that explores a grid-like composition. Despite its title, the work doesn't directly represent any islands as they're typically understood. However, it speaks to Martin's methodical, subtle process, which highlights the individuality of each square, the finely wrought rows drawing viewers to look closer. In contrast, Ellsworth Kelly’s abstraction took the shape of vibrant blocks of color, as in Blue Green Red. Jule Korneffel's Maria + Kind also fuses color and form by making each hue its own distinct patch. In these simple and refined works, both artists are inspired by the complex interaction between the two elements when combined. Howardena Pindell also plays with color in Untitled (1972) but blends a wide array of colors into a dream-like haze that suggests a far-off galaxy as much as the imagined recesses of our own minds.

In many ways, abstraction is akin to visual poetry in that it can express things that might be impossible in a more straightforward manner. And by going beyond what they can see in real life, artists have given us some of the canon's most thought-provoking work.