Susan Klinger, Artist
What does it mean?
Having worked in realism for the majority of my adult artistic life, my foray into abstraction for about a year and a half surprised not only my followers, but me as well. Yes, I had done the occasional abstract here and there to shake out the cobwebs in my creative brain, but I had never pursued it in depth for an extended period of time.
So what birthed this total switch in style? Without risking the ‘too much information’ syndrome, let’s just say that my husband was dealing with some complex medical issues and being his wife, I played a major role in helping him to navigate the stormy waters of medical choices, decisions, and complications. I needed to be working on art for my own sanity. The focus and time required for my level of realism was just not there, yet I needed to be applying paint to a surface, playing with color, whatever, to give my mind a break from the worry.
So I purchased some large canvas, dug out my water soluble oils, and began to just paint. There were no preconceived ideas. I layered, sprayed the canvas with water (that’s a great benefit of the water soluble oils!) and just enjoyed the freedom that painting was giving me. I didn’t really care where it was heading, I just painted. I reacted to what happened on the canvas, and painted some more. After ‘finishing’ one canvas, I knew it was not complete. So I bought 2 more canvases and continued the ‘story’, forming a triptych. I had never done that before either! Three panels, all part of one piece. Yet somehow, something was happening that I could not explain.
Until it was done. When I finally stepped back and declared it visually complete, I knew what the painting meant. That startled me. I had never been the artist whose painting held some deep meaning. I loved to paint realism and creating the three-dimensional world on the two-dimensional surface was what thrilled me. So this idea, that this new abstract painting had a MEANING, was a total surprise to me.
And it didn’t stop there. I painted another, and another and another. Each one was just a way for me to clear my mind, yet when each was visually complete, I knew what each one meant. To look back at the series over that time, one can read when I was struggling and when things began to improve. To realize that my subconscious played a major role in these pieces, was really astounding to me. I wasn’t even sure I would ever show these abstracts publicly. They were so different from my previous work.
And then we were over the hump medically, and my desire to get back to realism returned. I have done a few abstracts since and I will probably return to them more frequently than I did in the past. I have since decided to share these abstracts publicly – except for one. It was created when things were at their worst, and although I appreciate its meaning, perhaps even more than the others, I still find it disturbing. Perhaps it is too much of a reminder of the struggle and fear I had been experiencing.
That period of pure abstraction played a vital role in helping me to cope with a situation that gave me little control. Yet, in retrospect, it was eye opening. I learned a great deal about the power of art to communicate, even when the artist is not consciously aware of the message.