Painting as exploring mark-making itself; mark-making freed of all its referentiality to the material world, to history, to story-telling, to materialistic pretension.
One question that immediately arises: What makes mark-making specifically human, and if human, hand-made [as opposed to human and human-machine-made]?
Another is: What if everything else is stripped away and we only see marking? Marking without explicit representation anywhere? Specifically, marks on a flat– and thus “to be read” surface, thus de-emphasizing, even denying, its material thing-ness?
Abstraction. New endpoints. Subsequent diversion into pictorial means. So it goes.
Around a personal praxis or process that insured a unique image vocabulary, at each point the initial impetus to abstraction is driven by something genuinely new, quickly followed by a sense that everything possible has been done so far as is possible via abstract imagery.
Once this endpoint is accepted, artists move off into more pictorial– or, alternatively, into non-two-dimensional concerns. The latter initiating what one could call the “concrete” alternative.
So we move off into the pictorial or the concrete. Either way, re-affirming the deep-rooted Materialism within our culture.
Then, something happens. Someone, someone tired of feeding the materialist monster, someone fed up enough with our material world, says, “Wait, I see there is more to be done.” and further, “I don’t want to refer to anything in this material world; I am sick and tired of feeding the materialist monster.” From there it is less than a quark to total abstraction.
Once Kandinsky and other modernists go abstract, the highly reductive Malevich and the Supremacists, and Mondrian find what seemed like suitable end-points for non-objective painting, that is, painting that is so abstract that it no longer has a motif, or represented object.
Mondrian systematically took himself step by step through the whole process, from an initial reduction from representation, through increasing abstraction of that representation from the motif, to the total abstraction of his signature style. At the end of his life, he injects an abstract referentiality, if you will, back into the mix in the final Broadway Boogie Woogie paintings..
Once the abstract end-point is found, it seems to shunt the next generation off into other concerns. To the Modernists, from there, it only remained to find abstract means to paintings that still contained recognizable motifs, or to move to more figurative and hence, pictorial, means, albeit for purposes that still intended to subvert traditional representation, such as the multivariate tactics of the Surrealists.
For Picasso, who lives and flows through several generations, he carries out these swings within his own work. Sometimes within a single day. This has also been a tendency in the current generation [Humphries, Josh Smith, Christopher Wool, Richard Prince, et al.].
If one considers abstraction as the transformation of complex visual stimuli into clear lines or a series of edges or pattern of values on a surface, or the predominance of abstract patterns produced for centuries in tile, textiles, and wood, then abstraction has been with us for the entire history of art.
The very nature of putting something down on a two-dimensional surface inherently involves an abstraction. Look closely at a Rembrandt drawing as he finds fascinating graphic equivalents for what he wants to represent out there “in the world.”
Or one could ask: What could be more abstract than a pixellated black and white photograph?
Though the very nature of putting something down on a two-dimensional surface inherently involves abstraction, it took awhile for painting to realize a completely abstract image, and the significance of doing so.