Square compositions and aims of pure abstraction.


I recently began a new series of text collages in preparation for an early spring show that is being discussed with a local gallery.

One of these new panels, the second of the series, is a small square format. Over the course of four days work I was confronted with a variety of challenges that I initially attributed to the evenly-sided panel. These challenges, moments in mid-composition that felt as if I was straying from my aim in creation, began to accumulate and emotionally multiply. My initial thought was that human vision, seen with two eyes, presents in a rectangular/wide format, whereas to squint or close one eyelid edits our field of vision to something near the square. On some level I felt as if working in a square was to challenge a viewer’s natural sight.

Counter-Composition VI, Theo van Doesburg 1925
Counter-Composition VI
Theo van Doesburg, 1925

In a repeated moment of frustration, it is easy to find any available external change of environment or materials to lay blame with. Still, a square lives with its own set of design flaws that an artist must overcome. Our subconscious recognition of natural geometries is heightened; abstraction in this format is handicapped when the artist aims to do such. Small formats enhance detail as the viewer is invited towards intimacy, and with a shortened depth of viewing distance, spatial comparison is easier. It makes me think of the differences of chickens in a free-range versus a barracks of cages. The cacophonies are affected by the boundaries while the medium is the same.

Diagonal relationships are distinct. I feel this is the primary handicap to overcome. The center point of a panel is clear, as are the extending implied axises in orthogonal directions. Any specific pieces in an achromatic abstract collage on or near these imaginary lines that stand-out amongst their neighbors will be showy.

But any quadrangle composition has the flavor of these problems within, and after struggling with the chosen restriction and continuing amongst the internal debate, I realized that geometry was all just a foil for the truth.

What I discovered was that my frustration was with myself.

Lozenge with Light Colors and Gray Lines, Piet Mondrian 1919
Lozenge with Light Colors and Gray Lines
Piet Mondrian, 1919

The first panel of the new series flowed. It was an easy composition that came from an aim of pure abstraction, built off recent weeks of pondering nontheism, and the writings of Sigmund Freud and Anton Ehrenzweig. The aim was no-aim.

And, since I fell in love with the first panel, I had the expectation I could continue rafting down the same river, having discovered a source already. I suppose our human inclinations pull us toward repetition and habit, both non-abstract actions. With just the desire of reproducing abstract actions I nullified the flow and obstructed the process before it began.

In any case, throughout the course of finding this emotional baggage I wrote down my ideas several times, few of which have survived in this published recollection. I also began to ponder other artists who frequently challenged the square; two immediately came to mind, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.