Sunday, 29 April 2012


While taking a break from painting today, I decided to do a little internet surfing, and to my delight, came across the work, and words, of the American artist BRIAN RUTENBERG.  I hope he will not mind being the subject of my blog post today;  it is thanks to him that I learned quite a lot about the work of Piet Mondrian, and the process of abstraction, which was both enlightening for me, and highly enjoyable.

Brian has a brilliant website, full of gloriously vital, powerful images, and this artist's intelligence and perception and deep knowledge comes across in both his work, and through the documentaries you can sit and listen to.  Here is one of his paintings:

Now, let me say right away I am not naturally drawn to abstract work;  sometimes the colour appeals to me, sometimes the shapes and rhythms, but often, I look at abstract works and while I enjoy them for a few minutes, I quickly lose interest.  Whenever I try to paint in an abstract fashion, it usually does not work for me;  I finish the picture after 10 minutes, not knowing where to go with it, beyond those first enjoyable marks.  It has always seemed like a rather "empty" process for me.  I have always felt that I could never "be an abstract painter".  Nevertheless, many of Brian's pieces really appealed to me, and there is much in the work above that reminded me of Hockney's latest show in London, which I thoroughly enjoyed and found to be very uplifting, so I decided to look more closely at Brian's website, and listen to some of his videos.  And I am so glad I did.  I found it absolutely fascinating to hear this artist say that he does not consider himself to be an "abstract painter".   !!! He feels abstraction is a process, and he says he is a landscape painter who arrives at his finished pieces through a process of abstraction from the landscape.

Piet Mondrian, he says, arrived at his squares and grids eventually through just such a process.  Oh really ?  I thought cynically.    Jolly big jump from the landscape, to this, the work of Mondrian that I am familiar with:

Oops.  There I was, clearly demonstrating a LOT of ignorance.  Because then, Brian's lecture went on to show these images below, and my eyes were opened.  Space forbids me from going into great depth about this, but I do feel that the images speak volumes.

Brian calls his video lecture "The Treeness of a Tree".  This first image shows emotional rather than literal use of colour, but is clearly still a tree and shows evidence of direct observation:

It seems to me that since To Abstract means To Remove, then perhaps the colour was the first step towards abstraction - Mondrian has removed the literal colour and replaced it with his own interpretation.

In this next image, he goes further.  We can still see the tree, the representational aspect is still evident, but the actuality of the tree is gradually being removed and is being replaced by shapes and rhythms of the artist's own making.  without colour, the "architecture" of the image is very evident:

Brian Rutenberg sums this up SO beautifully,  he says this shows the "laws of nature giving way to the laws of art".    I really "got" that from this image.  I hope you do too.

It is not too difficult to see how this next image has a foot in both worlds, the world of "abstraction from something concrete" and the world of the imagination; here, Mondrian has his toes dipping into the world of complete abstraction where the physical world plays little or no part at all (as in the grid image above)

Mondrian clearly began as a representational artist.  He moved on, as did others like Picasso, and Matisse, into a world which is often beyond MY comprehension, and certainly my ability, but I respect their journey, and their process.  Not all abstract painters began in this way, but hopefully they can justify their own process. 

 The important thing I have learned from listening to Brian's marvellous lecture, is that I should not take one piece of work, and judge the artist purely by that single product....there is often much to be gained from taking the time to learn something about the artist, and his or her life's work, and in so doing,  gain a greater understanding and appreciation. I really recommend you pull up a comfy armchair, and listen to some of Brian's very interesting  "documentaries".  He is very articulate, informative, and charismatic ( and not too bad to look at either!! shallow am I......)


  1. Jackie, I'm so happy about this post! I'm not into abstracts either, but I know a little about Mondrian, being Dutch and having seen some of his earlier work in museums. This process of 'abstracting' is really fascinating. I'll mention this post in my blogpost tomorrow.
    Now I'll have a look at Brian's documentaries, thanks for the link.

  2. Hope you enjoy the watching and listening, I learned a lot! Happy to share.

  3. I love the depth in the image of Brian's here! Wow!

  4. I always mean to leave a comment to thank you for posting such thoughtful and informative posts. Well, here I am and a big Thank you to you :)

  5. a fabulous post and I too am off to watch the presentation.

  6. Jackie, thank you... I intend to watch and listen to the videos. I love the painting of his at the top. This may be just what I need to make another leap with my own trees!

  7. My workshop class is buzzing @ this post!

  8. so glad people seem to find this interesting. Would love to be a fly on the wall at your workshop, Casey! Marsha...let's see what you can do. leaping into trees...superwoman!

  9. bonjour, un post très intéressant, d'autant que je peux bénéficier de la traduction en français :-)
    Je vais moi aussi aller visionner la video, pour essayer de comprendre le processus vers l'abstraction.
    Merci de nou avoir fait partager cette découverte !

  10. I'll have to go look at the link you provide. I like some abstract art very much especially when there is a lot of color. Some pieces I can look at forever; they are all mood so it seems. Other times I am not so fond of it as in the grid picture you shared. That first picture though, is super. I love it. I can never afford these items so try to make my own but abstract is harder to do than realism and I am just a beginner there! EDM has helped along with finding blogs like yours. This was a treat today to come and peruse your blog.

  11. I only recently discovered your blog and, though I work in watercolor and oil, not pastel, I find your principles and tips immensely worthwhile! I shall slowly make my way back through all you posts, savoring (and trying to assimilate) each one. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


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