Figuration and Abstraction

May 27, 2010

To make a figurative image, to make reference to the omnipresent symbol of the human form in a work of art, is often seen as a gateway to the articulation of the most potent and significant themes of the human condition. However, the body as a symbol has become and is becoming more and more politically contested, categorised and differentiated into a complex web of correctness and historical and political hostilities. The act of cultural ritual that is representation through painting, of mapping out cultural belief systems onto a two-dimensional picture plane, meets a difficult junction when it comes to putting the human form into our visual and symbolic order – what essentialises or constitutes ‘Human’? Black or White? Male or Female? Tall or Small? Fully Able-bodied or Disabled? The ‘Human’ Body becomes apparently unrepresentable.

What links us all together however, and places us on a common playing field, is our bodies’ architectural quality. Its structural properties and objectness (to use a dangerous word), that puts us into and separates us from the landscape. We identify people, animals, plants and inanimate objects under certain aspects of visual form. We can sympathise with solidity, movement, weight, height and width. Even cold, concrete buildings reflect certain aspects of ‘human’ visuality. The idea of humanity goes beyond specific symbolics and categories of the species Homo Sapiens, and into a more abstract visual realm that facilitates our capacity for reasoning and metaphysics. We see value and meaning in abstract visual properties more than we might believe.

Painting using an abstract visual language becomes a politically sensitive and possibly more potent means of representation, and figuration a device for identifying and connecting with a sense of object-naturedness that appears contingent with humanism.

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