A few years ago I was doing an exhibition at the Hangman Gallery in Toronto on Queen Street East. As is often customary, it was a requirement for the artist to be present in the gallery on Sundays to engage with the public.
It is something I always enjoy as I get to see and discuss what others see in my work. To see beyond my — or the paintings — original agenda or world.
On one particular Sunday a small older woman — not a day under 70 — walked by the front of the gallery, looked puzzled at the piece I had placed in the window and then continued on her way.
A few minutes later she returned. Studied the piece a little more. Quickly glanced in the doorway. Then scurried off.
About ten minutes later she returned yet again. She looked at the piece and this time made a more concerted effort to look in the doorway. But she stayed decidedly on the sidewalk.
This time, instead of ignoring her, I said “come on in and look around”.
Sheepishly and guardedly she entered the space.
I gave her a moment to look around.
She quickly went from piece to piece looking still puzzled but not in an “I hate this stuff” sort of way. So she had me puzzled a bit too.
I got up and went to her with a smile and said “so that piece in the window got your attention did it?”
To which she replied “well, yes…I keep wanting to look at it but…you see…..I just don’t understand what it is…I just don’t get it.”
I explained to her that in abstract art it doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. It could or it could not. Better yet, it could mean many different things.
Again, the puzzled look. This time even stronger and now with a furrowed brow.
So I took her to a piece and asked her what she thought it was.
“I have no idea” she laughed embarrassingly.
I said “well…“ and went on to describe to her what another couple had told me earlier when they were looking at it.
She then lit up and said “Oh…I see what they mean…”
Finally! She had something to grasp on to and proceeded to show me how she understood; pointing out the image found within that the couple earlier had described.
I then gave her another example of someone else’s comments and she saw that too.
Then I told her what I had actually meant to paint. And she could see that too!
With a deep breath and very triumphantly, she then had the courage to say “…would you like to know what I think I see? “
I smiled and nodded and then she told me.
Instantly I could see exactly what she saw and happily showed her very clearly how I could see that too.
It completely vindicated her thoughts.
She was beaming.
And it made my heart soar.
Well, there was no stopping her now! We went from painting to painting finding what was inside and we were almost always easily able to validate our understanding to each other each time.
After about a half hour or forty five minutes later, she thanked me profusely for my time and the discussion and she left the gallery as if walking on air.
I never saw her again.
It made me so happy to know that this older woman — who had likely walked by contemporary or abstract art, afraid of it, all of her life — had finally found the meaning. (or even better, the joyous lack there of ).
A way in.
To this day I see her in my mind going to galleries, engaging the works or the artists, and seeing and experiencing art in a way like never before.
And it always puts a smile on my face.
So, to try and re-create this experience in some way, I have recently created a series of works that I have entitled “SEEING THE LIGHT”.
A series with a goal towards helping ease those who approach abstract art with trepidation. To give them something to initially grab on to. In the hope that it then sets them free to comfortably engage beyond that.
As most of you know I rarely paint with any “realism” to my work. But in this case, I have specifically painted a lighthouse that caught my eye and have painted it in the most real way possible for me.
I then painted it a little less “real” in the next version and so on.
I then slowly evolved each following piece more and more into my abstract world and comfort zone.
In the end, there are now evolving versions of that very same lighthouse — or parts of it that grabbed my mind and emotion — now on canvas or board to share with you.
I hope you will enjoy seeing a bit of my internal abstract journey in the series. See how my mind works. (They are shown in the order they were created in the gallery below this article.)
Better yet, that you end up on a journey of your own as a result.
Please feel free to email me and let me know what you see!
Go to bottom of the page for the full story behind this series.