Abstract Art versus Figurative Art

Lisa Norris Gallery
Mar 15, 2018 12:31PM

Of all the art battles and debates of the 20th century, none has been as divisive as that between abstract and figurative art.  

About Abstract Art


Almost all art is abstract art, if we take abstraction to be a process of drawing inspiration from the shape, colour and texture of objects. Artists have "abstracted" from the world around them since prehistoric times. Abstract art tends to rely on the associations of form to suggest meaning, rather than employing recognizable motifs to point to particular themes and content. Abstraction is diverse in itself and can range from the gestural and intuitive mark making of a painter like Lydia Mammes to the mathematical grid-like colour  structures of an artist like Jane Goodwin.

Arnout Killian
Closed
Lisa Norris Gallery
Lydia Mammes
Untitled 2012, 2012
Lisa Norris Gallery
Jane Goodwin
Blue on Blue Series 8, No. 5, 2017
Lisa Norris Gallery

These paintings embody the non-objective type of abstract art we have in the gallery whereby the artists make no reference to the real world.  These paintings are principally about colour, line and surface.  Paintings about and which celebrate the process of painting.

About Figurative Art

Cecile van Hanja
The Silence of Light, 2016
Lisa Norris Gallery

The term Figurative has been particularly used since the arrival of abstract art to refer to artists that retain aspects of the real world as their subject matter.  Picasso after about 1920 is the great exemplar of modern figurative painting.  For most of the 20th century, in Western Art, the discussion of "modern painting" largely ignored figurative works.  Really only since the 1980s that abstraction has grown less dominant and figurative art returned to prominence (think Jean-Michel Basqiat, Marlene Dumas, Gerard Richter and Luc Tuymans to name a few).

Arnout Killian
Mediators, 2002-2016
Lisa Norris Gallery
Jemma Appleby
Pope Leigh
Lisa Norris Gallery

Arnout Killian in the vein of his predecessors like Edward Hopper and Luc Tuymans, is a master of realist painting.  The works of  Killian are a direct mirror on human behaviour, mainly of the impersonal kind.  He has a concentrated and restrained way of painting which is reflected in the clean lines and the meticulous details of his compositions, with only a subtle hint of a presence of a person, provoke us to think about who occupies these architectural spaces and what life takes place in them. He has a fascination with subjects drawn from the artificial and contemporary segments of culture.

Jemma Appleby’s drawings are equally meticulous and photo-realistic while investigating a relationship between architecture and landscape.  The forest landscape is used as a haven for solitude and calmness while the structures in this series that are  integrated into the landscape are based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses.

Arnout Killian
Passage
Lisa Norris Gallery

While it is helpful to view abstract art and figurative art as distinct entities, for many artists the dividing line between abstraction and figuration is much more fluid. Indeed the art historicaldialogue is not necessarily one of defining the boundaries between figuration and abstraction anymore but focusing on the connections between them.  Arnout Killian for instance works with both.  

Arnout Killian
Bungalow at Night - 2
Lisa Norris Gallery

Perhaps it is worth considering that both abstract and figurative types of painting do the work of representation; be it an imitation or realistic representation of a subject or more  an impression or reflection of that subject.  Either a way a painting has a surface on which some version of ourselves (physical, spiritual, social, cultural etc) is reflected back at us, which is why we like to represent both in the gallery.

Lisa Norris Gallery