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David Ryan opens his introduction to Talking Painting: Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters with the inquiry, “How do we connect the contemporary condition of abstract painting with its history? He sees the question as necessarily posing two further ones: What do we mean by abstraction? Talking Painting sets out to explore these issues by juxtaposing Ryan’s interviews of twelve abstract painters with each artist’s choice of a critical text about his or her own work.
Nodelman notes that a question emerged “as to whether the fundamental mode of experience upon which painting depends remains a viable one in the late twentieth century” (Colpitt 75).
In his turn toward this issue of how we experience painting, Nodelman’s contention resonates strongly with our own contemporary situation, with the dominance of installation, photography, and interactive art.
All of the artists came to prominence in the mid- to late-1980s.
As an abstract painter himself, Ryan offers with his conversations many insights into the processes and techniques that inform each artist’s work, and the book is a valuable resource for this reason alone.
Ryan’s reading of each of these concerns is informed by the writings of Gilles Deleuze, so autonomy becomes a case of addition (“ands”) as opposed to negation (“nots”); wholeness is transformed into a matter of fragments and multiples folded into another kind of unity; and linguistic analogies are productive to abstract painting so long as they do not deplete the visual potency of painting, something Gilbert-Rolfe’s own introductory essay to the volume also warns against.
Unfortunately, the argument outlined in Ryan’s introduction is seldom explored in his interviews or in the essays chosen by each of the artists, even if the selections do begin to elaborate critical contexts that help situate each painter’s work.
Colpitt suggests that the history of abstraction can be divided into three phases: “historical,” “late-modern,” and “postmodern.” As demonstration of these three periods, or of the latter two, she collects together a series of essays, again, mostly reprinted from journals and catalogues published between 19.
The first context, “historical” abstraction, is characterized by this approach’s opposition to representation, and the opening text, Jules Langsner’s “Four Abstract Classicists” from 1959, represents an early attempt to discuss abstraction outside or after this familiar opposition.
In another context, Lippard suggests that what she terms monotonal painting “demands that the viewer be entirely involved in the work of art, and in a period where easy culture, instant culture, has become so accessible, such a difficult proposition is likely to be construed as nihilist” (Colpitt 59).
One is grateful to Colpitt’s anthology for allowing us to hear again the urgency about our evolving ability and potential inability to experience painting in our changing society.