Process and Principles

The Expressive Use of Rectangles and Fields of Color:
Windows into Abstract Worlds

In each of my paintings, I attach a smaller and separate rectangular piece of canvas centrally to the main stretched canvas. The main stretched canvas is primed canvas – it is sometimes painted black, at other times painted a variegated, non-uniform field of color. Most often the attached canvas is unprimed canvas, so it is stained by the paint, at least initially if there are several layers, as opposed to the paint resting on the surface of the canvas as it does on the main stretched canvas. This staining of unprimed canvas can yield quite intense colors.

The attached central rectangular canvas is often cut somewhat roughly, crudely, emphasizing that a rectangle is quite difficult to construct: a perfect rectangle, of course, is impossible to construct, with perfection in rectangularity existing only in an idealized form in our minds. Any rectangles constructed upon the attached canvas display, to varying extents, a similar, human imperfection.

The attached central canvas may also be a reused piece of canvas, flipped over to reveal unprimed canvas with whatever paint has soaked through from the other side, and any other markings, scars, or tears acquired during previous manipulations. By the addition of rectangles and fields of color, I impose my artistic intentions on this marked canvas, incorporating the “lucky accidents” into a finished painting.

The variegated fields of color in my paintings are frequently created by painting one color over a very different color, perhaps with some gentle scraping and removing of paint, giving the impression of something hidden, which is peering out here and there. Or, conversely, the field of color could be viewed as something being revealed from behind the top layer(s) of paint. This technique can also create paintings whose colors and apparent textures change dramatically depending upon viewing angle and lighting, an effect analogous to the changing moods a person might experience throughout the day.

The rectangles in most of my paintings are organized in a manner that gives rise to the idea of a window. When looking at these paintings, I like to wonder, as I “enter” the world of each painting, am I looking out or looking in? – and, what kind of mysterious world is it I am contemplating and seeing in this abstract painting? In some paintings the color content of each smaller rectangle or “window pane” is determined all or in part by a carefully crafted algorithm. In many, an impression of depth is created, with the structure of the “window” in the foreground and the abstract world behind the structure – one seems to view the abstract “scene” through the “window panes”. In others, the effect is “flatter” – the window structure and pane content appear to exist all in one plane. In most paintings, both those suggesting depth and those appearing flatter, each individual rectangle or “pane” could be viewed as a separate, smaller painting, with the joined individual rectangles constituting a unified rectangular whole.

The idea of the window, of looking in or looking out, can suggest a further meaning to those who are outsiders in any category in society. Outsiders know very well the feeling of being on the outside looking in upon what they may be denied or the feeling of constraint while looking out at a world that excludes them. Paradoxically then, the presenting of an abstract world as viewed through a “window” beckons one to enter that world right then and there, just as does seeing a beautiful day outside through the windows of one’s home – or at the very least to enjoy and contemplate the view.

In addition, each of my paintings, created to stand on its own as an object of visual interest, inevitably and sometimes purposely contains a subtext of commentary chosen from a variety of topics, including art, science, music, literature, philosophy, status in society, or the state of our world. The “story” embedded in a painting – as composed by me, or invented by the viewer, or a mixture of the two – can enrich an interested viewer’s experience of the work, while also allowing a certain transcendence of limitations for a contemplative moment.

In all cases, in a sense analogous to musical composition and performance in both abstraction and expression, I paint to evoke something in the minds of viewers (which includes me) when they contemplate a painting. What is evoked is highly dependent upon the art interests and experiences viewers bring to the painting – each person will see a painting differently, and what is seen may change as a viewer becomes acquainted with or revisits my paintings. This collaboration between viewer and artist is an essential and intentional aspect of my work, as viewers’ perceptions of a painting engage their imaginations.

© 2012-2019

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Dimensions and Materials

Dimensions are shown with the painting titles in the carousel views on the Painting pages. The dimensions given for the paintings on this website are nominal, rounded to the closest inch or centimeter for height and width, and correspondingly approximated for the much smaller measure of the depth. The dimensions are given as height by width by depth.
All paintings are acrylic on canvas. A smaller, separate rectangular piece of canvas is attached centrally to the main stretched canvas of each painting.

All images and texts Copyright © 2005-2019 by Stephen Lowell Swanberg