PURE ABSTRACTION Henry Wolyniec’s work suggests nothing but itself.
Abstraction is the process of moving from the particular to the general, from the thing itself to an idea about the thing that can thus be considered or communicated. All art is, in this sense, an abstraction. The soup-can painting requires no spoon.
We use the word "abstraction" in art as a catchall term for artwork that has no overt subject, no soup can. Yet it means more than that because even if an artwork engenders no narrative it still has latent meaning. There's a reason any particular work got made.
These reflections come to mind at "Intimate Abstraction" at Rose Contemporary in Portland. The gallery has brought together 33 small works by nine artists: Judy Allen-Efstathiou, James Chute, Clint Fulkerson, Jessica Gandolf, Penelope Jones, Tanja Kunz, Bridget Spaeth, Ling-wen Tsai, and Henry Wolyniec.
"Intimate," in this context, means small — the largest is a couple of feet square but most are much smaller. "Intimate" also suggests personal and private, and given the small size of these works the viewer is required to get close to each of them — creating, for just a moment, contact with the artists and their ideas. Success can be measured by the degree that each interaction produces a level of engagement between visitor and artwork — an event that requires effort from both artist and viewer, but when it happens, it's worth it.
The artists are quite different from one another. James Chute, for instance, shows very spare drawings that have a Zen-like simplicity of action between pen and paper: a moment come and gone, leaving a record. Bridget Spaeth presents a highly formal exercise in the distinctions between real space, shadow and apparent depth using vertical lines of color.
Judy Allen-Efstathiou's work presents a set of apparent histories, some real, others created. Two of them are monotype, etching and collage on cloth, a series of actions that result a fragment of something that might, if it weren't in this context, be puzzled out by an archaeological process. Tanja Kunz's paintings have a hint of biology to them, as if we were looking at simple creatures functioning in a simple but real environment.
Clint Fulkerson's works also have a cellular sort of pattern, but rather more mathematical than Kunz's. They have the feel of a programmatic process that has rise to an overall look that is both disorderly and regulated. The older, "Topkapi" casein paintings by Penelope Jones also have a tiling pattern driving their structure, but in her case they seem built in space. There may not be real systems underlying the work of both, but the imagery induces that atmosphere.
Fulkerson's and Jones's work, especially her newest one, don't seem to need to be this small. One can't imagine Ling-wen Tsai's work, especially the sumi ink "Residual" pieces, as any size except what they are. They are immediate, even ephemeral, but fully present. Her "Little Squares #9" on aluminum has more physical presence than the others, but shares their sense of imminent change.
Jessica Gandolf's work has usually been small but with an overt narrative; these are nearly wholly abstract, but one senses an underlying symbolism, as if she were creating a private set of spiritual references.