‘Another normal’ – this simple phrase captures what I’m after through abstractscapes. These paintings are inspired by nature; realizing them draws upon experience painting in the open air, aka ‘en Plein Air’ in French. My painting style was developed doing ‘traditional’ impressionistic works on a portable easel outdoors. Their abstract metaphysical bent comes from me ruminating about the need for a world view shift. Our civilization needs fundamental change because consumerist culture is leading to an unhappy population and a depleted planet. Shifting a ‘normal’ impressionistic landscape into the realm of abstraction within a canvass is analogous to the paradigm shift we need even as we go about our daily lives. How do we reprogram ourselves into living new values? How do we think ‘otherwise’? Start by shifting your paradigm – it is possible!

The process is teaching me a lot about how the mind works – or maybe it’s just my twisted brain. Writing about this process will – to the extent that my journey is analogous to yours – help us discover how to shift our own thinking. I mean not just what we think, but how we think about belief. Ultimately, a new worldview requires a new mythology, which is not typically something we invent for ourselves. We’d rather have an authority tell us. So any exercise in self mind shifting is useful. I encourage you to try it.

The dance the artist does with his canvass is between action and observation. You paint and then step back. For it to ‘make sense’ (to the artist in the first place, art consumer later), there has to be an explanation for what you put on there. As I created I found that forms that just appeared on the canvass could not be accepted without explanation.  ‘They were put there for a reason’, thinks the private critic. During the creative process the art conscience is driving and you’re just creating as an artist (when you learn to let go and quit worrying about being analytical). You step back to be an observer, and what you just created strikes you. It needs an explanation.

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For example, looking at the shapes in the sky, it turns out that what were strokes carried over from painting lilies looked like a little creature in the orange cloud/tree on the left. I know where the shape came from, but why were the strokes combined as a pair? Evidently my mind has an affinity for two shapes in proximity. Even abstractions need their own rules, or at least a vocabulary. We need a mental model. What can we map them to? What is the metaphor? The gremlin angel in a morphing tree.

This is all very subjective, and involves a shift in the mid of the artist. For example, as you approach the landscape, you create an idealized composite. When I introduced the color abstractions in the clouds, I found some shapes were acceptable, while others weren’t. One of the reasons, it seems is that even though the colors were not natural, the ‘behavior’ of the forms were cloud-like and could be mapped mentally to cloud phenomena. At this point I realized I was dealing with forms that seemed meaningful because of their allusion, not their representation.

‘Symbols’ is too strong a word. As the shapes wanted to resolve themselves into objects or transitions between objects, I was reminded of our compulsive need for explanation. I rationalized art theory. Instead of giving the names, thinking of them as allusive preserves ambiguity of interpretation and therefore the right of the viewer to participate in the interpretation. Those two dots in a head shape are an unknowable ghost peering at us, perhaps?

Cloudscapes are powerful in that we are used to seeing all kinds of strange formations and contrasts in the sky. We are very forgiving with clouds and often see shapes. You can create a grounded landscape and a very dreamy cloudscape with surreal colors and it delights the viewer, as in the example below which has generally resonated very well.

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It’s a tension between the existing and the disruption. Un-conventional shapes need a meaning before they can be accepted and the assessment of the work’s integrity can continue. How was the success of the first cubist painting assessed if the language did not previously exist? Did Picasso and Braque have a rational model ahead of time that allowed them to even talk about the success of the works? Or did they intuitively know it before there was rationalized. Did philosophy or brush break space into cubes? Or did a hunch spawn both?

In the case of the hard lines in the clouds, we can easily interpret them as a type of ‘silver lining’, and so they are arbitrary or out of place. Something’s going on, no matter how beautiful or strange, there’s an explanation. We need it. We create little stories – and abstractions draw us into the work inviting us to create them. Personally satisfying as that can be – and I don’t want to minimize positive aesthetic experience – they are still highly personal moments. We live them and move on to catch another vignette, a reflection or sunset, to add to the satisfaction of the day. Healthy as a home cooked meal or the sunshine on newly blossomed rhodies.

With our emphasis on the epic shared stories, we’re tempted to denigrate private aesthetic moments. That would be a mistake. Think about it: how often do you get to introduce a new vocabulary and have it become part of ordinary life, like smelling the flowers, enjoying supper and watching the sunset? Isn’t culture about a shared vocabulary that is normal? New art pushes the edge of normalcy, like traditional clouds morphing into abstractions. If you can live at peace with it, perhaps others will too. That’s why it’s so important to get past the semantic hurdle with disruptive elements in art – if they are taking us in the right direction. When the disruptive becomes normal, you have shifted a worldview a notch.

The language of normalcy is programmed into our brains. After a while, we just think in the language. I have a hunch this maps to how we assimilate the semantics of value decisions, and hence can be an entry point into shifting worldviews. Not that these abstractscapes themselves represent an ideal future state – they are more an omen of disruption. However, moving the mind from the status quo (analogous to traditional impressionism) and into the conversation about change (the abstractscape) is a useful step. They soften our minds for change as we relax semantic clutches and let them be. We intuitively know it is coming . . . the question is who defines ‘it’.

— Roy Zuniga
Ballard, WA

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copyright 2012 Roy Zuniga – all rights reserved