Abstract Expressionism

The first painting class I ever took was during the second semester of my sophomore year of college. As was appropriate for an intro class, my teacher, Dana Zier, was really good about teaching us the fundamentals.

We primarily focused on realism, looking at how light reflected off of objects, how to create fabric that looks realistic by adding highlights and shadows, how to make flat objects appear curved, how to get the perspective right.

As far as realism goes, I wasn’t bad at it. For the most part I enjoyed it (Especially when we got to paint fabric. For some reason I loved it.) but it never really felt like my thing. 

When Abstraction Entered My Life

One day pretty late in the semester, Dana said we were going to try abstract expressionism. She had us select an old piece of mat board from the back of the room and told us to paint some lines and colors. Just lay down an abstract background that focuses on line.

I laid down a brown and green background with some lines crossing each other and then waited for our next instruction. Thankfully, since we used acrylic paint, it didn’t take long.

After our abstract underpaintings were dry enough to add another layer (we were told not to let them dry completely), Dana told us to choose an emotion, one color in several shades, and a repetitive brushstroke. I chose something about anger or anxiety, blues, and an upward stroke starting at the bottom corner.

She told us not to think about anything but our emotion as we started to lay down our strokes, using just a pallet knife and starting with the medium shade of the color we chose.

I did as I was told, not sure what would come of it, but after a few minutes of repeating the same brushstroke over and over I started to see something in my painting. Dana said that if we saw anything, we could use our additional colors to add to it, but not to force it to become a certain shape or image.

I did as I was told, and as I had learned throughout the course, and added highlights and shadows and tried to develop a shape without forcing it to become something.

Wave, acrylic on mat board

Where Wave Took Me

I wish I could remember the exact emotion I was using to fuel this painting. Something about worry, fear, or anxiety. That’s where it started, anyway. Because although the emotion I was thinking about must have felt like a literal wave crashing down, it also wan’t that dark.

Maybe it was my joy at creating my first abstract work that shows through, but while somewhat ominous, overall this painting isn’t about worry or anger.

I think that this day and this painting are what motivated me to create abstract art based on emotion for my senior portfolio. It wasn’t a conscious influence, but I really loved that day in Painting I. It was by far my favorite exercise, and I loved that it focused on emotion. I think it stuck with me and motivated me to paint more emotions.


What do you think about my Wave painting? Is it more ominous or more hopeful? Let me know what you think in the comments!


One thought on “Abstract Expressionism

  1. Pingback: Work In Progress – KLH art

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