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interview with abelard, by art journalist kathleen hardman

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Nowadays in a frequently drab and sad world, all too often art is hijacked in the name of ‘artistic’ debate, social criticism and political correctness at the expense of beauty, inspiration and encouragement.

By contrast, it was refreshing to see the vivid paintings by abelard at an exhibition loosely based around Surreal influences. The luminous compositions which abelard presented, show the influence of his admiration of Piet Mondrian and of early medieval work in stained glass.

You use acrylic paints on plywood, what are the advantages to you of this medium?

It is very important to me to be able to control the variables that make up the image. I use plywood because it is a non-flexing textured substrate that allows for greater control in laying down the paint. Acrylic paints are fast to use, have a matt finish and allow me to mix the colours with great precision. I have developed new techniques that are directed at enhancing the intensity and textural variation of colour reflected from the painting.

I use the wood grain, the ridges and furrows of varied brush marks to break up the light reflected from the surface of the image. This gives life to the colours in a way that cannot be achieved by spraying.

There seems to be more to your picture finish than this. The surface of the paintings has a jewelled enamelled quality that makes the colours sing.

I varnish the paintings carefully so that they have a sparkling surface which, as you have noticed, cannot be seen in photographs or transparencies. Meantime, I avoid allowing the vigorous colour palette from becoming garish and harsh.

Your paintings have been described as a window on a world of dreams, and I can see clearly that your images come from a strong sense of utopia.

My work is driven intensely by an almost mystic fascination with the concept of the two-dimensional flat surface of a painting in a three-dimensional world. I am very aware of aesthetics and refine the colour and shape balance almost by feel, rather than what you might call thinking.

The inter-face between illusion and abstraction or, if you like, between representational and non-representational art and the image that results is a central interest for me as an artist. Illusionistic elements are combined into my paintings to dislocate the viewer’s relationship to illusion rather than to evoke such illusion.

I combine an idealisation of both of experience and colour. Through my paintings, I try to conjure a realm of enchanting visions and to stimulate my audience to create such an environment around themselves.

At times you paint thematically. What are your motivations for these themes?

My work includes various continuing series, such as the ‘-Ink’ series, in which I actualise control of my chosen medium of acrylic and wood boards, as well as extending my understanding and handling of the colours themselves.

I also paint using a common subject abstracted from life, such as trees, or the female form. The resulting type of image often varies greatly from painting to painting.

Other of my pictures use a more closely defined structure within different series of paintings, to explore further colour interactions and the effect of size on the image, while still communicating the world I see to other people. Two of these series are the Reinhardt and the Tangram series.

What is the rationale behind those two series?

The Reinhardt series has its origins in Ad Reinhardt’s grid paintings of different black colours. My first Reinhardt, using a three by three square grid within a three by three grid, helped me to understand the effect of very ‘dark’ and very ‘light’ colour - what I would call two extreme types of pollution in a colour. Now I am now using this simple yet highly flexible format to express colour arrangements that come both from my dreams and from looking at the world and nature about me.

The Tangram series started as a means of displaying a colour wheel in my studio in a less banal and stereotyped fashion. The first Tangram, Magenta is Non-spectral, showed primary and secondary colours while the second, Orange is Tertiary, included tertiary colours as well.

Tangram 17 - Colour Wheel by abelard

Now I use primary, secondary and tertiary colours. I play with what happens when colours are emphasised, excluded or distorted from their position on the colour wheel and with the results of removing one shape from the arrangement within the square framework. I'm working towards using quaternary colours as well, both on their own and in combination with the earlier colours.

You talk of colour and, for instance, that magenta is non-spectral or that orange is tertiary, these are not commonly received ideas.

I’m developing a new language for colour and brushing away the confusing and confused vocabulary of history and legend. I’ve returned to what the eye senses and how the brain processes these sensations. I’m calling your bluff on the traditional names for some of your most familiar colours. I hope that I’m clearing the way to a rational method of colour terminology.

Basing my terms on the responses of the eyes’ colour cones, I have labelled the three visual primaries of green, red and blue-violet. These have some similarities to the three primary colours of the additive colour system. By distinguishing between the accepted colours like ‘blue’ and the perceived colours like blue-violet, I have been able to generate a far wider range of colour to use, as well as gaining a deep understanding of the colours’ interactions both with each other and in the eye. I think this leads to a richness of colour which isn’t usually encountered in plain colour-fields unless some visual trickery or specialist pigments are involved. Of course, you can read about it in my write-up for Orange is Tertiary and the Tangram series! [Orange is Tertiary: The Theory of Colour].

It often takes considerable concentration to get a colour just right, especially when a painting is moving towards completion. One I am working on at present has so far taken a couple of weeks to match a pale blue to a pale green in area quantity and shade.

Colour is fascinating. It is said the human can distinguish well over 30,000 colours. And then comes arrangements....

Your attitude to form is, perhaps for many people, less foreseen.

For me, the shape that a colour takes is not as important as the colour itself and its balance, although forms and patterns seen in the world do give me stimulus for laying down the colour fields.

What do your images mean?

The significance of any image is of less importance than whether it looks good. It is a high priority for me to make the paintings accessible to those who are not professional artists. I try to make sure that my pictures can be enjoyed on many different levels, even though there is a strong theoretical content in many of the pictures.

One does not have to be a Beethoven to enjoy Beethoven’s music or to be able to play a guitar to like the Beatles, although one may need such skills to originate the work. So, the viewer’s first question must be not, “What does it mean?”, but, “Do you like it?”

abelard's pictures have the rare talent to evoke contemplation and idealism in a highly inventive and original manner, yet without the images being frenzied. Not surprisingly, his creative talent has received academic and public acclaim. At a display of abelard’s paintings, we are exposed to a truly new artistic experience wherein remembered atmosphere and images are given new life in a unique balance of hard-line reality, aesthetic balance and emotional associations.

The combination and choice of scale and composition available in abelard’s accomplished collection of acrylic paintings makes his work highly collectable and a genuine investment for both British and international clients. The many levels of this talented artist’s ability ensure that each collector can find their own space within any number of the variety of compositions that abelard has to show. This makes abelard’s paintings very suitable for both office and home environments.

abelard imparts abstract synthesis into his potent, dynamic perceptions. Each precisely executed work achieves reality through inferences of abstract expressionism, when a strongly individual yet universal painting appears for each of us to share.

© Kathleen Hardman, 1993


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