[ab-strak-shuh n] the art and the act

selected works from the AFK collection

The TATE Gallery in London provides a good foundational definition of abstract art:
The word abstract strictly speaking means to separate or withdraw something from something else. Abstract art is art which is not representational; it could be based on a subject or may have no
source at all in the external world...

The term abstract art can be applied to art that is based on an object, figure or landscape, where forms have been simplified or schematised to create an abstracted version of it. Cubist and fauvist artists depended on the visual world for their subject matter but opened the door for more extreme approaches to abstraction.

The term is also applied to art that uses forms, such as geometric shapes or gestural marks, which have no source at all in an external visual reality. Some artists of this ‘pure’ abstraction have preferred terms such as concrete art or non-objective art, but in practice the word abstract is used across the board and the distinction between the two is not always obvious.

There is no one factor that caused abstract art to develop. Many social, political, cultural and technological developments from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s laid the foundation for abstract art. The break from realism in Western art history comes shortly after the Age of Enlightenment which saw the separation of church and state at the same time that scientific thought and reasoning took on a role of higher importance. This, along with the technological development of cameras in the mid to late 1800s provided the conceptual framework and the need for artists to explore beyond realism in both their practice and media. Vancouver artist David Tycho describes this progression: “cold, classic realism was usurped by emotionally charged Romanticism, which eventually led to those lovely impressionistic scenes of Paris, which in turn begot Expressionism, those angst-ridden, thickly painted social critiques favoured by the Germans.”

Across Canada abstract art developed uniquely in various geographic regions from the 1920s until present day. Many of Canada’s founding abstract artists – Paul-Emile Borduas, Jack Bush and Gordon Smith – were trained formally in representational art techniques. However, they found the play and exploration of medium and technique in abstract art “not only more satisfying, but also more challenging.” Canadian artists took inspiration for their abstraction from sources as varied as the Canadian Landscape, figures and portraits, and the elements and principles of design.

The impetus of this show has very practical roots. In looking through the AFK collection we asked ourselves, what can we teach to grade fours, fives and sixes in a four-hour session?

The objectives of this exhibition are: inspiring potential future artists, encouraging students pride and confidence in their art, and aligning elements from BC’s new curriculum of process, play, inquiry, and exploration. Abstract art achieves all of these requirements.

The AFK collection is a unique and eclectic collection of Canadian Art.[ab-strak-shuh n]takes selected works from the collection that provide educators and students a breadth of approaches to abstraction in art. Some works are based upon recognizable imagery, such as landscapes, whereas other works are based on ‘pure’ abstraction; formal elements of art such as colour, shape, and texture. It should be noted that AFK focuses on collecting works from artists who are willing and available to provide workshops to students and teachers. As curators we acknowledge that in the exhibition there is an under representation of female and minority artists. This is currently a consideration for future acquisition and collection at AFK.

In closing we ask you to embrace your inner child, be you young or old, and not be intimidated by having to know what an artwork means. Instead enjoy the way colours play together, how the paint has been applied, the way a sculpture changes as you walk around it and lastly dream of all the things these art works could represent (because this is truly infinite).

[ab-strak-shuh n] the art and the act

Co-curated by:
Yolande Martinello, Emily Neufeld,
and Daylen Luchsinger