Artist Statement by Alyssa Dabbs:
By examining my painting process, paying particular attention to the decisions that I make whilst painting, I have concluded that my work and style of painting lends itself to the ‘gestural brushstrokes’ and ‘spontaneous mark making’ that characterises abstract expressionist works (Tate, 2019). According to Tate there are two broad groupings within abstract expressionism; action painters and colour field painters. Tate describes action painters as those ‘who attack their canvas with expressive brush stokes’ (Tate, 2019). My practice is largely focused on the expressive marks that I make. I believe that my work shares similar characteristics with action painters. I study the work of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler and Willem de Kooning, alongside contemporary artists such as Fiona Rae and Julie Mehretu in order to analyse all aspects of painting.
Adolph Gottleib stated that ‘so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time’ (Gottlieb 1947, p.573). My paintings are a reflection on the now, documenting the subconscious, capturing emotions and feelings through choice of colour and expressive mark making. I am continually inspired by the scale of other artists work such as Julie Mehretu and Cy Twombly. I often experiment with scale in my work in order to explore whether the size of the canvas affects the expressivity of the marks made. Working on a larger scale allows my marks to become free flowing and expressive, enabling me to use my whole body to create the marks instead of just my hands and fingers and in this way creating a more dynamic painting where the marks are much larger and more visually striking. To increase the variety of marks on my canvas I often experiment with different tools. I am interested in the idea of automatic marks in their purest form. I want to capture the purity of the marks and to distinguish the shapes and forms of the subconscious. In order to achieve this, I began making my own brushes with detachable ends and extra-long attachments. This has allowed my marks to become automatic and spontaneous. I work with these subconscious and unknown marks back and forth to build the canvas. I also create variety in my marks using methods such as using my non-dominant hand and painting with different orientations sometimes using the floor and other times twisting and turning the canvas and working from a height. Varying my methods when painting allows for a diverse range of marks and a provoking and dynamic painting.
The following statement by Harold Rosenberg on abstract expressionist action painters was the catalyst for the development of my work. ‘The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of his encounter’ (Rosenberg 1952, p.589). I approach all of my canvases and experiments with this thought in mind and can now conclude that my paintings are reactions to my previous actions and marks. These reactions are unknown and the unpredictability and control of the marks are varied dependent on the materials used.
I am particularly inspired by the work of Helen Frankenthaler. I am drawn to her subtle yet vivid colour palettes and their ability to evoke strong emotions. Alison Rowley stated with reference to Frankenthaler’s work that ‘of all elements of painting, colour is the most unstable because it is fundamentally relational’ (Rowley and Pollock 2003, p.56). I have studied this in relation to my work and have found that different paintings represent and resonate uniquely with each viewer. Questioning this further I found that the colours and shapes often represent and trigger different emotions and memories making abstract expressionist work highly personal and emotive. I am fascinated by the way marks, colours and shapes can represent, symbolise and resonate something so personal with the viewer, so much so that I intend to continue to explore this further within my work.
Gottlieb, A. (1947) ‘The American Avant- Garde’, Art in Theory 1900 – 2000, in Harrison, C and Wood, P. (ed.) USA: Blackwell Publishing, p.573.
Rosenberg, H. (1952) ‘The American Avant – Garde’, Art in Theory 1900 – 2000, in Harrison, C and Wood, P. (ed.) USA: Blackwell Publishing, p589.
Rowley, A and Pollock, G. (2003) ‘Painting in A Hybrid Moment’, Critical Perspective on Contemporary Painting: Hybridity, Hegemony, Historicism, in Harris, J. (ed.) UK: Liverpool Tate Gallery, p.56.
Tate (2019) Abstract Expressionism. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/abstract-expressionism (Accessed: 9 May 2019).