Searching for absolutes in a mutable world
Consider the following proposition:

That abstraction is necessarily representational and conversely that realism is a form of abstraction.

This statement challenges the assumption that abstraction and realism are mutually exclusive opposites, instead proposing that they are different forms of the same thing – structures through which to interpret the phenomenal world.

Abstraction distinguishes itself by claiming a disconnection with the material world and at a deeper level with any referent. To comprehend or describe some thing human beings have a tendency to search for connections or linkages using certain techniques, particularly comparison and analogy as a means of achieving understanding. This may be why metaphor is such a popular device to explain intended meaning. And because there is unlimited potential for this to succeed, 'abstraction' can never entirely shake free of the capacity for links to the material to be made. The possibility that a 'pure' abstraction exists which bears no trace of a referent is remote at best. Interpretation and referent, the tools of representation, are contaminants that exclude the possibility of pure abstraction ever being possible. It would seem that an image can never be non-representational as long as the receptor is human.

Conversely, realism can be understood as a set of intelligible conventions that make a structured series of marks, colours and tones suggestive of empirical space e.g. particularly perspective, light and shade. Because it too is defined by the interpretation of specific stylistic precepts or filters, it follows that realism is also prestructured, always an abstracted form, and always predetermined to some extent before the intrusion of the subject.

Understanding is achieved by pursuing connections to other things, and therefore knowing is always analogous, never literal – no matter how close you might get to literality. An interpretive structure always intervenes between the viewer and the object being gazed upon. It must always represent some thing to someone to have meaning, to be seen. It would be otherwise unrecognisable, invisible, perhaps something like that space of non-recognition when the brain fails to link the thing looked for with the thing before your eyes.

Having playfully blurred the distinguishing features of conventions like realism and abstraction, can we apply this tactic elsewhere, in other ways? Are there absolutes, such as beauty or truth, or is everthing merely relative to something else, virtually interchangable? What are the implications and opportunities for painting to investigate these possibilities? Can you utilise the properties of paint to be the thing being painted? Can you close the gap between 'the thing' and its image to the point where they are indistinguishable? Can you paint an abstract idea with some degree of literality? Is there a parallel with onomatopoeia where an image might be made that is indistinguishable from its referent?

I have provisionally embraced these ideas as a tactic to allow me to expand the scope of content and its relationship to form. The tensions in a painting between form and content are, in my opinion, the engine that drives the viewers experience of pleasure derived from looking.

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