Artwork is often experimental, whether it is an emerging artist picking up their first art making tool or medium, or an established artist trying a different method of creating. There is usually an idea in mind that the artist has for the final product, even if that idea is not immediately evident.
This is particularly true of abstract art even when deceptively figurative or representational. Abstraction in art is not always non-objective or independent from the real world, but often references it conceptually with color, movement or shape. The result can be very rewarding, an experiment that can give the viewer a greater appreciation of not only art but reality itself.
Remixing: An Experimental Portrait Series, which continues at The Little Gallery until Aug.31,is a series of abstract portraits by artist Shawnequa Linder who shares this vision. In this exhibition, Linder combines techniques of abstraction to give her portrait paintings added texture, movement and substance.
“The techniques I used in the show are experimental, trying different things and different tools, my shoes, fingers, lighters,” the artist said. “Trying things that are new, well, not new because plenty of people have used the techniques, but new to me. They are experimental to me.”
For her work “Inside Myself”, Linder uses a pouring technique to create the texture, while using a thicker white to contain the parameter of where the paint is flowing. Diluting it with water is part of the process of “decaying and weathering down” the paint.
“I burned the paint while it was still wet with a long nozzle lighter,” she added, and though the paint did not catch on fire, the water evaporated, creating cracks in the paint and giving a different direction in movement and texture.
Linder enjoys creating under pressure. This allows for her creativity to just roll out, sending the creative process on a path “that feels good, feels right”. Part of the experimentation occurs spontaneously. One thing leads to another. A brush stroke can lead to something new and the result is not always expected.
Linder’s portrait “Awakening”is a prime example. The contoured head and neck create an illusion of facing forward at an angle. Looking closer, at the bottom center of the canvas, you can see a mouth is evident in dark grey, the top lip barely highlighted. There could be “an implication of the eye, and a nose over there” Linder said.
Where there should be an ear, we see a high contrast of black and white. Next to it, a smudged and scraped dark patch, but severely dis-proportional to where an eye should be. The nose is horizontally smeared in white and grey. Painted with business cards to push and pull every gestural movement, the head droops down in layers of white, grey and black. It conceals where the left eye should be, while implying the shape of an eye in it.
Who are the abstracted portraits of? Linder said that they are no one in particular. Pointing at the nearest painting “Rumination” she explained how the portrait comes about, regularly working the background first but not always.
“It usually starts with a circle”, adding a “typical ears and chin and figuring out the shoulders” which make the person slim or stalky, short or long necked.
The figure in this painting poses with its hand on a cheek. Towards the completion of the work, Linder returns to her canvas to layer in details. This could be painting in the hand, shaping up contours with a brush, reworking main subjects with a different tool, or using different techniques to work the background once again.
Looking at the rest of the portraits, one thing is noticeable, the amount of black used. As is often done with the color black, Linder uses it to “make things pop” creating contrast. “Forget Me Not” uses solid black for the neck, shoulders and torso to push its surroundings forward.
Although a second look might have you feeling as if the abyss of darkness pushes itself forward. This section is surrounded by a cracked, white face, on a light grey background with spots of distressed blue, bleeding and scratching through.
However, not all experimentation in this exhibit was successful. In “Stillness” a squeegee was utilized. The tool proved to be not so easy to manipulate. “I put the paint on and thinned it out, but then it was drying too fast,” and in the end the image was overwhelmed and overdone so Linder resorted to her more familiar use of cards and brushes to tidy up.
Considering Linder’s goal of experimentation with technique and movement, Remixing: An Experimental Portrait Seriesmay leave the viewer wondering how much portraiture can be abstracted and still be effective.
In this exhibit, the artist’s experiment clearly demonstrates that portraits can be more than merely taking a picture or a selfie. And though still more figurative than abstract, Linder’s stark and minimalist point of view reveals images that are more than just another pretty face.
Remixing: An Experimental Portrait Serieswith works by Shawnequa Linder runs through August 31 at the Little Gallery in Benson. The Little Gallery is located on 5901 Maple Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 3pm-6pm and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call 402-680-1901 or email firstname.lastname@example.org