THE OBLIQUE

April / May / June 2020

 

THEME

The Oblique runs the gamut between naturalistic objects, persons, or events unrealistically depicted, and the realm of complete abstraction, all of which require a degree of idiosyncrasy as a by product of a natural ambivalence towards the standards of the day in each historical case, and overall, from the traditional subjects.

Wassily Kandinsky combined streamlined forms resembling mathematical symbols with an enveloping environment devoid of contextual dimensions or details, nothing to convince the mind to focus on anything but what is presented. What these forms enacted was a phenomenological event similar to that moments when, for instance, a raindrop falls upon our nose, or the sun is revealed from behind a cloud bank. The abstract artist deals not only in unrecognized complexities, but translates the sensory experience of real elements into painterly ones. Staring at his compositions one may easily become mesmerized. It’s this combination of the esoteric with the fantastical that refines and denotes the aesthetic and philosophical territory of the artist.

The appearance of abstract and near-abstract images tends to elicit a lucid dreaming that can easily affect judgment. Such works immediately lull the senses, bringing the viewer into their own perspective. When the image appears contradictory to ordinary logic, attempting to break new ground in terms of formal organization or theme—then it achieves an oblique sensibility.

The oblique image presents a version of reality in which certain visual cues commingle with a variety of forms that obfuscate or interrupt clear understanding as to what they are about. Sometimes they go all the way into an abstract realm and sometimes they combine the abstract with the naively or transgressively depicted. There is a sense that we are looking at an incomplete picture, in which some elements conflict with others. Each of the artists filling out the theme of this exhibition has found a way to be both emphatic and ambiguous at the same time, challenging the value of truth.

If we look back into the dim corners of art history, in eras and genres seemingly mutually opposed to one another, we glimpse the originators of The Oblique. Each of them reached out of a sea of tradition toward the unusual, to a statement that was also a reckoning. To state a new thought not only equivocal but definitive was their purpose.

One of the tropes of an Oblique sensibility is the an intentional obscurement of distinct forms. This has as much to do with specific artistic aims as it does with the results of a historical turn. The Cubist/Surrealist period, preceded by individuals such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, creates a hybridized world-view in which certain manifestations of ambiguous yet dynamic form present as metaphysical and aesthetic exceptions in the overall structure of perceptions and flow of progressive meaning.

This turns begins very early on, with Classicism, a period of art beginning just after the Renaissance and leading all the way up to the late 18th century. Impressionism had stolen pictorial imagery back from the historical and mythical models that had predominated it with Classicism and Romanticism, but after decades of this sort of work, in which what was immediate to the senses must have seemed too obvious, some artist hungered for the mystery of what art presented. Romanticism

The double bind of history and mythology dominated Classicism. Artists were encouraged to depict scenes out of one context or the other so as to court favor among the influential supporters of artists within Royal dynasties.

What Surrealism brought to the forefront of ideology was not merely its freakishness but an esthetic of unconsciousness. It’s hard to explain because it does not typically rely on obvious characteristics but upon a manner of approach. One does not witness an Obliqueness in all the artists of the Surrealist era, but specifically in those who achieve a mood or an intensity that is dependent upon an understanding that commonplace formal comprehension does not go far enough in building a bridge between the imagination and aesthetics.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, much of the great art now known as modern is about the nature of looking. It is cerebral to the extent that it involves an appreciation of certain aesthetic strategies.