Abstraction and Modernism


The emergence of abstraction in fine art in the early twentieth century is seen as one of the defining developments of Modernism. The achievement of abstraction was to release art from the constraints of illusionism which had dominated painting since the Renaissance, allowing imagery to reflect ideas and subjects (such as emotions) that have no visible or tangible form.   Mainie Jellett has been hailed as the first Irish artist to produce an abstract image. Her work was influenced by French Cubism and she spent some time in Paris , with fellow abstract painter Evie Hone, learning from French artists Andre Lhote and Albert Gleizes.

Abstraction gained momentum in the 1960s, when Patrick Scott developed a type of Minimalism, using unprimed canvas together with tempera and gold leaf, in restrained, mathematically organised, modular arrangements, with a contemplative spiritual quality. He drew back from the machine ethic of the American artists who had pioneered Minimalism during the 1950s, preferring the handcrafted element of the application of gold leaf.

Cecil King soon followed in his footsteps, developing a taut aesthetic of balance, rhythm and precise movement, usually on a small and precious scale.

By contrast, Sean Scully’s recent work is large scale, and expressionistic in its loose handling of surface texture; the forms seem geometric, but deliberately avoid precise arrangements. Abstraction is appropriate for sculpture also, and provides the basis for experiment with alternative methods and forms. In addition to the traditional bronze or marble, artists have used a range of approaches, from thin sheets of steel, cut to shape, or weighty beams of timber.

previousPrevious - Spirals and interlace
Next - National Issues and International Influencesnext