Can abstract imagery tell a story?
Bold color and whimsical brush strokes can evoke a visceral reaction, even if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at.
Julie Mehretu’s paintings and drawings embody elements of maps and architecture. Blurred images from race riots establish the underpainting, and on top of which, Mehretu layers strokes inspired by natural landscapes, colonial history, and melody—weaving past with present. On her desire to establish new narratives, Mehretu says “I think of them as these visual neologisms. The neologism is there to address when language isn’t enough.”
“I think of them as these visual neologisms. The neologism is there to address when language isn’t enough.”
For every piece of Mary Heilmann’s work—abstract paintings, ceramics, and furniture—there is a backstory. Imbued with recollections, stories spun from her youthful fantasies, her flamboyant energy is incorporated into every piece by her use of vibrant colors and sassy monikers—like, Surfing on Acid (2005)—that hint to their significance to the artist. “Expressing emotion is something that I like to do,” says Heilmann. “The relation of parts to the whole piece gives a feeling of feeling…and the titles help.”
How do abstract images paint a new picture? What types of creative freedoms does abstraction allow?