- Thomas Helmick
Famous Abstract Artists That Influenced Me
Famous abstract artists, those whose works are of the more geometric color-field type, are the artists that first steered my interest towards abstract painting. The one artist from among them that most grabbed my attention was Richard Diebenkorn - specifically his Ocean Park series. During my early formative artistic development, my under-graduate studies at Kent State and post-graduate studies in New York City, I found Diebenkorn to be the epitome of this geometric abstraction. Influenced by his use of subdued color and application of paint, the resulting surface treatment, his use of line, shape and the structure of his finished solution, and how he used the size shape and proportions of the canvas itself, all of this I was incorporating into my own work. I plainly relied on Diebenkorn solutions for my own painting problems.
During this early period a Diebenkorn retrospective was on view at the Whitney Museum. As I walked through the exhibit, I was able to observe and understand how his work developed and evolved into this geometric abstraction. My observations led to my looking at his work differently. I started questioning some of his decisions and said to myself more than once ‘if that were mine, I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ That exhibit marked the point in my artistic development where I was able to walk out from under Diebenkorn’s influence; I was able to repel the Diebenkorn monkey off my back.
Ocean Park #79,
What drew me to Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series, is that in each of these pieces there is a suggested reference to figurative landscape. Not that there are literal recognizable figurative elements, but there is the feeling that the underlining structure of the overall geometric image has its roots in a landscape image. Is this not the fundamental definition of abstraction - to take from one thing to create another? This has been the underlining motivation in my work. To start with a recognizable figurative landscape image and end up
with an abstracted non-figurative image, to remove the recognizable, but still have that memory in the abstract.
‘Abstract Landscape’ is how I now classify or label my work. My love of landscape has a deep personal and somewhat spiritual connection. This spiritual landscape has no visible elements of anything man made. It is a landscape where if one stood and did a full 360-degree pivot, the only visible elements seen would be those made by God, where you can lose yourself and find solace. This spiritual connection has become part of my subconscious mind; it has had a very real influence on my artistic expression and has been most profoundly realized in the abstract form.
It is not my intent to paint every blade of grass or every leaf on a tree that one might see in a forest, my intent is not to paint every wind-blown stalk of wheat or wind-blown wisp of a cloud that one might see in an open country vista, but to capture the essence of what is seen and not get lost in the details. In the process of painting what you have in the end is just
paint on a canvas, every painting throughout history is just paint on a canvas. It is what the paint does, how it grabs your attention, how it holds on to your attention, how it invites you in and separates you from yourself, that is the definition of Art. My quest is to find that spiritual landscape.
You can see the results of my search so far here on my website.