Real abstract

Richard Duning, detail of “Shards of the Epoch XVI,” acrylic on panel, 2002.

Richard Duning, detail of “Shards of the Epoch XVI,” acrylic on panel, 2002.

For the last 100-plus years, modern art has been viewed by highbrow art critics as being on a progressive path of sorts, having arrived at a point beyond that at which painting, as an art form, had done all it could do. By the late 1960s, some artists weren’t even using brushes, evidence of the hand was no longer in images, and the truly successful paintings had no illusion of space or reality. That was it; all had been done.

Well, people still paint. Why? All of that nonsense only served the academic elite. Abstract painting can serve the same function as that of traditional painting. A group show this month titled Abstract Reality, at the Solomon Dubnick Gallery, illustrates this point. The exhibit shows that there is nothing dead in abstract art. Take the work of New York City-based Laura Hohlwein, for example. Her paintings all have a strong focus on light, form and contrast—all things that artists have dealt with for ages and that are still sound areas for attention today. Hohlwein’s paintings contain areas of sharply focused shapes next to fuzzy sections that create visual space; within those areas, color is lightened or darkened to evoke how light reads.

Without the weight of representational objects, artists are free to explore purely formal elements. For Richard Duning, abstract painting allows him to dwell on the super stripped-down, really basic aspects of painting—paint and line. Duning’s images are thicker than thick, so much so that one can’t help falling in love with pure paint. Often, Duning will break down the image to just a few marks, but even with that overly simplified approach, the results end up being as intriguing as the most complicated compositions, and sometimes more refreshing.

So, we are all lucky that the stuffy critics have moved on to scrutinize other forms of the visual arts, such as performance or installation stuff. And that’s good; those are relatively new areas that need over-the-shoulder guidance. Abstract painting is now old enough to leave the nest and live on its own.