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Article about abstract paintings by Iain Dryden

11 July - 2022
by Iain Dryden


Abstract painting is a step in to the world of pure perception. It is a move beyond symbols and story. Since the beginning, painting represented the world and its people as a story on a wall. More recently, Picasso, who semi-abstracted the formative, still used story, Van Gogh turned abstracted wheat fields into emotional tales and so when confronted by an artwork without story, we are perplexed. 

There is no need for befuddlement, it is really quite simple. For the absolute abstract artist there is no Starry Night, no La Reve, the tale is the work, for the object before you is all there is, a back-story is not needed. The creator has been preoccupied with colour, movement, shape, no more, no symbolism. That in itself is a huge amount to deal with.

Many abstract artists have spent years tentatively veering from the observed subject, exploring an elusive something. It is not that we were bored with the formative, it is just that we sought to express the extraordinary universe of the colours we mixed to create that man’s lip, that bird feather, that wave striking the beach. But it was an elusive search.

We studied cubism, post expressionism, we admired Turner, Van Goth, Mondrian, Rothko, Bridget Riley, but we floundered as we sought to express ourselves without a story to help. This is a huge leap, for humanity has always told stories. I grew up alongside a noble Kenyan tribe whose lives had hardly changed for millennia and each evening around the fire they told stories about their world.

 To say nothing is a giant step. You are asking the viewer to connect their brain to the pigments, the shapes, the energy. Note, not their mind where we think and enjoy stories, but our brain where we perceive. Without thinking about subject matter, the canvas with its rawness holds us in the present moment.

My particular intention has been to feel in my body and brain what happens when transparent colours are layered in various combinations. I sought colours which look alive, yet are subtle and which work together to create a subtle electricity generated by the difference between one hue and the next. To provide a sensual contemplation that might lift the mood as the interaction of these bands, lines and shapes produce movement, sending dynamic messages to the brain.

These areas of calm or vibrant energy play one with the other, triggering a mental pause, a potent zone, an emotional swish which opens the attention. Going with these moments, letting expectation flit away, allowing instinct to overtake thought, suspends all desire to understand. Simply be with the picture, let the arrangement resonate in the eye and the emotions triggered. 

You are in the moment. In a real sense, the abstract painting is a meditation which you can enter time and again as you stand with it. Each painting, I like to think, is a dew drop of mindfulness. 

See page of Iain Dryden for more work.