BLOG—THOUGHTS ON ABSTRACTION


Mark Dunst is pleased to announce his new representation by LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY.

Established in 2018, LAURA VINCENT DESIGN & GALLERY defines its artistic program through the work of represented contemporary artists with soulful and discerning voices. Exhibition based, the gallery hosts shows of regional, national and international artwork. Thoughtfully intertwining the worlds of design and fine art, the design studio and gallery strives to present a welcoming, intellectually and aesthetically inspiring gallery experience. 

While often considered synonymous, intuition and improvisation (specifically in regards to painting—think intuitive painting vs improvisational painting) possess distinct characteristics and limitations. Intuition is the ability to grasp something instinctively without the need for conscious reasoning. It’s an immediate apprehension, a type of cognition that bypasses evident rational thought. This instinctive feeling is rooted in past experiences, forming a shortcut to decision-making. Intuition operates on familiar grounds, using known paradigms to navigate new or uncertain situations. It seeks to eliminate uncertainty, focusing on achieving a solution.

I keep running into the idea that culturally we’re stuck. The latest was an article penned by NYT columnist, Jason Farago titled, "Why Culture Has Come to a Standstill." Certainly I’ve seen this standstill in contemporary art (mine isn’t immune). Most definitely we're stuck on a broader societal level, we’ve been stuck recycling old ideas for some time. There’s not much culture that appeared 30 years ago that’s qualitatively different from today. Music is pretty much the same, movies, art, fashion—all really haven’t changed. One may be able to point out an instance here or there, but the broader swath has been relatively unchanged.

I’m standing in front of the canvas and I’m at a point, again, where things need to come together and nothing’s working. I work improvisationally, so there’s no plan, there’s no set way to bail myself out, I’ve run out of safety line, nothing can save this pile of shit aside from starting over, and that’s not an option. Of course, of course, of course, I’ve tried to solve the problem intellectually—reasoning my way out of being completely lost—looking at the formal qualities, introducing this color here and that line there, emphasizing this, downplaying that, but nothing’s working. Everything I’ve tried makes it worse. Cycling through excuse after excuse, the frustration builds, everything I do is complete shit.

Affective Abstraction explores the undisclosed nature of things. It immerses itself in the complexity, the contradictions and the chaos of our everyday lives. Rather than imposing a personal feeling onto the canvas, Affective Abstraction strives to draw something out of the canvas, some sort of broader mood or attitude, a collective felt experience. It describes the indescribable undercurrent that defines contemporary times. But before I go too much further, I’d like to give you a little background on non-consciousness, affect and Abstract Expressionism.

Sometimes you find an answer to a difficult question by turning it around. Like in the studio, turning the canvas around during the painting process (particularly when I feel stuck) allows me to see the work in a new way. I pick up on things that I couldn’t see before and build on those, discovering something new.

Is aesthetics mainly a way to recognize and communicate desire and a shared identity? We may not share the same sense of aesthetics with other people or things in nature but does everything share a need for aesthetics? If I'm thinking about birds, they have some markings or movements or dances or sounds that maybe don't register as aesthetic to me but are beautiful within their group. We may not share the same aesthetics as these birds, but is the need for aesthetics, in all its varieties, a constant in all "things"?

Lost & Found
2022.3.27

When I was a kid, we lived in a sprawling apartment complex in Denver, CO. I must've been 3 or 4 at the time. On the way home from the tiny community pool, I realized I had left my favorite t-shirt behind. It was navy, short-sleeved and showcased a muscular cartoon football player with a thick neck that stopped at the collar where my head became the player's head. (It didn’t hurt that I had a helmet-shaped haircut.) I looked all over for it: around the pool deck, under the chairs, at the bottom of the pool, by the bushes, in the parking lot—several times. My brother finally shouted, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?! My shirt! I shot back, my eyes darting around in desperation, glaring at the pool-goers who obviously stole it. YOU'RE WEARING IT!! Whaaaaa...? Such a relief to look down and find my favorite shirt that had never been missing. That's a large part of what I think my abstract painting practice is, an opportunity to search for the things I thought I had lost only to find that I’d been looking for them in the wrong places.

I've started a longer term project uncertain of where it will end up. I'm creating nonrepresentational maps. In general, maps are made of lines, shapes, colors and symbols. Like drawing, some lines divide and others connect. We use maps for wayfinding (like a road map to plan and follow a route) connecting us to destinations and dividing territories. While maps for wayfaring (say a topographical map) we use to help us understand the make up of the land.

We're familiar with improvisation in comedy and theater and jazz. When you get right down to it, we live our lives improvisationally every day. We're constantly adjusting and reacting to the world around us. Unplanned and unforeseen events pepper us without notice and sometimes at the most inconvenient times—a detour on the way to work or the printer stops working right before a deadline. Or something more fun like playing a made-up game with our kids or co-creating a story with them right before bedtime. Improvisation helps us to navigate the complex nature of our lived experiences. It provides the tools to help us confidently sit in a space of uncertainty and constant change. It allows us to participate in the recursive relationships between order and disorder, constraints and possibilities, cognitive and unconscious processes. It provides a method that offers a dialectic and non-judgmental stage that is open to the world as it unfolds in the present moment, generating creative connections that help us take that next step.

I was asked by Drawing Box International to create a video focused on my drawing practice.

(More videos in the About section.)

I paint pictures of nothing. What I mean is, I paint pictures of no "thing," In non-representional art, there's no subject, there's no landscape, there's no figure or still life or narrative. In a fragmented, materialistic world, where everything is everywhere all at once all the time, do pictures of nothing mean anything? Are they just surface and no substance? Or do they have the potential to mean more, to be felt deeper or on a different register, than images of any "thing” could?

We used to have some universal truths we could all get behind. But then we discovered that "universal" wasn't quite that. It was more "majority" and many of those "truths" became obstacles impeding our growth. To understand what was happening, we began to look a little closer at these truths.

I'm, we’re, tired of the cynical irony. The bitterness, the anger. We call out "others" but rarely take responsibility ourselves.

Non representational painting is a negation of physical reality and initially needs to be described as what it is not. It does not represent a thing, a person or a place. There is no story or narrative it's trying to tell. Simply put, it does not represent material reality. It’s the same with nonobjective painting, often geometric but not always, it can strive for ideas of purity and virtue without relying on material symbols. They both work in that gap between the material and the immaterial.

I work non-representationally meaning I’ve removed the material subject as well as the narrative. I’m also not fixated on the outcome. What I’m looking for is somewhere in the process of painting itself where I’ve chosen the gesture as my primary vernacular.

I’ve been to Disneyland a couple of times. Once when I was a kid and once when my kids were small. The last time I was there, we went on a ride that I remembered from my childhood--a racetrack. The mini Indy car is set on a monorail which winds throughout the course. There’s enough play in the steering wheel and a “gas” pedal that gives you some semblance of control over the car. My son was driving and I was in the passenger seat. I could see the same exhilaration in his face I felt as a young boy as he tore off the starting line and raced at imaginary high speeds in an attempt to win the cup.

I’ve been reading up on Process Philosophy lately. I was intrigued after reading that Robert Motherwell studied the Process Philosophy of Alfred Whitehead at Harvard in their philosophy PhD program (and then ultimately finishing his art studies at Columbia University). Process Philosophy in a nutshell speculates that the building blocks of all reality are not based on matter (or molecules or protons or genes, etc).

My son and I like go downhill mountain biking. That’s where you take a ski chairlift up to the top of the mountain (in the summertime of course), point the bike downhill and hang on. Inevitably the first few runs are always the hardest. I try hard to navigate around or through each and every obstacle, of which there are more than not. The ride is violent and tense and not easy. But as soon as I release control a bit, I start to flow over the obstacles. Whereas earlier I would be spotting each and every single obstacle whooshing by at what seems like 100 mph on a 3-mile stretch, now I’m looking further down the trail to spot fun parts. I lossen my grip a little on the handle bars and let the bike find it’s natural rythm. I feel more connected to the trail, rather than the trail being an adervsary. 

Why Paint
2020.9.1

I paint because I have to. Maybe that sounds like an easy out. Let me explain. Like every other kid, I loved doing art—mostly painting and drawing. As I got closer to high school, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to do fine art for a living. I did end up getting my BFA in painting, but immediately started a career in graphic design and illustration. Yet after 25 years in the design field, something was missing. I knew it was my art but I hadn’t touched a paintbrush since graduating. It took me several years before I was able to put brush to canvas again. I never looked back and I transitioned my career from graphic design to full-time artist.


I paint to discover something, to connect to something. I paint to find solace in the flux of uncertainty. To explore a space of complexity and contradiction. To better understand the relationship between self and other.

My work develops in a state of not knowing. I don't have a plan in mind when I start, I have no idea what the finished painting will look like. I even don't know immediately when a painting is done. Working in the unknown this way is challenging. Having no idea if this brush stroke, color, mark I'm going to put down will make or ruin the painting. Again and again, day after day, minute after minute, doubt and fear creep into the psyche—rejection echoing in my head.

It's easy to get seduced into avoiding today's painting session because I can't muster the mental grit to sit in the darkness of the unknown again. But the reward of having endured the unknown and eventually finding my way out is beyond compare. What I seem to be learning over and over is the need to let go. That’s what is so hard about sitting in the unknown, expectations start to creep in and take me out of the present moment. And it's in the present moment where my art is created—where the magic happens. It is in the present moment where I am not afraid to sit in the abyss of not knowing.

I don't take enough time to document things that catch my attention. Simple things that pull me out of my normal mindset and just let me look at them for a quiet moment. A few things that caught my attention recently:

  • This alien shadow being cast from apartment utility lines across the street from the hardware store.

  • The variety of beautiful blue- and purple-blacks on the back of a raven and their confident, yet awkward saunter while they size me up.

  • The scrawling of a code on a sidewalk, repeated over and over until it was illegible but left a wonderful texture.

  • The color of the sky after dusk last night driving to the airport. The double-decker bridge cropped the sky and framed the most beautiful soft and intense purpley-pink.