Abstracting Realism

Last semester, in one of my painting classes, I was given a rare challenge. I don’t tend to be much fazed by the assignments my professors throw at me, but this one was surprisingly difficult. The premise was simple and maybe even trite- take a largely representational/realistic painting and abstract it. I chose Vincent Desiderio’s Sumo:


Vincent Desiderio, Sumo, 2008, oil on canvas

I was drawn to the sense of movement and weight of the forms, which I thought may translate well into abstraction. This was my result:

Sumo Abstracted Megan Koth (400x318)

Megan Koth, Sumo, Acrylic on Canvas

During the whole process, I was constantly having to stop myself from making it too realistic- pretty much the opposite of what I had planned in my head. I approached the project thinking “I’m gonna make this so abstract as to be mostly unrecognizable to the original.” Obviously, that didn’t happen. I think that challenge came because my abstracts tend to be almost strictly formalist- I don’t look at references or have “subject matter” in mind when doing my abstract work. So, having to look at some serious subject matter while doing an abstract painting was a huge challenge for me.

I’m not necessarily happy with his painting in the sense that I think it’s a really good painting and I would put it in my portfolio or anything, but I’m happy with the painting in relation to the original and the assignment. My current professor said something partly in jest yesterday that I think apt: “your guy’s problem is that you all want to make good paintings.” Sometimes, we have to abandon our tried-and-true tendencies (especially as students!) and be willing to fail, in order to truly be challenged, and therefore to grow, as artists.