Composition as Pattern
The realist artist attempts to represent the external world in its original terms. His brain works to coordinate his hand and eye. The expressionist is more interested in communicating, through personal and subjective means, the emotions that the world generates in him. He works on expressing emotional content, rather than depicting the object. The abstractionist, on the other hand, is neither interested in depicting the real world as it appears to the eye nor his emotional reactions to it. While representing reality, he works on intellectualizing the object into combinations of complex ideas.
A realist paints a tree, trying his best to visually replicate the object. This leaves part of the emotional or intellectual work to the viewer. Now the same tree created by an expressionist would be distorted by the idiosyncratic forms and colors the artist has chosen to use, or by the length of his brushstrokes. An abstractionist, trying to understand the form of a tree, would intellectualize the qualities of the tree into a pattern that reveals the idea “tree.”
The patterns, colors, or ideas of these three approaches overlap. There cannot be any painting that is purely realistic, expressionistic, or abstract, since to create any work of art, the artist’s eyes, emotions, and intellect must function together. Even realistic drawings can have abstract components that most observers miss.
The modern painter Matisse defined composition as “the art of arranging, in a decorative manner, the various elements at the artist’s disposal.” Broadly, composition can be classified into two types — two-dimensional and three-dimensional composition — with a spectrum of other levels falling between these two extremes.
In two-dimensional paintings, the artist must be innovative in using the limited tools of lines, dots, flat shapes, and colors. In the art of Bapu (Figure1) for instance, patterns of lines are abstract elements that create the two-dimensional image. Bapu’s drawings are similar to decorative art that lies flat on the wall or surface. Importantly, however, their curved lines effectively contrast the other forms in the work of art.
In the three-dimensional paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, one may recognize a realistic art that draws from abstract principles in its use of vertical lines. Varma’s Princess Damayanti (Figure 2), which depicts Damayanthi sending a message to Nala through a swan, features many vertical lines. The pleats on Damayanthi’s clothing, the folds in the robe behind her, the striations of the tree trunks in the background, and the leaning plantain tree — all of these elements are used to create a common pattern and draw the eye.
The curved lines in Bapu and the vertical lines in Ravi Varma are abstract features, making it difficult to classify these artists’ works as strictly realistic, expressionistic or abstract.
Brinda Pamulapati, owner/managing director, of Venvi Art Gallery in Tallahassee, can be reached at (850) 322-0965 or visit www.VenviArtGallery.com