Approaches & Perspective: Abstract Art (Part I)

There are infinite approaches to abstraction, and for a non-artist or new gallery-goer, the idea of such an open-ended body of work can be overwhelming. To make abstract art a little less scary and a little more accessible, I interviewed five Studio Gallery artists to ask what their perspectives on abstraction are (keep an eye out for Part 2!). By exploring each artist’s unique portfolio, let’s uncover some of the mystery and intrigue of abstraction together!

Poison, Elizabeth Beach, 2018. Acrylic paint on canvas. Inquire.

Custer Never Had a Chance, Joyce McCarten, Oil on canvas, 36” x 36”, 2019. Inquire.

Cold Mountain, Kathryn Camicia, 2017, Latex and oil paint on canvas, 30" x 30". Inquire.

Meet The Artists

Joyce McCarten

Joyce was our solo exhibitor from May to June, and exhibited paintings made by observing and abstracting experiences with her husband Walter. The show was titled My Pirate Days, referencing her and her husband’s “stolen time” together before he passed away from cancer. Her paintings were large, filling up the white gallery walls with emotion-filled abstractions, and titles referencing some of her favorite memories with her husband. Apart from My Pirate Days, she makes oil paintings “through observation, interpretation, experimentation and pure imagination” by “taking the familiar and altering it until it reflects her artistic vision”. Continue reading to learn more about her process and thoughts on abstraction.

My Pirate Days, Oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2019. Inquire.

Explain why you choose abstract painting in your artistic practice over other mediums and art types. What about abstraction is important to you?

“Abstract painting has always been the place I intended to take my art practice.  In my early days of painting in the 1970’s, I saw a few Richard Diebenkorn reproductions, and they greatly influenced me.  I was, however, new to art making and I felt I needed some instruction in traditional drawing and painting.  Those were the years I got married, had two children and began a career in the publishing world.  I left the career behind in the 1980’s to be with my children and paint. Actually, the care of my children took over, and very little painting was accomplished.  In the late 80’s, I began to attend classes and work on my own, with the goal of making large abstract paintings. I’ve always felt that the formal issues of structure, color, line, shape and surface could say as much about the world as a representational painting.”

Berber Camp, Oil on canvas, 15” x 30”, 2019. Inquire.

What is your favorite subject matter, and what goes into perfecting an artistic vision?

“Most paintings are about locations, social/political issues or personal experiences.  It’s not easy to make an abstract painting about any subject. When one has a subject in mind, it is hard to get away from a representational image.  That is when the artist usually tries to turn from a symbolic representation to the feelings one has for the subject.  For example, if you are trying to make an abstract painting about rock structures in the southwestern U.S., you will concentrate on the shapes of the rocks, the structure and the color.  The painting will not be a picture of the place, but it will evoke a feeling of the place you have in mind. Most of my painting life has revolved around location (landscape). I have made many trips to exotic places, especially in Africa and I have had two Studio Gallery exhibitions about my 2002 trip to Niger.  It was there that I slept in the desert with nomads, bought goats at a goat market, experienced a sandstorm and traveled to a market where most of the people arrived on donkeys. I made sketches there, but when I came home, I made a body of abstract work about my trip. In both of my exhibitions, some people who did not know me, came into the gallery and said they knew exactly what my paintings were about. I’m always pleased when that happens. It is very challenging for the public to understand what an abstract painting is trying to say. The best you can hope for is that for some reason, a buyer, or an admirer, enjoys a painting even if they do not get the content.”

Icebreaker, 36 x 36”, Oil on canvas, 2019. Inquire.

Close Up

“Before Walter Smith and I were married in 2006, he had made a journey to the Arctic on a Russian ice breaker. As I loved to travel to unique places, this journey to the Arctic was a sign to me that Walter would be willing to go with me on my travels. I dated men whose dreams were about houses on golf courses, and that was not how I wanted to proceed in life. Before I made this painting, I put out all of Walter’s photographs on the ice breaker and closed my eyes and imagined what it was like. I also watched videos online. Then, I went to make the painting thinking about water and breaking through ice. This is a very expressionistic painting, but very typical of the way I paint.”

Experience-Based Abstraction

“With the last two solo exhibitions I have had at Studio Gallery, I changed my emphasis from location to personal experience.  In 2014 I discovered that my 13-yr hip replacement was failing and the fragments from the replacement were attacking my greater trochanter.  The x-ray of my situation looked very strange and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I decided to concentrate on learning more about the human hip bone and I began to draw and paint it furiously.”

Like A Calico Suitcase, Mixed media on board, 13” x 14”. Inquire.

Moroccan Desert, Oil on Canvas, 15” x 30”. Inquire.

Experience-Based Abstraction Con’t

“In 2015 I decided to do a show about “My Beautiful Bones.” I knew this would not be a big seller - but I needed to resolve my issues about my hip joint that had plagued me my whole life. These were not really abstract paintings, nor were they medically correct in all ways.  It was a cathartic experience for me and gave me great solace. 

In 2018 my second husband of 12 years died of cancer, and once again, I was faced with a personal experience that overshadowed any other subject that could be a theme for a solo art show.  My husband was such a fun character, with many peculiar sayings and ways, and I decided to use those as the basis for my paintings. Fighting my way through grief and making large abstract paintings was about the most challenging thing I have ever done.”

Abstraction & The Public

“The paintings may have been ambiguous to the public, but when I told the stories behind the paintings, the art took on new meaning for everyone. I used my own visual vocabulary to remember the good times of our marriage.

I don’t think abstraction is more meaningful than realism.  Perhaps there is more mystery in abstraction, but both ways of creating can be satisfying for an artist and, hopefully, the public.” 

Stacking Coins, Oil on Canvas, 48” x 30”. Inquire.

Kathryn Camicia

Kathryn focuses on the “sensuality of paint,” and plays with the medium to create abstractions evocative of familiar places, or places that have significant personal meaning to her. Incredible texture is one of the perks of Kathryn’s exuberant love for pushing the boundaries of paint, and she isn’t hesitant to experiment with it! Kathryn’s color palettes are more complex than they perhaps let on at first glance - when given a longer look, the greens in a forest-like scene such as Maine, 2017 melt into streams of crimson and French grays.

Burnt Island, Latex and oil paint on canvas. 30” x 30” 2017. Inquire.

Explain why you choose abstract painting in your artistic practice over other mediums and art types. What about abstraction is important to you? 

”I love the tactile experience of paint. I think somewhere in my artist’s statement I mentioned that I love it when people ask if they can touch my paintings. I want people to desire to be in the painting experience, not assessing it from a distance as I so often witness.”

How do you personally experience abstraction, and how do you want to share it with others?

”For me all art should take us out of our everyday lives and give us a new and hopefully enriching experience. My own reaction to abstract works of art is usually one of startle, confusion, suspension and finally a more defined feeling. I enjoy that process and hope others do too. Also I focus entirely on nature which to me is a highly sensate (as opposed to intellectual) experience. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the detritus of nature (remains on the beach, winter garden) and find great beauty in it. This leads to abstraction for me. It depicts the uncertainty of life which is more real to me than representation.”

Ma, Latex and oil paint on canvas. 30” x 30” 2017. Inquire.

Maine, Latex and oil paint on canvas. 30” x 30” 2017. Inquire.


“There is an interesting quote by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, author of In Praise of Shadows, which is “the quality that we call beauty must always grow from the realties of life”. For me that means using anything and everything that is available to me. The experience of a place can stay with me for some time. It is interesting to see what emerges from that internalized experience—colors, shapes, lines—which refer to that experience but do not try to replicate it. I just want resonance with the particular place I paint.”

I love that you use titles of familiar places (Maine, Colorado, etc.) to explore the unknown. Can you please elaborate on why you choose to do this, and what it means to you as an artist?

“With [the above] in mind, the image that I attached is called “Hey, Colorado”.  My daughter moved there five years ago and it was heart-wrenching for me to have her so far away.  On the other hand, I find it a beautiful place to be. So, I painted this after staring at the Rocky Mountains for a while.  She has it in her home and tells me that people like it very much; even those who don’t think they like abstract art.”

Hey, Colorado, Latex and oil paint. 30” x 60” 2016. Inquire.

Elizabeth Beach

Elizabeth Beach is one of our new Christenberry fellows! She makes paintings based on stress-relieving music and sounds, and the results are magnificently exciting. Shapes and colors collide to create unique, lively compositions. Her paintings pull us into our own worlds of daydreams and wonders. Her titles give some context (such as Saturday in the Park), but her distinctive creations still allow our curious minds to wander. We love all of the different ways that her artworks can be interpreted, and the many ways that they make us feel depending on our interpretations.

She Ain’t You, 2018, acrylic on canvas

You paint for specific reasons (stress relief, ability to achieve deep concentration) and use music and sounds to inspire your process. Is there a certain way that you hope your viewers will be impacted by your paintings or interpret your paintings?

“I personally do not look for different ways viewers look at my work, but I am curious what they might see. In the past I have heard people say it might make them feel a certain emotion while others will see hidden shapes that I may not have seen in the final piece. For example, in one of my pieces titled Summit (Penguin, Duck, Rocketship); I had added to the title because there was a one particular shape that had many friends "fighting", jokingly, over if the shape was a penguin, duck, or rocket ship. I though it was cute and added it on. That I would say I like to hear more about, because everyone see's something a little different, and I am naturally curious.”

What does abstraction mean to you? Why do you choose abstract painting in your artistic practice over other mediums and art types? 

“Well, I originally wanted to be a still life and landscape painter. To this day I still do make an occasional still life, but as a pencil drawing. But I came across an expressionist artist in a college class named Wassily Kandinsky. His work triggered something in me that I found inspiring. Medium hadn't really changed but the concept of my work did. It felt amazing to do abstract paintings because I could express myself better and it felt more like "me" than creating landscapes. I feel like abstract work is a great way to express oneself, and there are multitudes of ways and styles of expression, and that's why l like it so much.”

Saturday In The Park 1/2, 2018, monotype on Bristol board

Black Vase, 2018, colored pencil on toned paper

Please share some of your favorite music/noises to paint to. Is there a certain genre of music that you have not yet explored through your paintings, and why? 

“Like I mentioned earlier about Wassily Kandinsky, he was my greatest influence, and I thank my college professors for exposing me this amazing artist and encouraging me experiment. He had something called synesthesia, which is a disorder that jumbles the five senses. Kandinsky's version was whatever he heard, he could also see these sounds. I do not have the disorder, but when I try to meditate to music to get over my moments of terrible anxiety; I was struck with the colors and shapes, design, etc. So it all started with the concept of synesthesia and Kandinsky and deep meditation. I think its more interesting to listen to lots of pop music, mostly because of the variety of color and shape. But I find it most interesting listening to Linkin Park, mostly because listening to the lead singer, Chester, always makes me see a wavelength. I've tried listening to different songs by the band and I always see some kind of wavelength, which is interesting to me. One genre I haven't really listened to is Rap music, mostly because of personal taste, but I have come across a couple in the recent weeks which have an inspiring look to them when I meditate.”

Close Up

“Trying to choose one of my pieces is like choosing my favorite child. So, with having mentioned it earlier, Summit (Penguin, Duck, Rocketship). It was my first abstract drawing and causes people to ask what they see in the middle of the piece. I liked it because the song was a techno song and the fact that it triggered so many things to be included in a small window. Also I can't make up my mind if I see and penguin, duck, or rocket ship.”

Summit (Penguin, Duck, Rocketship), 2017, colored pencil and ink pen on paper, 11” x 14”

Interested in learning more about Kathryn, Joyce, and Elizabeth? Visit their artist pages and websites here:

Elizabeth Beach’s artist page and website.

Joyce McCarten’s artist page and website.

Kathryn Camicia’s artist page and website.

Or, if you’d like to learn more about other Studio Gallery artists’ approaches to abstract art, keep an eye out for the part II to this post (coming soon)!


From staff contributor Halley Stubis.