Part two of our Approaches and Perspective: Abstract Art series is finally here! Read on to learn about Studio Gallery artists Suzanne Yurdin and William Bowser. How do they approach abstraction in their artistic practices? What about abstraction draws them in more than other methods of art-making? Abstraction is a broad subject with infinite approaches, so let’s continue deconstructing the scary exterior of abstract art by zooming in on some more local artists and their thoughts. Without further ado, here come the interviews!
Suzanne Yurdin’s artistic practice has largely been inspired by climate change and the idea of the altered landscape. She describes her paintings as “triggering memories rather than describing a specific place, while evoking a sense of urgency to preserve the natural beauty around us.” Suzanne’s paintings are powerfully dynamic within their gentle color palettes, and we love that her works are environmentally driven.
Elaborate on how your process impacts your subject matter and vice versa.
As an abstract artist, I rely on the experience and memory of a place to guide me in interpreting the landscape. Traveling throughout my life has given me an abundance of inspiration. If I can’t paint on location, my photography helps me to capture the outlines and serves as a catalyst to create art in the studio.
How do you hope your abstract paintings will impact viewers or be interpreted?
Throughout my career, I have been amazed by the viewers who interpret my paintings with absolute certainty of a particular locale. Why would I challenge that view by telling them the painting was inspired by somewhere else entirely? The very nature of all art is interpretive as seen through the eyes and memories of the viewer.
For you, what about abstracted landscapes make them more powerful than if they were rendered in a way more aligned with realism?
Nature, architecture and their intersections are my chosen subject matter. I’m particularly drawn to all things water-related. Rather than define a specific place, the only important element to me is pursuing and creating a sense of place in my paintings. That is much more powerful to me and speaks to the importance of interpretive painting.
I have no favorite [painting], but this small artwork shows my process of interpreting the sense of place as seen from my photo of the rock formations and water at The Baths in Virgin Gorda.
William Bowser is a fairly new member of Studio Gallery’s artist cooperative, and he’s been making waves with his ceramic sculptures! Known as kübels, fabrications, and structures, his creations hold an intensely curious energy. To me, his kübels are especially inviting due to their collaged, castle-like exteriors that evoke a narrative quality. What personal stories are bursting out of his ceramics? Well that’s up to us to decide. In William’s artist statement, he writes that he has “a need to communicate suggestions of my inner life through my work, although my job is not to come to conclusions, but more to allow questions to arise in the viewer. If any of my ideas get communicated, it is because both myself and the viewer have allowed their minds to wander.”
Idea, form and process are closely linked. For me, it’s circular; form may determine process, idea may determine form, process may determine form, or idea may determine process may determine form, and on, and on. Usually I start with an idea of form, but not always. But idea, form, and process must be appropriate for one another. This is largely a subjective decision.
I've always been interested in hand-building. However, when I started working in clay I was seduced by working on the wheel. And I do mean seduced - there is definitely something mesmerizing about the throwing process once the initial frustrations abate. Part of the seduction of throwing is that you work with a spinning mass of a material which, by its own nature, is formless, and your job is to get in synch with that mass under circular movement around a central, still point, in order to make something. After learning to apply the proper force or pressure to gain control of the mass, and the basic skills are digested, your work can become highly focused and sort of semi-conscious. But for me, over time, this approach became too predictable and too limiting. This does not happen to every thrower and many continue working this way very creatively.
…But sometimes an idea requires that I use round forms, or round then altered forms, so back on the wheel I get. A while ago I was interested in the forms of large concrete conduits which are buried under our streets and are used to direct municipal water and drainage back to the local water treatment facility (The Joined series on my website. I may go back to this.). I’m also interested in Architecture (also on the website) - the non-human as well as the primitive, ancient and new built world around us.
However, about 4 years ago I decided that the forms and processes I became interested in had to be more direct, not relying so much on equipment, but primarily just my hands, a few tools, and the formless mass in front of me, which under these new conditions had much more potential for the forms that I had in mind. The work became more open-ended and allowed me to follow ideas as I worked, while radical changes became possible, but sometimes, confounding. I suppose there’s always a starting point, but working in this fashion I can change direction when the need occurs to me. I like the struggle. It pulls me in to that highly focused but non-intellectual state of mind. This is the process I’ve used for the kübel series.
The kübel Series
I’m somewhere on a path with the kübel series (see website). I start with a general idea and usually draw or sketch a number of different directions I might take. Then get to work. All I can say is that there are many challenges, twists and turns, and revisions that I run across along the way.
I started making kübels when I was blocked, and needed a fresh start. All I needed were a few basics, a simple form, to get going. I recalled that my great grandfather’s name was Kübel, and in German a kübel is a simple bucket or pail, although my strong suspicion is that he was far from simple or basic. But that was the beginning of the series - a simple slightly conical form with 2 openings near the top which derived from the handles that historical buckets often had, and additionally, with some method of keeping these buckets off the ground. Those were the basics. Wanting to keep things simple, I decided that I’d make the kübels with slabs, which seemed consistent with the historical buckets I’d seen, some of which were made from well fitted wooden slats. I think this is where form, idea, and process become circular and inform each other. They have become very un-simple.
As I worked on the kübel series, I would accumulate a fair amount of bits and pieces of clay cut from the slabs that I was making and I realized that I should do something with all those chunks and bits so I wouldn’t have to recycle much of them, which is laborious and I’d honestly prefer not to have to do it.
The pieces were often similar, mostly small but odd pieces. I decided they would allow me a good exercise to improvise. My loose guidelines were not to alter them much if at all. Sometimes one simple cut was all I needed. I could join them in any fashion that I liked at the time. I start them with no up-front idea of what to make, just to start and see what happens.
In terms of inspiration, who knows? I often think that essentially it’s an anxiety “to make”. For me, making is a way to help me understand where I am in all this. Making seems solid, like a place or a thing is solid. A poem is solid, a painting is solid, dance is solid, song is solid. Something doesn’t have to be solid to be solid.
I can’t (or don’t) want to presume what a viewer might interpret, think, gain, or dismiss. I feel like my job is to make a thing. I try not to be too specific. My hope is that my objects contain some allusive or metaphorical meaning for the viewer, and allow them to determine for themselves or allow them to see something in themselves about what meaning is. I’m hopeful for resonance but I also think that meaning is fluid and even fickle.
Learn more about Suzanne Yurdin, William Bowser, and Studio Gallery’s other abstract artists by visiting our website. Or, to inquire about a piece, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From staff contributor Halley Stubis.