Contemporary abstract painting and spiritual experience: an investigation through practice

Evans, Michael (2013) Contemporary abstract painting and spiritual experience: an investigation through practice. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This investigation reaches beyond one single discipline or mode of discourse, exploring current possibilities for contemporary abstract painting and spiritual experience. Types of experience associated with previous 'spiritual' abstract painting are explored in view of the need for new languages for abstraction and spirituality in both word and image. This is developed alongside. the recognition of the importance of engagement with the contemporary world for abstract painting (in this case via technology). The investigation is given a theoretical critical context through reference to and analysis of writers such as Donald Kuspit, Peter Fuller, James Elkins and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe and three leading painters Gerhard Richter, Jan McKeever and David Reed along with a record and analysis of my own painting and digital images. Abstract painting and spiritual experience are subjected to critique and reinterpretation within this investigation and a contemporary concept of the spiritual emerges through an opening of thought found within postmodernism and a renewed critical interest in negative theology. .' Negative theology is seen as having similarities to a broader apophatic outlook found both in contemporary thought and art. This leads to a contemporary model of abstract painting and spiritual experience using a language of doubt through terms such as the unknowable, unrepresentable or unintelligible. The initial process based paintings of this investigation explored problems surrounding authorship and of authorial suspension via process, however a counter and more positive aspect of process emerged from an alternative alchemical or hypostatic view of process painting as a deep. engagement with matter. The limitations of process painting are considered, for example, basic repetitiveness, lack of surface and form, lack of imaginative engagement and most importantly the lack of risk on an emotional or psychological level. Previous modernist models of spiritual abstraction are seen to be made problematic by contemporary critical theory resulting in the need for a new, contemporary language for spiritually motivated abstract painting. Through the use of image deconvolution software (normally used within the sciences) relatively formless process paintings gave rise to new digitally generated form. Subsequent paintings were a response to the potential of these digital forms arid reintroduced both brushstrokes and form within an abstract, illusionistic space. This investigation explores a language of the unknown and unfamiliar within a broader context of doubt as positive strategy. Process and technology along with a critical reintroduction of authorial subjectivity and imaginative response gave rise to strange and unpredictable paintings which exist within a contemporary discourse of the apophatic, a mode in which, I argue, a contemporary form of spirituality may also be encountered.

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