One of the great conundrums of abstract painting is reconciling effect and intention. There is a language of abstraction which one becomes familiar with over years and decades of looking at individual pictures within the grand evolution of a particular artist’s work. Yet despite that familiarity there always lingers a question of what was intended both in the process of making the work and how we, as the viewers, might interpret it.
The entry-level question that always gets asked about abstraction is whether the artist meant it – was all this just a happy accident? Or is there some mysterious language that must be learned before one can truly appreciate an abstract painting? The easy answer is that, once you let go of questions about intention, effect becomes everything – you can let your eye float into the fields of colour, along the marks and grooves, and let the full frame of the picture overwhelm you.
In Aida Tomescu’s A Long Line of Sand at Fox Jensen Gallery, the effect is exquisite. In a concise show of just four works, three triptychs and one diptych, the artist explores the enormous scale of the canvases – three of them measuring 206 x 480 centimetres each – expanding and literally enlarging on Tomescu’s previous vocabulary of line and colour into a vast and continental-scaled vision.
Looking at the detailed interplay of stroke, incision, and the traces of splashed and pours of paint, I was reminded of the HiRISE satellite photographs of the surface of Mars. Puzzling over these photos taken from orbit, scientists are attempting to decipher the titanic forces that once created mountains, valleys and what appears to be the residue and flow channels of ancient lakes and rivers. All the signs are there – it’s just a matter of working out how the eerie stillness of the present surface came to be.
Tomescu’s painting has evolved over the last 20 years from works with surfaces that bore a calligraphic trace – part drawing, part writing – inscribed over layers of paint. Those paintings eventually gave way to the artist’s most recognisable style, pictures that explored colour and surface in rich and toothsome slabs of layered paint. While some traces of these approaches remain in this latest show, A Long Line of Sand represents something of a new direction. It feels as though the artist is trying out a new variation, exploring the possibilities of what could be in a much larger scale version of the previous work.
Being a viewer of Tomescu’s work is a bit like being a distant and remote observer, always floating just above the surface, our ability to reason almost overwhelmed by the sublimity of viewing. So what are we to make of this? The catalogue provides a clue with a quote from Arnold Schoenberg: “we cannot expect the form before the idea, for they will come into being together.”
Rather than searching for a definitive and specific meaning, Tomescu’s work achieves its aim through an accumulation of effect and intention. Like our expeditions to other worlds, we don’t know what we will find there, but the journey is worth taking.
Published by The Review Board, June 25, 2021