Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reconciling Naturalism and Abstraction

Dead Tree Along Kankakee River. Lithograph by Ken Januski.

The recent sale of an older abstract work, Chesnut Park Number 16, along with the completion of a watercolor sketch of a juvenile Purple Finch based on a sighting last week reminded me of how much my art has often fluctuated between abstraction and naturalism and/or realism.

In looking for a very old etching I did that married abstraction and naturalism to some extent I ran across the lithograph pictured above. I've never formally studied woodblock or linoleum block printing, my current printing media. My first actual study of printmaking was in the basement of the UC Berkeley Student Union, thus the name of my etsy store berkeleySU, and the subject was lithography.

Since I did strictly abstract art for so many years after getting my MA from Berkeley and only recently turned to naturalism I'm always a but surprised to see something like the print above. Obviously there is a realistic subject but I tried to hide it pretty well, concentrating instead of both composition and the process of lithography, experimenting to see what types of marks I could get. Still I did like the idea of combining the two. I hope that perhaps this explains a bit why I continue to stay away from naturalism that is particularly straightforward.

Chestnut Park Number 16. Charcoal Drawing by Ken Januski.

When I moved to Philadelphia around 30 years ago my first works were abstract charcoal drawings like the one pictured above. It's 23x29 inches and titled Chestnut Park Number 16. The entire series was called Chestnut Park, Chestnut because my studio was on Chestnut Street almost next door to the Ben Franklin Hotel, and park because I felt that my shapes were getting more organic, like critters you might see in a park.

I've always liked this work even though I no longer work in this style. Because I'm still quite fond of it and think that it is of high quality I also have some of it for sale on a separate etsy store, OldAndAbstract. I was happily surprised to sell my first work from that store just recently.

Juvenile Purple Finch in Dogwood. Watercolor Sketch by Ken Januski.

As I've said here more than once before when I got disgusted with the contemporary art world and could no longer see a viable place for myself in it I eventually turned to naturalism, first insects found in the garden and drawn while viewed under a dissecting microscope and finally birds, in about 2006. I quickly realized how little I knew about birds, even though I'd been birding for 10 years or so at that point. It has been a long struggle to be able to understand them and to be able to draw or paint them successfully.

Soon after I started I realized I'd get nowhere working from photos and that I needed to work from life in order to truly understand birds. Easier said than done but I can say that today I'm at least somewhat comfortable working from life. And because of that I'm also more comfortable working from my own photos when there's a compelling need. The small watercolor sketch above is such an instance. We rarely see Purple Finches in Philadelphia. But last Sunday we saw four at the Andorra Natural Area, an adult male and female and two juveniles. I have to assume that they were a migrating family but that could easily be wrong. I wanted to be certain of their ID so I spent most of my time taking photos and one sketching. But the image stuck with me.

I particularly was struck by the scruffy plumage of the juvenile above. So yesterday and today I did this watercolor and pencil sketch based on one of the photos. I'd like to do something that combines both adults and juvenile but that is a bit ambitious so I'm not sure when I'll actually take it up.

When I do though, most likely once again I'll try to reconcile abstraction and naturalism. Who knows what might turn up?

No comments: