The Importance of Texture in Abstract Art

July 21, 2021

Texture: Physical vs. Visual

Texture in art can be perceived in at least two ways: physically (physical texture) and visually (visual texture) (visual texture). An artwork’s physical texture gives it a sense of object-ness. It connects it to the tangible real world. Alberto Burri, an Italian artist, created physical textures in his works using found materials in order to elicit basic emotional responses in viewers. Materiality was also emphasised by Korean Dansaekhwa artists and those linked with the Japanese avant-garde Gutai Group, who believed, as stated in the Gutai Manifesto, that “by uniting human qualities and material attributes, we can concretely perceive abstract space.”

Other artists are more interested in the visual texture’s possibilities. Bridget Riley’s paintings are essentially flat, but they deceive the eye into perceiving textured waves and layered layers. Photographers that specialise in abstract photography also experiment with visual texture. Jessica Eaton, a Canadian-born abstract photographer, creates three-dimensional things before photographing them with a variety of filters. Her flat prints appear to be textureless at first glance, but closer inspection reveals the physical textures of the items she created, perplexing the eye as to whether it perceives real or imagined textures.

Light and Drama

Impasto was one of the first techniques used by abstract painters to experiment with texture. When we say a painting is impasto, we mean that the painter has added thick layers of paint to the surface. An impasto painting is considered artistic since it emphasises the painter’s tactile marks. Impasto was used by Post-Impressionist painters like Van Gogh to add drama to their paintings and to change how light interacted with the surface of their works because impasto layers generate shadows and highlights. Abstract Expressionist painters, such as Jackson Pollock, use thickly layered paint to draw attention to the act of painting while also revealing the artist’s individuality and unique method.

Flatness is the polar opposite of impasto texture. Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland stained their paintings by pouring diluted paint straight onto unprimed canvases, allowing the colour to blend with the surface. Their flat textures drew attention away from the artist’s physical movements, enabling consideration of other factors such as colour, surface, and space. Kazimir Malevich, an early abstract artist, also painted flat, non-painterly pictures. Interestingly, several of Malevich’s classic flat paintings, such as Black Square, have developed textures that are very different from what the artist intended over time. It’s fascinating to consider whether the change in texture has impacted the meaning viewers perceive in such paintings.

In general, there are two types of texture in painting, just as there are in life: rough and smooth. Hard or soft, moist or dry, organic or synthetic, and so on. Infinite roughness and smoothness gradations are also feasible. However, there is a significant distinction between the role of texture in life and the function of texture in art. In real life, texture might be a matter of life and death. The way we perceive something’s slickness, sliminess, scaliness, or fuzzyness could spell the difference between life and death. In art, texture is less of a problem. The majority of artworks are not designed to be handled. Even when an artwork may be handled, the texture has more to do with our aesthetic experience than with our survival. Texture, on the other hand, is a key aspect of our engagement with art. Along with line, colour, shape, form, value, and space, it is one of the seven formal artistic components. It can change our mood, elicit psychological associations, draw attention to a medium, or draw our attention away from the work’s elements. Texture, when used well, might even challenge our perceptions of reality.

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