The divide between abstraction and figuration is a false, but helpful, dichotomy. Painters who are primarily concerned with the interactions between color, line, and form also make marks and shapes that may suggest body parts, landscapes, and objects traditionally relegated to still lifes. Even monochrome paintings can conjure familiar settings: A gray canvas might evoke a rock face, while a blue one may suggest the sea.
This principle can go the other way, as well. "I would consider myself a figurative painter fundamentally," artist Louise Giovanelli told me, "but I certainly have a loose idea of figuration-anything that suggests a form, even if this suggestion is faint."
A new generation of painters, all 40 years old or younger, are rethinking what we might call, for lack of a better term, abstraction. For them, labels aren't important. They're more interested in the infinite ways paint can be applied to develop suggestive, beguiling, and transcendent compositions. They explore what it means to make a painting in the digital age and use contemporary research to generate new patterns and designs. Despite the diversity of these artists' practices, a near-mystical devotion to the act of making and a desire to communicate via symbols and hues unites them all.
B. 1989, Chicago. Lives and works in New York.
Leah Guadagnoli's new paintings resemble stained glass windows. The works pop and puff off the wall, thanks to upholstery foam undergirding the canvas. A white egg form centers Song to the Siren (2019), with blue segments rippling around it. Emerge from the Blush (2019) offers abstracted stems and petals, as well as a pink form that looks like a tongue.
Guadagnoli doesn't believe a painting can ever be truly abstract, and that tension excites her. "Even the simplest of shapes have meaning-especially when made into visual art," she said. "We cannot help but see something, insert personal meaning. The history of abstraction, geometry, and pattern at large, across centuries and cultures, cannot go ignored. Abstraction, above all, is a common language composed of many dialects."
Guadagnoli's playful palettes suggest Memphis design, while her pared down forms and references to female anatomy might connect her to Georgia O'Keeffe. Her plush, three-dimensional surfaces tease viewers, beckoning them to push into the foam to see how the material gives.