Abstract diary of Christian Awe
by Anna Suvorova
πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ κινεῖται, καὶ οὐδὲν μένει
All is flux, nothing is static
Abstract art places a new world, which on the surface has nothing to do with “reality,” next to the “real” world. Deeper down, it is subject to the common laws of the “cosmic world.” And so a “new world of art” is juxtaposed to the “world of nature.” This “world of art” is just as real, just as concrete. For this reason I prefer to call so-called “abstract” art “concrete” art.
The works of Christian Awe are embedded with cultural and visual codes. In his paintings, Christian enters into a conversation with the great artists of the 20th century, Wassily Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock and the nameless street artists of the new millennium. These dialogues are not easy, fallaciousness is intolerable and imitation fatal. The creative vector, which the artist has selected in recent years, speaks of his bravery and confidence while treading his chosen path. The paintings of Christian Awe and the process of painting itself, reveal themselves as powerful intellectual texts and resonant with great emotional charge.
In the early 20th century, Wassily Kandinsky, the father of abstract art, greatly developed and united the artistic traditions of both Russia and Germany. In his internal reflections and creative experiments he was looking for the only true expression that would be an affirmation of the amalgam of the emotional potential of the world and the human intellectual experience.
Kandinsky describes the logic of the construction of his work and classifies them by allocating impressions, expressions and compositions. According to his logic, each of the forms of composition has a different ratio of emotional, sensual and logical components. Kandinsky seems to be verifying artistic harmony against algebra. By doing so he moves toward dissecting the world, his formulae of expressing movement and calm, passion and indifference, life and death, as almost alchemical propositions. He describes this in his works “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and “Point and Line to Plane.”
The language of abstraction that was discovered as a mirror to the world of reality, more precisely to the balance between the passions and ideas, of which reality is full. This Language of abstraction was more relevant to the avant-garde period than the lapidary style of figurative art. Kandinsky underlines the absolute importance for the artist to feel the pulse of life:
“Just because an artist uses “abstract” methods, it does not mean that he is an abstract artist. It doesn’t even mean that he is an artist at all. Just as there are enough dead triangles (be they white or green), there are just as many dead roosters, dead horses or dead guitars. One can just as easily be a “realist academic” as an “abstract academic”. A form without content is not a hand, just an empty glove full of air”.
In art, whether it is figurative, or abstract, the meaningfulness and energy of life is of the most fundamental importance.
During his time teaching in Dessau, Kandinsky continuously spoke about the emotional expressive core of his concept of abstraction. The idea of an abstract affirmation being an emanation of the impulsive, an embodiment of the flame of life in the fires of creativity is confirmed by the founder of the abstract. In the contemporary records Kandinsky speaks of it in an exultant tone:
“A circle, which I use recently so often, could not be called otherwise but romantic. And the present day romanticism is essentially deeper, more beautiful, more substantial and more salutary – it is a piece of ice, in which fire is burning. And if people feel only cold and do not feel fire – so much the worse for them…”.
In the later theoretical works by Kandinsky the world of abstraction becomes the doppelgänger of the real world, but also the perfect twin. Kandinsky never doubted his “inner world” of art, the world of images, where abstraction was not an end in itself, where the language of form was never stillborn. Abstractions emerged as a manifestation of the will, of meaningfulness, and of vitality.
The “avant-garde Project” in Russia and in Germany developed along similar lines. The new political institutions and philosophies were hostile to the logic of abstraction, whose ideas were alien and the passion of expressionist utterances seemed completely unmanageable. The abstract and emotional was banned, the era of controlled, prescribed emotions and clearly censored ideas came to the forefront. Abstract art became the enemy, and for this it was ostracized and excommunicated from the pictures of “big styles”. In this period Abstract art learns of rejection, exclusion, and banishment. This forms the new context of perceptual abstraction in the cultural memory of European art, abstract painting is conceived not as a language, but as a component of the protest statement.
Postwar America was the birth place of the new abstract art. Being visually similar to the experiments of the early twentieth century, the “new wave’s” abstractionist accents shifted considerably. From this time onwards the abstract affirmation became a lingua franca of art and ceased to be provocative. Jackson Pollock, working in this direction, approached his work through the emotive component rather than that of hyper intellectualism as was Kandinsky’s way.
What is of utmost importance is that Pollock was putting the emphasis on the irrational, what lays beyond the borders of consciousness. Pollock’s chosen technique in comparison the resultant painting creates a sense of active meditation. When meditation is incorporated as a part of the creation of a painting, the painting itself becomes transformed into a means to reject the rational. The very process of creation was at the core of Jackson Pollock’s creative affirmation. This was a significant shift in accent away from the emphasis on the finished object of art, to it’s creation which, anticipated the new practice based processes of post modernist art. The spirit of art no longer lives in the subject of art but it moves into action and context. From the beginning of Pollock’s practices, “capturing” art has become more difficult. Art is no longer a part of the eternal, the unchanging, it lives in the here and now. This feeling of art as action is explicitly readable in the paintings of Jackson Pollock, these moments become mediums of the artist’s life stories. These flickering splashes of paint, violent strokes, shots of spray, applied layer upon layer, transmit the artist’s very heartbeat.
After such a voluminous tradition of abstraction as logic and abstraction as emotive, this system of art becomes one of its languages. For Christian Awe, abstract affirmation is a stable, established tradition and a fully realised tool for artistic expression. Awe continues the tradition of abstract art, appealing to a classical formulae and imbuing the abstract painting, qualitatively, with new meanings and practices.
For Christian Awe art is a humanistic act, an opportunity to open a dialogue about the global, the universal, to any human being. In Christian’s thinking, artistic abstract affirmation is the perfect means of communication between the artist and the viewer of the art. Emotion, energy, and thought may be embodied most deeply and directly in an abstract composition. The logical and figurative communes with the human consciousness in a much more indirect and complex manner, rather than the emotional which is not associated with the world of the rational.
One medium of Awe’s visual images is compositional. Features such as, size, color, paint and brush strokes on the canvas. Awe tends to work in a large format; this quality indicates a desire for a total utterance and maximizes the inclusion of the viewer in the pictorial space.
Christian Awe’s works often have no explicit composition center. The artist uniformly fills the canvas with abstract forms. Certain objects on the canvas may be present in small concentrations, but they always have a compositional double, which creates balance. Balance is almost always maintained by form, but also by tone, color and texture. From the standpoint of artistic tradition, in this capacity Awe’s work is closer to the ideas of abstract expressionism, rather than the compositions of the early abstractionists. Semantically, the uniformity of the filled space points towards a homogenous world view in the mind of the artist, one where there is no polarity between up and down, center and periphery. This personal philosophy of life is what Christian reveals in his conversations, lectures, and statements.
The color palette in Christian Awe’s works requires special attention. His paintings strive for a total polyphony, often combining chromatic and achromatic colors. One of the important nuances of Awe’s painting is his attainment of a pure, expressive color, or for simple, loud two or three part colors. This however does not lead to a lapidary color. The idea of plurality, which is fundamental to Awe’s creative consciousness, encourages him to use several colors and their derivatives in one painting. Additionally he often uses graduation, flowing from one color to another. Christian often combines maximal contrast and non-trivial color combinations in one concentrated area. This is probably one of the most effective ways to communicate the ideas of collision and difference.
The energy and passion of artistic expression, whether deliberate and meditative like Pollock or logically verified like Kandinsky, accompanies any abstract proposition. Christian Awe raises this attainment for action to a superlative, his abstract affirmation is multifaceted. The act of creation is no less important than the actual finished art work. In this respect, Christian Awe strongly deviates from the static position of modernist art and instead leans towards the process of art involving a man in the act of creation, which was more typical to the art practices of the second half of the 20th century.
This position is crucial to Awe, as the creator’s passion for art is very powerful and full of energy. By analyzing the visual component of his painting and comparing it to his own words, the process he has of creating the work becomes clear. The painting undergoes organic phases of development much like a living organism; the germ of the idea is seeded, grows and develops and then enters the final phase maturation and completion. According to Christian, the work may germinate from a single idea, and then having gone through several metamorphoses it may develop into a new artistic being. This choice of method (perhaps not embodied consciously by the artist) manifests Awe’s pursuit of creativity as a development rather than as a final affirmation.
The procedural art practice of Awe certainly has a lot to do with his personality and personal background, namely graffiti and street ball. For Awe it is important not to be an artist purely for himself, creating a silent witness to his own creativity and talent. This process of passive perception is not conducive to an interactive engagement. When Awe shouts, “Take the ball! Pass it to me!”, he promotes a person from the position of observer to one of creator. The flesh of the painting can be seen within the multiple layers, discernible from beneath the ripped skin of paint.
This layering in Christian’s paintings creates an extremely significant effect from the standpoint of the philosophy of creativity and the formal qualities of visual art. We can read consistency and order in the lower layers of the painting, constructed by precisely delineated forms, and then this world of absolute logic is covered by a solid layer of polychromatic stain, a hail of spontaneous brush strokes, and then again desaturated by the torn layers of paint that reveal the logic of the original structure. Rationality is replaced by chaos, this chaotic concentration once again reveals the rational. The order may change, but the total idea of universal transformation and endemic mobility remains.
Everything is contained in everything, everything flows, everything changes. The intellectual history of mankind, is like a pendulum swinging between cosmogonic chaos and the primal order. Awe’s paintings paradoxically unites these primarily disparate and belligerent forces. Structure is born from chaos, and order is destroyed by chaos.
Another artistic paradox of Christian’s is the introduction of fragments of the real world into the fabric of his abstract world. In a mysterious way, the artist, who seems to be consistently working on rejecting the mundane, becomes a collector of object material reality. Reality does not need to be a facsimile, it should not be copied. The surest medium for reality is reality itself, it auto transmits itself. This idea was introduced to the artistic process by Yves Klein, founder of the “New Realists.” In the 1950’s and 60’s Klein began his creative experiments searching for a truthful reality, one undistorted by the subjective view of the artist. Klein’s co-authors of this treatise are wind, water, fire, speed, and flesh. Maybe their traces are the only true reality?
Christian Awe’s primary tool for transmitting reality is a street art technique, working with small stencils. Awe deploys these little images in a seemingly chaotic manner, manipulating them to be visually unreadable and devoid of any meaning. Often, these stenciled images are perceived as mere decorative flourishes, patterns, grids, radial lines, shapes, and circles. Upon closer scrutiny however it becomes clear that these are in fact ephemeral traces of reality, artifacts which have long been collecting dust. A piece of patterned lampshade here, borrowed from a friend moving house or a lace napkin there, given as a gift by someone in a distant city on the other side of the world.
Why would the world of hyper ideas, refined from the reality of the mundane, need detritus of the random? Analysis of the compositional logic of Christian’s art in correlation with his ideas, and others stories about him suggests a fundamental value of these fragments of reality within the paradigm of the artists work. The translation of these eternal and universal ideas of the many layered multiverse, through these objects which become visual fetishes, talismans which are fragments of his personal history. In a large world there is always an individual, the history of his connections and separations, casual conversations, and everyday spaces. The mundane is a natural part of the cosmogonic chaos, it is self sufficient and it’s fragments soar in the surreal world of abstract concepts and images. For Christian, these mediums, are the chronicle of his daily life, his notes in the margins, secret codes of which only he knows the cipher. The painting of Christian Awe is the path by which the artist, in a world of creative and destructive chaos, captures the eternal in the momentary.
*(Translated from Russian by Anastasia Stein)
**(Edited by Danny Croucher)