The first is like a combination of a Rothko color-field abstraction and… a doodle. You can’t help but see the two orange-and-black-striped shapes at the center as front teeth. And the black half circles at the top as eyes. The textures and colors, the oranges, the blacks, the grays, the salmon pink, the verticals, the horizontals, the layering — all very well done. But I don’t see what we gain from the silliness of the doodled face. It is not particularly whimsical to me. And to the extent that it is whimsical it is not emotionally stirring the way a Rothko is due to its stark and disciplined reductions.
The second painting is also representational in an obvious, even cartoonish way. I see a sailboat on a wavy sea. Am I supposed to see something else? Am I missing it? Again the technique — note the green and yellow haziness of the sky, or the edging of the white foam, giving it dimensionality — is quite well done. But the representational quality of what is, after all, a hackneyed image (a sailboat on a horizon? really?) is confusing to me. I can’t see past it.
Finally, a more traditionally (!) abstract work. A yellow “ground,” a muddy “sky,” a dark, purply, twilight “pool,” a midnight blue/black “rock,” can be made out, if you try. But — it comes as a relief — you don’t need to try in this one. You can simply disappear into the glowing yellow, flecked with white. You can trace the streak of gray near the top with your eye.
What is going on in our brains when we look at abstract art? It is, I imagine, a flickering of electrical impulses, moving through our memories, through our individual sets of associations (neuronally related — “neuronally,” horrible word). We may think of abstraction, then, as a kind of a stab in the dark by the artist. A stab into the dark of the viewers’ brains.
This last one gets in. I feel gloom allayed by light, the possibility of change, the retreat into a larger maternal figure, Earth. As for the first two paintings, their doodled representations lead me into habitual thinking. I got blocked by my thick head.