Abstract Organisation / by Jeannine Cook

Thinking further about composition and the fact that the path to achieving a successful painting or drawing often takes one into abstraction reminded me of a quote that I had found by British painter, Royal Academician and art professor at St. Martins, Frederick Gore. He was writing about abstract art back in the mid-fifties, rather against the tide of art in England at the time. He remarked, "The meaning of a figurative work of art lies in its abstract organisation."

During his long and productive life, Gore produced a huge body of work, often working en plein air, and frequently travelling to different parts of the Mediterranean region. It is interesting to look at examples of his work to see how he used abstract organisation to compose his paintings, and thus allow their meaning and impact to be strengthened. At left, Late Evening Looking towards the Crau shows this abstract underpinning: wedge shapes are counterbalanced by thrusting mounds that echo each other through the painting, each shape linking in subtle fashion with the next.

Paysage du Luberon, another painting done in France (image courtesy of Charlotte Bowskill Fine Art), shows the same strong abstract organisation. Gore used not only the different shapes to form an abstract pattern but he used colour to lead the eye through the picture. This painting is a wonderful example of what American watercolour artist and teacher, Edgar Whitney, always talked about, namely, that a strong shape in a painting is "irregular, unpredictable and oblique".

Another painting, done in Mallorca of Puig Mayor from Fornalutx, near Soller, (image courtesy of the British Government Art Collection), uses the shapes of the olive trees to organise the painting, with the distant mountains echoing the clumps of trees. As a counterbalance, Gore used the wonderful orange-yellow-russet fields to pull one through the whole composition.

In an even more brilliant depiction of Mallorca, also done in 1958, Frederick Gore painted this Landscape near Deya (image courtesy of the British Government Art Collection). He organised the canvas into four main abstract forms and one smaller one, always a powerful way of dealing with a composition. The olive trees again lead one into and around the painting. The abstraction allows total coherency in what Gore was meaning to say about this hot, sunlit Mediterranean mountainside.

On a more personal note, I always love seeing how other artists respond to the landscapes of Mallorca, an island I know and love deeply. Despite the more than fifty years since these two paintings were done, this part of Mallorca is not that dramatically changed, something to be celebrated.

Frederick Gore certainly put into personal practice what he advocated. It is good to remind oneself of how to organise an eloquent, powerful work of art through abstraction.