There is nothing about this year remotely resembling what we once considered reality.
Abstract Surrealism isn’t really a thing, let me make that clear right upfront. Abstraction is ambiguous, intentional removal from any objective reference. It’s also extremely controversial as some argue that it is the sum of art while others complain that it’s nothing but a jumbled mess of color with no meaning whatsoever.
Surrealism is, for many people, defined by the works of Dada and Dali. Perhaps we think specifically of Dali’s melting universe creating a detailed but dreamlike view of a world that defines reality not by what we see with our eyes but with our subconscious.
They are two very different forms of art and confusing the two is a good way to make an art curator or serious patron quite angry. Merging the forms? One would have to be completely delusional to invoke that level of insanity.
Insanity. I’m sorry, have you met the year 2020? There are no words left that haven’t been reshaped, reclassified, and/or redefined. Nothing about this year is remotely normal nor has it stayed within the boundaries of what we formerly considered real. There have been too many events happen that logical people of reason never thought possible. Our minds have exploded as people we thought we knew, including some we’ve loved, stepped off the deep end into some kind of fantasy where nothing currently happening makes sense within the context of everything that happened before.
Which brings us to the Abstract Surrealism of 2020. This is the first set in what may turn out to be an entire series (if we live so long). We asked a young model, who understandably enough has chosen to remain anonymous so that her career does not suffer from the association, if we could paint her body in a loosely defined manner—not genuinely abstract, but not a recognizable form, either. We then took the images and carefully, painstakingly, with frequent bouts of frustrated cursing, rendered each to fit a month of this pandemic. As one sees below, this results in a dramatically unique set of images that hardly appear to be related.
Let me see if I can explain the progression for you to a limited degree. A word of caution: trying to follow the meanderings of my mind can lead to internalized stress and possible combustion.
April: There’s a sense of a definite figure but nothing around it feels quite right. The lines aren’t all in place and, what is this splashing up from out of nowhere? We’re blue because we’re depressed by a lockdown that only some are observing while others completely deny that there’s anything wrong. We know this is going to get worse, but we’re still hopeful.
May: Color change as the pandemic grows more intense. School ends without any commencement. Unemployment sets records never before imagined. Arguments over whether to wear a mask rage both online and in-person, casting suspicion on people once thought to be at least marginally intelligent. That splash thing keeps getting bigger and there’s no explanation coming for why the curve isn’t flattening.
June: We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief and the colors calm a bit as the number of new cases each day starts to decline. People are telling us, “Hey, we’ve got this. It will all be over soon.” Yet, notice that our model’s face is no longer visible. She’s blinded by her hair just as we were blinded by unhinged optimism. We start to emerge from our cocoons only to have to retreat toward the end of the month.
July: Staged reopening plans are announced and there’s an official statement of optimism in which we believe because we refuse to accept that this stupid virus can be upsetting our lives this severely. We’re determined to have our vacations one way or another. We whirl ourselves in circles clamoring that, “Look! The numbers are going down!” and illogically letting that one statistic fool us into letting down our guard.
August: We’re smiling. We’re going to send kids back to school even if it has to be in stages. Sure, the virus is still splashing all around us but just ignore that. We’ve got a plan and there’s a vaccine coming by the end of the year. No one’s going to trust it, but it will be here. The patterns might seem to be recognizable but that’s only because we’ve looked at this situation so many times we’re starting to hallucinate good news where none exists.
September: “This pandemic is nothing,” we say as we casually flip our hair. Never mind that the numbers are starting to go up in the places where they had previously been low. Pay no attention to that huge wave sweeping across the South and Midwest. Let’s open things up some more; it will be good for the economy, and the economy is what matters more than silly things like people’s lives.
October: Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! Hell no, we’re not going to go back into lockdown! Open everything up! Stage 5, motherfucker! Sure, the number of cases is starting to spike again, but look at the low number of deaths. See? Hardly anyone’s dying except for the people who shouldn’t be dying. More young adults are being affected but they probably had underlying conditions. It’s not the virus’s fault they died.
November: The virus is not merely back, it’s pouring on us like rain and we’re going to drown. There’s still no vaccine and even if there was more than half the people in the US say they’re not going to take it, rendering it ineffective in stopping the spread of the disease. Ten million people have died despite the fact someone keeps telling us that it’s fine, it’s not a big deal. Keep smiling. Cancel the holidays. We’re all going to die.
By the time we get to the last piece, our entire sense of reality is warped. Our thinking, if not our vision, is completely disconnected from any sense of objectivity. We think we know what’s going on, kind of, but we’re uncomfortable, uncertain, and unsure of what to do next. If you’re looking at the final image on a large enough monitor, you’ll see that the model is beginning to fade into the background—not strongly, yet, as there’s still a definite sense of person even if place and time are nonexistent. This is bracing for disaster as our identity melts into the abstraction of calamity.
The rain is poison and like the Batman’s Joker with his forced smile, we’re laughing through the pain, unable to escape the horrors this year has foisted upon us.
No, these pictures aren’t pretty. They shouldn’t be. This isn’t Pashur’s bodypaint. This year has not been okay and any portrayal of it in traditional tones or imagery is doubling down on a lie that everyone already knows is false. I need these images to be troubling to one’s aesthetic sensibilities. We should not hide that we’re bothered, or disturbed, or possibly even worried about the mental state of the artist (the gods know I am).
There are more thoughts to compile, more images that need to sit alongside these. Give me a few weeks. Any other year, I’d be shutting production down, but not now. I need to explore more, deeper, into the pain. In the meantime, ponder over these and their implicit meaning. I’ll try to give you something more traditional next week, just to perpetuate the myth that we’re all fine, that this week is an aberration. In the meantime, ponder.
Our HUGE thanks to our anonymous model. She truly is a lovely person and I owe her a less fraught set of pictures for helping us express what we’re feeling in this moment.
For those who might be new, click on any of the thumbnails below to view the images full screen.
Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.Salvador Dali