Critique by L.C. Russell Edited by: George C Koller
Toby Malek has stepped outside the norm and done a series of abstract expressionist watercolors. Abstract Expressionism is bold and aggressive. When you think of abstract expressionist works you generally think of bright slashes and dollops of color on canvas á la Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline. Abstract expressionism breaks into two general groups – Action Painting , which stresses the physical action involved in painting (the motion of paint) and Color Field Painting which is primarily concerned with the affects of pure color on a canvas. By choosing to use watercolor on paper , Malek has actually combined both factions of abstract expressionism and given them his own unique slant.
Watercolor is transparent which allows for a freshness and luminosity in its washes. A painter using oils or acrylic paints, one opaque color over another until he has achieved his desired result. A watercolorist’s approach is the opposite. Essentially instead of building up, he leaves out. Watercolor is a very unpredictable medium full of unexpected challenges. Malek has taken full advantage of the capricious nature of the medium and used it to his advantage.
What I was struck by was the organic feel each painting has. There’s a vibrant fluidity about them. They appear to grow and flow from the paper like living entities. The first of the series is made up of mostly earthy greens and rich blues with accents of complimentary red-orange and yellow. It brings to mind a rainy day seen through a fogged window. The second painting is much darker. It’s made up of deep greens and earthen hues with a single startling swatch of aubergine . It has a very primal feel to it. The third painting is more vigorous . It’s almost playfully chaotic. The blank areas of the paper are almost as interesting as the painted surfaces. The fourth painting brings to mind sunlight seen through leaves. The rest of the series takes full advantage of the medium’s transparency. They’re softer, more fluid. They range in feel from melancholy to hopeful. Shades of blue and burnt sienna mingle with pale lemony yellow. Splashes of rose red accent greens and yellows. Each painting gets softer and uses the fluidity of the medium to bring out the texture and color of the paper more fully. The whiteness of the paper brings a luminosity to the soft flowing colors. The artist explores the motion of the paint without ever losing control of his brush. The final painting in the collection is the darkest. It almost feels as though the artist has taken you through the progression of a day. The first painting being dawn with its ruddy glow to dusk… not quite night-time. The last painting brings to mind evening, just as the street lights are coming on.
I’ve never particularly cared for abstract expressionism. I’ve always thought of it as more of a lazy cop out with good spin doctors than actual art. Toby’s managed to change my mind about it. His watercolors bring art to the artifice.