Painting Practice: The Pursuit of a Personal and Yet Universal Art / by Sam Abelow

Artist Statement for the Painting Portfolio, 2017

Archetypal Themes With a Modern Perspective

My aesthetic and intellectual pursuits reach back to a movement of the late 1890s, known as the “Symbolist” movement. This historic literary and visual development, which corresponded with the discovery of the unconscious psyche, in the field of psychology, holds a potency for our contemporary moment.

Similar to the artists of this era, including Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis, I work in a style that emphasizes color and composition. Figurative elements offer a symbolic association, which are amplified by strong color choices. Through this method, I create work that is visually accessible and yet plunges the depths of the psyche, renewing perennial themes with a modern perspective. The hope is for viewers to discover a body of work that is personal, and yet universal.

Whether a piece involves a challenging psychological theme, or is a straightforward portrait or still life, the use of color and flattened space is in service of an exploration of mood and beauty. My paintings may function as elements of decoration, adornments to a life of fulfillment and meaning, or as a vehicle of contemplation and philosophical examination.

Collective and Personal Meaning

Side by side, throughout the work from 2017, are collective and personal images. Some paintings feature themes that are explicitly archetypal; they contain symbolic images that date back to time immemorial, and are beyond my personal life. Other works feature intimate aspects of my life: people important to me, or objects that inhabit my surroundings. Sometimes, the personal and the universal mesh. This is inherent within my mythopoetic thinking and experience of life.

The aesthetic influences, dating to the turn of the 19th century, corresponded with a similar burst within the field of psychoanalysis. Some consider this cultural development as a reaction to industrialization. Today we are faced with the age of information and technology, which calls for a similar response — back to the presence of the mystery of instinct and symbol, that which is psyche. I have found the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung to be essential towards survival in the modern world.

Additionally, the analysis of my dreams for the past seven years has given me insight into the functioning of the personal and collective unconscious. My encounter with this realm of experience often pours its way into my painting practice.

Broadly speaking, it is the role of the artist to function as a shaman. These individuals are predisposed to engage, sometimes precariously, with the edge of reality. Faculties for visualization, intuitions for philosophy are attributes of the artist. A tender eye for beauty, combining with the thirst for psychological depth, offer an artist motivation. As Jung would point out, the material that a genuine artist uncovers is compensatory, and therefore necessary to the collective attitude, perspective and point of view.

In some sense, it is the mythopoetic thinking itself, embedded throughout my work, that is compensatory to the widespread materialism, rationalism and nihilism so prominent in modern society. Inherent within the activity of rendering elements of my personal existence with loving color and even mythological motifs, I implicate each individual as an end within themselves, a fractal of the whole, a totality worthy of contemplation.

Instructive Aspects of Eros and Logos

Two paintings which represent the pinnacle of the year’s work — “Eros” and “Logos” — can be interpreted on several different levels. This diptych, representing the archetypal feminine and masculine, function as an ideal of both the individual and group psyche.

The qualities of eros, as related to the archetypal feminine, are related to earth, body, feeling and relationship. The qualities of logos, as related to the archetypal masculine, are related to principal, law, goals and action. Both of these attributes function in widely varying degrees in every person, as well as in different cultures.

The pair are ideals, unattainable, and yet inspiring images of perfect harmony and realization of the power of the psyche. On an individual level, these paintings instruct the viewer to strive for the development and harmony of their eros and logos functions. On a collective level, as our society continues to struggle and strive for a reconciliation of these forces, these paintings offer a distant, yet possible balance. As humanity enters a new millennium, these themes are ever-still unresolved, and therefore seek renewal and integration within each person’s life.

An Example of the Transference of Thematic Content

"Pastoral Scene: Encounter With a Hawk" - Oil paint on linen canvas, 24x30 inches

During the spring and summer of 2017, I had several sightings of Northern Harrier and Osprey hawks. When these birds appeared in my dreams, they took on subjective, personal meaning. The repetition of the hawk image in my painting created a circular loop between literal, outer reality, spontaneous emergence from the unconscious psyche and the material surface of a canvas. In this way, painting serves my own contemplations.

However much these images mean to me personally, each viewer comes with their own association. Some see the hawk as a “spirit animal,” while others recognize Horus (the Egyptian god). The deeper my own introspection, the richer my presentation. The ongoing dialogue with viewers and collectors provides nourishment for my personal psychological journey, as well as for their own.


And so, through this exposition, I have portrayed the ways in which my art has expressed itself throughout 2017. This includes both aesthetic and intellectual goals. Furthermore, the mythopoetic thinking, so ubiquitous in my paintings, brings a dimension of contemplative prompts to the artistic object that offers adornment to living.

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