Taking a radically new approach to the history of abstract painting, Pepe Karmel applies a scholarly yet fresh vision to reconsider the history of abstraction from a global perspective and to demonstrate that abstraction is embedded in the real world. Moving beyond the orthodox canonical terrain of abstract art, he surveys artists from across the globe, examining their work from the point of view of content rather than form. Previous writers have approached the history of abstraction as a series of movements solving a series of formal problems. In contrast, Karmel focuses on the subject matter of abstract art, showing how artists have used abstract imagery to express social, cultural and spiritual experience.
An introductory discussion of the work of the early modern pioneers of abstraction opens up into a completely new approach to abstract art based around five inclusive themes – the body, the landscape, the cosmos, architecture, and the repertory of man-made signs and patterns – each of which has its own chapter. Starting from a figurative example, Karmel works outwards to develop a series of narratives that go far beyond the established figures and movements traditionally associated with abstract art. Each narrative is complemented by a number of ‘featured’ abstract works, which provide an in-depth illustration of the breadth of Karmel’s distinctive vision.
A wide-ranging examination of topics – from embryos to the surface of skin, from vortexes to waves, planets to star charts, towers to windows – is interwoven with detailed analysis of works by established figures like Joan Miró and Jackson Pollock alongside pieces by lesser-known artists such as Wu Guanzhong, Hilma af Klint and Odili Donald Odita.