Everyone handles feelings of loss and grief differently. Here are a few examples of abstract art influenced by misfortune, massacre, and tragedy that you might not guess at first glance. You may think to yourself, this painting feels morbid or melancholy or gruesome but I’d like to lay out some more detailed reasoning as to why you may feel as you do looking at these strokes of paint.
1. Ostage No. 14, Jean Fautrier
Fautrier (1898 – 1964) was a French painter and sculptor who was taken into custody by the Nazis during WWII for his affiliations with Resistance artists. In 1943 he was released on the promise that he would be institutionalized near Châtenay-Malabray. From his asylum based studio he produced his body of work entitled, Hostages. These paintings were human scale and represented the nightly suffering that echoed through the walls of his confinement. Fautrier listened to Nazi soldiers hunt Jews through the forest in Châtenay-Malabray. These portraits are an abstract representation of pure suffering. Nothing representing the real could articulate the misery that Fautrier felt reverberate through his sleeping chamber with deafening destruction every night.
2. Guernica, Pablo Picasso
Picasso (1881 – 1973) painted Guernica in response to the Nazi and Italian Fascist war plane bombings to the small village of Guernica on April 26th, 1937. The 11’ by 25’ mural is an ode to the lives lost and the tragedy suffered by the bombing. His abstract use of monochromatic palette and lack of figure dimension only work to support his feelings of confusion and loss at news of the attack, which was urged at the hand of the Spanish Nationalists.
3. Corps de Dame, Jean Dubuffet
Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) exhibited a series entitled Corps de Dame, which translates to Body of a Lady. The series was painted in Art Brut style and expressed a morbid vision of the female body; mangled and flattened like primitivism has mangled and flattened the female identity. Dubuffet worked on many similar projects including Large Black Landscape which focused energy toward a gruesome perspective on the everyday abstracted for the pleasure of the consumer.
4. Cosmology, Val Britton
Britton (1977 – ) has focused much of her work on integrating the loss of her father with conceptually abstract ideas. These seemingly random lines and geometric contours of her work are actually representative of road maps. Her father was a road trucker and to her these lines represent his travel, his life, and his journey.
Remember, there is always a deeper story behind the strokes of paint. You just have to be curious enough to peel back the layers and look for it.