When it comes to painting mediums, pastel often gets the short end of the stick (brush?): it’s fickle, messy and ephemeral. But it’s also one of the dreamiest, forgiving, workable and inspiring. Greek artist Alexandros Vasmoulakis has an exhibition of his pastel abstract paintings currently up at The Breeder gallery in Athens. The series, entitled The Eaters and the Eaten is a study of opposites; of pastel and oil, abstract and figurative, detailed and ambiguous.
In Untitled, 2016, a pair of figures – not human, not exactly animal, fill the middle ground, their bodies made up of hurried, painterly strokes of color. With a neutral, simple background the figures dominate the space, the viewer’s eye is expertly drawn to the curves and angles of their bodies. With each part of their body defined by bold outlines and color blocking, the humanoid animals begin to take on an abstracted form rather than a figurative one.
Things get even more abstracted in yet another Untitled, 2016 work; a bearded man’s profile gets at once lost and found amid swirling planes of color. His hair, ear, shoulders, nose are obvious; Vasmoulakis sketches out and colors in these features on the left side of the painting well enough so there is no doubt. The free-form right side of the painting, however, does help cast the man’s own shape into abstraction.
Debora Stewart’s pastel abstract paintings are much more straightforward in their abstraction: vibrant colors burst from the canvas, spirited and wild in their form and shape. Immersed in Blue is like a volcanic eruption of earthly molten lava against a turquoise blue sky. It’s purely formal, with color, shape and texture making the composition sing with energy. Similarly, Unearthed Promise explodes with perfectly proportioned and juxtaposed colors.
And somewhere in the middle of Vasmoulakis and Stewart sits Caorl Engels’ abstracted landscapes. Mixing frenetic, dark line drawings with hurried swaths of pastel color, Engels creates her own personal version of the seaside in Seascape One. It’s as if she’s depicting the ocean, the sky and everything in between based solely on how the scene makes her feel rather than what she particularly sees. And isn’t that what abstract painting is all about? There’s an energy and emotional depth to her landscapes that go beyond just visuals.
Pastels can also create incredibly unique texture and visual interest in an abstract painting. Aryia Cassandra paints her riotous abstractions first with acrylics; she then uses pastels as a way to enhance the shape and form of her works, the texture and substance of the pastel giving them something traditional paint cannot. Instead of outlining the various geometric shapes with black lines, Cassandra reinforces the shapes with gestural, colorful lines bleeding into one another.
Kerri Blackman takes a much more controlled, subdued approach to her use of pastels in her abstractions than the others on our list. Blackman uses ample negative space and thoughtful, deliberate swaths of color to balance her compositions, like Hopeful. There’s an inherent refinement to her work; the pastel details serve to elevate that elegance.