Familiar beyond Recognition: Translation in Contemporary Abstraction

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Hawker, Rosemary

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Best, Susan

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This research contributes to discourse on abstract art in relation to a contemporary context of image sharing and exchange. Many contemporary artists working with abstraction use visual elements from art history, popular culture, product design, the computer desktop and architecture in their work. The once unrecognisable non- figurative forms of Modernist abstraction have now become recognisable objects and forms in contemporary abstraction. Artists such as Charline von Heyl, Christine Streuli, Natalya Hughes, Peter Atkins, and Ryan Gander make visual reference to pre- existing forms in their work, shifting our understanding of abstraction as being based only in formal qualities. Translation as process and concept is a useful model to interrogate how particular abstract forms are re-employed in contemporary abstraction, how they are recognised, why they are familiar, and why this is important to understanding contemporary abstraction. I argue that both a history of Modernist abstraction and a developing visual culture brought about by commercial printing techniques have popularised abstract forms, and that both favour techniques of visual communication that are expedient, direct, easily disseminated, and easily recognised. I consider what an analysis of translation in language is able to bring to the analysis of contemporary abstract painting. Translating an original text for dissemination to a wider audience is similar to the way in which contemporary artists use existing abstract forms to make new works. I compare theories of visual representation from W. J. T. Mitchell, Hubert Damisch and Arthur C. Danto to consider how particular abstract forms are reused in contemporary environments and how they are able to continue to evoke feelings of familiarity in different contexts while remaining abstract.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Abstract art

Modernist abstraction

Contemporary abstract painting


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