ARTPICKS | Color Abstraction

It is summer time and the sun is keeping things spicy, so let’s talk bold and expressive art – COLOR ABSTRACTION. 

While I am a fan of abstraction, I am not afraid to admit that abstract works often leave me cold. Because abstraction is rooted in feeling, not narrative, it can be challenging finding a way into the work.  The visual language of color, line and form can communicate powerfully with our subconscious, if the artist understands hers.  Here are five artists who create abstract art in a way that feels FRESH, sophisticated and joyful.


Australian based Cherine Fahd brilliantly re-imagines traditional color abstractions in her series, “Camouflage.”  While visually referencing the hard-edged Color Field paintings of Ellsworth Kelly, Cherine rebelliously turns the concept on its head.  Men whose works were largely devoid of any human form dominated the period.  Cherine puts herself in the center of this series by offering up bits of her hair, limbs and nipples while camouflaging herself behind colored paper.   These innovate self-portraits are in many ways the antithesis of Color Field paintings – which communicated emotion through their large scale and brush strokes.  Cherine’s self-portraits are small, intimate photographs that draw you in for a closer look. 


LA based Kim Fisher offers an innovative take on abstraction with a technique wrapped in collage.   In her “Magazine Paintings”, Kim starts from a linen canvas dyed black, then applies oil paint with an airbrush and incorporates cut pieces of aluminum or brass.   With visual elements drawn from multiple sources, such as magazines and newspapers, and scraps suggesting the effects of age – Kim’s paintings create wholeness out of a fragmented existence.  I especially like Kim’s series, created for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History,  inspired by the museum’s collection of exotic shells.  Kim’s exploration of gemology, fashion, abstraction and lunar cycles creates a body of work that is equally raw and elegant. 


As the former director of LA’s Craft and Folk Art Museum, I know Clare’s folk-art inspired works that explore traditional gender roles well.   A founding member of the San Francisco based Mission School, which helped catapult the bohemian aspects of street culture into today’s street art phenomenon Clare is a pioneer.  Her recent move from figurative paintings into pure geometric abstraction retains the feel of the handmade to my eye.  Clare’s abstractions contain her visual signature of motifs found in folk based textiles.  While the human body has disappeared, the artist’s hand is evident in the brushstrokes and an intuitive connection to the viewer. Interesting factoid about Clare is that she also sings and plays the banjo under the stage name Peggy Honeywell.

Mary Weatherford

California born and raised, Mary Weatherford’s abstract paintings have long captured the expansive feel of the state’s dramatic light and moody landscapes.    Her recent large scale, 8- 10 feet, linen canvases created with a paint called flashe, and featuring a loose rhythm of earthy and bold colors, add an unexpected jolt with an angled bar of neon light literally electrifying the paintings.  While expressive, Mary’s abstract paintings don’t over communicate, leaving plenty of mystery in the dark spaces.  The abstract landscapes suggest both external and internal terrains to be explored.


Unlike many of her contemporaries Joanne Greenbaum has no desire to unify visual elements, or resolve existential dilemmas.  Her exhilarating paintings are more wild roller coaster ride than Zen color meditation.  Joanne’s “beautiful monsters,” as one critic described them, speak multiple visual languages and embody diverse systems of thought.  She is a hands-on painter with a playful approach to material and technique.  There is no fussing or finessing in her work.  Joanne maps the chaos of life, emotionally and physically, without struggling to resolve it.   Her graphic, sculptural paintings feel liberating.  The drips, slips and overlaps of color, line and create a fantastical space to escape into. 

Abstract art, like jazz, blends improvisation with structure to create beauty or confusion.  Follow your instincts and the abstract becomes clear. Wishing you an expressive colorful season, whether you are north or south of the Equator.