The mid-20th century was a fertile time for the invention of artistic movements. Minor movements bridged the major movements; Surrealism made the transition to abstract Expressionism through an artistic style that was coined abstract Impressionism.
The exhibition of paintings by Harold Olov Wang at Towns-Burr Gallery strongly represents this mini movement with a revival of the technique. Although Wang was a contemporary of movement masters like Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, he did not participate in the world of abstract art until 2000 when, at the age of 89, he put brush to canvas and revolutionized abstract Impressionism.
His work is imbued with unique layering of short, deliberate brush strokes of Impressionism and emotionally expressive, action splatter painting of abstract Expressionism. The resultant body of work, nearly 200 acrylic paintings titled New Dimensions, is colorful, energetic and seductive, full of visual clues that stimulate the imagination. More than a dozen of these works, along with some of Wang's earlier traditional art, are presented in the Burbank show.
Wang was born in Wisconsin on Dec. 7, 1911. He was drafted into World War II, during which time he met his wife, Gisela. For decades Wang wrote plays and poetry while researching and writing as an Abraham Lincoln historian. Art was intrinsic to Wang; drawing and painting portraits or landscapes was like breathing to him. As it has been with many great artists, a tragedy, the death of his beloved wife in 1999, inspired New Dimensions. In an effort to ease his loss, Wang began painting, and with a new attitude of expression and vitality, he reinvented a version of abstract painting.
Wang's favorite piece is "Lily Pond" (after Monet). An under-painting that abstracts Monet's Japanese garden into simple forms is over-painted with action strokes that take Monet's concept of capturing motion and light and launches it into the 21st century. Swirling streaks of oranges and reds look like atoms and electrons, nature's invisible energy, working frenetically to support the bucolic scene underneath.
"Japanese Dancer" features broad brush strokes, colors blending as they fan across the canvas. Wang twisted the brush mid-stroke, giving depth and perspective to the action, leaving the impression of a twirling skirt and spinning dancer. Subdued colors of the broad strokes give way to the red, white and yellow action spatters that bring the under-painting to life.
"Come Into My Parlor Said the Spider to the Fly" is Wang's signature piece, which received an award from theLancaster Museum and Art Gallery Associates and has been reproduced as an album cover. Inner workings of spiders and webs are colorfully rendered, charged with electron-like action splatters, circulating around a cloudy gray nebula-like mass, which hides the imaginary nucleus. There are no literal forms in this piece, just orbiting streaks around an indefinite shape. Wang's strength, his signature, is a vortex effect. He manages to imply varied perspectives of centrifugal motion; inside, on top of, or magnified sections of the vortex, suggest natural physics.
Wang is of the generation of geniuses whose creative versatility resulted in poetry, plays and paintings, and though his work is an apparent reflection of the masters who wandered through abstract Impressionism on their way to abstract Expressionism, he is not indebted to anyone. As a "tip of his hat" Wang painted tributes to iconic artists Praxiteles, Picasso and Pollock, aligning himself in the pantheon with his original take on abstract art. His work comes from his own subconscious and a consuming will to exercise the imaginations of the viewers of his paintings and the readers of his words. What a way to spend life. What a gift to the rest of us.