Taking dynamic of body as painting topic has brought me a critical task for long time, which is very basic but that’s why very serious, which is, tension between figuration and abstraction.

Figure is naturally strong for providing reference of forms and lines for picture to make figurative representation, this may psychologically because we humans are familiar to recognize and imagine human figure, just liked children almost start figurative drawing in human figure or face.

Form and lines from figure are aesthetic to make a concrete subject in picture, but that’s why,  figure is quite difficult to be abstracted. The innate strength of figure is the integrity, subtle structural lines, and its plastic gesture to make variable form. However, such integrity easily encloses all the visual elements of figure in the figure, isolating ground and subject, blocking the opening flow of pictorial rhythm; and the over stretching gesture will easily spread away the power of picture. Those properties make figure being not easily to achieve the free flowing pictorial dynamic.

In cases of figurative or environmental works, traditionally, the liberation of visual rhythm could be carried by the clothes on body or the background. Degas’s works can easily show this effect. “After Bath, Woman Drying Herself” (about 1890-5) and “Woman in a Tub” (about 1896-1901) show obvious different type of rhythm. The former (left) is much more dynamic through the whole composition due to the white and yellow, proving the efficiency of clothes and background in linking up the all over visual elements.


However if the painting subject is expression on nude figure and even non-environmental, there is no visual catalyst to intervene into figure to make gaps for the rhythm. Just liked my expressive kungfu topic, it must substantially break the form of figure in order to liberate composition, that means, directly challenging the innate strength of their subject. I think that’s why representation of human figure and abstraction were thought to be antithetical. Willem de Kooning did good destruction to this premise, but I am not sure that such successful case is rare or not.

It seems over-theoretic (and mentally self-trapped) to mention the way of breaking form by methodological description, but anyway, one of the method is to allow edges to cut off the figure, so that a gap is opened by edges of the picture but not visual elements inside, de Kooning sometimes did this as well. Nowadays, maybe variable material usage is also effective to draw viewer’s attention away from representation by the texture and materiality, but sometimes I feel it (appropriation and pure material exploration) is easy to be antithetical to expressive atmosphere.

Anyway, I am still dueling this painting problem by painting, making collision between colours, lines and forms, which is basic but necessary. Next step, I prefer to ask help from collage to explore dynamics among pictures in one visual field. Or, I may need to do other topic from figure.


Wai Kit CHAN (Hector)