I think this was the weekend that I finally got abstraction. Dictionary.app defines abstraction as “the quality of dealing with ideas rather than events,” which is easy enough to understand at face value, I suppose. As a way of thinking, creating, and even living, though, I understood it as well as brain surgery. But after taking in Wink’s newest work during our last night in Iowa, it clicked.
Before I get to the epiphany, let’s ignore Dictionary.app and deal with the events. On Friday, our last full day in Iowa, we raced around to see various family and friends. Charlotte, unaccustomed to car trips of any length, was along for the ride but let us know that she wasn’t too happy about it.
Friday night rolls around. We’ve bid my dad and Kathy farewell after Zoey’s, and I’m sitting in front of the Gallery with Maggie’s parents. Charlotte, wearing just a diaper, runs at top speed back and forth from the Gallery to the to the window of the toy shop next door. We start talking about Wink’s work and she heads upstairs, returning momentarily with 48 4" x 6" panels of new work, grouped into series of 12. More on this below. I drink a couple of sour saisons (Goose Island Sofie and Fantôme Pissenlit, both excellent, the latter amplified in its sourness but with a remarkable depth) along with a regrettable Fat Tire (how did I ever enjoy this beer?), eat some carrot cake, and then we all head to bed.
Saturday morning, we’re up before 7, packing for the airport. We cross the street to the farmers’ market that is just getting going, grab some banana bread for Charlotte and scoot over to Maggie’s grandma’s for one last goodbye before we fly home. Charlotte powertools the flights, sleeping for all of the first and a good chunk of the second flight. The weather is fine, there are no delays, and we get the scenic route up the Hudson around Manhattan, which never ever fails to impress us. We touched down half an hour earlier than scheduled, coast from the runway to a taxi to the apartment, grab an iced coffee from down the street, and then the three of us meet up with our newlywed friends Peter and Stephanie for dinner before collapsing, weary from a full week of this pace.
Sunday, aided by the dimness of an all-day rainstorm, we slept until 10 am. Even Charlotte.
But back to Friday night.
I’ve always really enjoyed abstraction as an artistic device. I bought the requisite Mark Rothko posters to hang in my dorm room, I adored the Anselm Kiefer work we saw at the Dallas Museum of Art. I probably could have spoken intellectually—but not very intelligently—about these things then. Since then, I’ve at least come around to the idea that with abstraction, the point usually isn’t to get something. Abstractions are not necessarily a riddle to be figured out, although I know my brain is wired to think that they are. I will admit to a little trepidation at places like oh, say, MoMA when I see something that resonates like, oh, say, Network of Stoppages; what if Maggie asks me why I like this?
So there we sat, in front of the Gallery on a pleasantly cool August night, amid the incredible din of cicadas, their noise matched only by the sound of motorcycles farting down 7th Avenue. One by one, Wink passed around each of these 48 panels, each of which contained layer upon layer of work collected from old drawings, sketchbooks, and other ephemera that accumulates around artists over time. Each canvas had a story. Each object on each canvas had a story—what it was, when it was drawn or clipped or saved, and why it was saved. But those individual stories weren’t really the point. It was the combination of these things across space and time onto a single small canvas that united these fragments and imbued them all with new meaning.
I was able to find something familiar in nearly every canvas—a drawing of a begonia completed a day before my 18th birthday, a scrap of paper that Wink snagged from our apartment after Charlotte was born that I had obviously titled “Contraction Log,” with a bold underline, presumably so it wouldn’t get mixed up with all the other time logs I was keeping.
With each little bit I recognized, though, there were five more bits that I hadn’t seen before. By combining, obscuring, and abstracting from such a variety of sources, Wink was able to express something true about the most intense human transformations, in a way that prose—like this here blog—just can’t. Here, right here in front of me, was a series of panels about death, life, identity, and the absurd routines that accompany these things. Whoa. It clicked. This blog is always on my mind, and turned out to be a useful analogy: she said up front that she was frustrated with the never-complete, often-abandoned nature of scrapbooks. I can identify with that. I think I’ve started just over a hundred blogs in my life, but nothing that was as artfully constructed as the components of these panels.
On a weekend that spanned 1000 miles, with familiar emotions drawn from 7 years worth of these visits, while my daughter raced around uptown Marion in a diaper, it seems fitting that the idea of abstraction should finally make some sense. Dictionary.app was right, as usual, but this is a concept that must be felt to be truly known. I’m not sure I have the ability to break my neurons out of their comfortable ruts and create the kind of abstract expression that Wink has with her new work, but I’m happy to report that, at the very least, now I get it.