Abstract vinyl expressionism
I was walking home, the icy wind and bright sunlight at my back when I glanced up the hill to my left at Nancy’s house. Like so many in this village and in so many villages and towns around our coast, her house was empty.
And it will be until summer when she returns from the mainland. Then, from her front windows she will be able to feast her eyes on the deep blue of our compact cliff-lined harbour and watch the daily boat traffic passing out the narrows into the bay in the morning and returning in the evening, lower in the water, to the fish plant opposite.
That’s what she will be able to see then, but for the moment no one is looking out from those windows. Fortunately though, someone is looking out for her house. Otherwise, what I saw on the pure white vinyl front of the building would not have happened.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time reading and looking at art books and whenever I could, visiting galleries. I puzzled over the question of abstract art like so many before me. Over the years I have done a number of paintings that do not look like anything you can see in nature, but which represented to me a particular feeling, a certain pattern, an array of colours that I found meaningful.
If you believe, as I do, that art is about communication, what an artist hopes to do is transmit through his or her art a feeling, an impression, a sensation that, to the viewer is meaningful too. There is no guarantee that the meaning for the viewer is the same one you felt when making the art. In fact that is not important. What is important is that they feel something.
I always thought it was unfair that composers could write down a series of notes on a sheet of paper and then, the sounds that the musicians created with their instruments did not need to relate to anything in the known world. Abstract expression. All the while visual artists were obliged to struggle with brush and paint to make the waves breaking on the seashore they were trying to recreate on canvas look as true to life as Mr. Kodak could do with film. And now digitally.
It’s true that the earliest musicians with the primitive musical instruments they were able to make, began by spending their time trying to imitate the sounds of birds and animals, the wind and the water. Before long though, they started to go abstract with their music, making sounds simply to please; creating rhythms for dancing, singing and designing great architecture for the ears. It continues to this day, composers stringing together notes that excite, pacify, evoke joy or sorrow, and sometimes, in elevators, disgust.
So why don’t visual artists have the same liberty. The answer is, they do. And the public too has the liberty to say things like, “My three-year-old can do better” and walk away.
It seems to me that people in general can stand to hear abstraction, but they are far less keen to see it.
In the first instant I looked at Nancy’s house, just for the first instant, I thought abstract was what I was seeing, and I liked it. But then I realized that although I was looking at a pleasing pattern of abstract shapes, they were there for a very specific reason.
Because Nancy’s house is perched above the harbour on a bench of bedrock looking straight east, it is vulnerable. When the north easterlies blow, the house is completely exposed. In Salvage, the most vicious winds we get come out of the northeast. Several days after Christmas that is what happened. Powerful gusts interspersed with brief pauses and then bang, on they’d come again. Wicked wind with harm on it’s mind.
It’s the kind of wind that does real damage to vinyl siding, which has become almost the universal exterior wall covering in our neck of the woods. A boon to homeowners sick to death of scraping and painting, vinyl looked like the ultimate cure when it first came on the market.
Still, you’ve got to put it on right and even if you do, the manufacturers never factored climate change into their design calculations. Salvage has always been a place of strong winds, but every year they are getting stronger. At the same time, the siding sellers, always looking to expand their profit margin, are producing an everflimsier product.
The result is that after every big storm some houses have entire walls of vinyl stripped off, and the land wash is filled with shards of plastic. Or, if vigilant homeowners or homewatchers for absent homeowners are quick to act, after the storm is over villagers can emerge from their homes to find themselves face to face with whole murals of what you can only call abstract art.
Nailing whatever pieces of scrap wood they can find across horizontal strips of vinyl at whatever angle they can manage at the peak of a robust gale, people are in a rush. Keeping the vinyl on is more important than the beauty of the final product, but the urgency of the installation creates a look of freshness and spontaneity. I am surprised this look has not yet found its way onto one of the hundreds of home improvement shows clogging the television channels.
The vinyl siding manufacturers probably never thought of themselves as patrons of the arts, but they are. They have created a new school: Abstract Vinyl Expressionism.