by Robert Linsley. Reaktion, dist. By University of Chicago Press, February 2017. 216 p. ill. ISBN 9781780236322 (pbk), $27.00.
Reviewed May 2017
Beyond Resemblance seeks to “illuminate abstract art today” with a series of essays that explore abstract art’s relevance in an age of "global conceptualism." The essays are a series of informal case studies with central themes, such as “drawing in space” and “literariness of abstraction,” which discuss specific artworks by artists who represent multiple continents, including the Americas, Asia, and Europe, thus providing a global perspective.
Beyond Resemblance is printed on high quality paper and includes an introduction, prologue, nine chapters, epilogue, four pages of references organized by chapter, and forty-nine good quality illustrations interspersed throughout. The author, Robert Linsley, was an artist and writer based in Ontario, Canada, who earned an MFA from the University of British Columbia in 1988.
Linsley analyzes artworks by both well-known and lesser-known artists, mainly focusing on technique and the visual result instead of focusing on motivation or meaning. He does not claim to be an art historian and writes in first-person, offering readers his own likes and dislikes, making the book conversational, though with an authoritative voice because of the author’s knowledge of art history and contemporary art. While Linsley states early on that it would be a “bad idea” to define abstract art, he offers potential definitions throughout, nonetheless never settling on one definition as more, or less, apt than another. Linsley also explores a variety of techniques, including drip and pour (Louis Morris and Jackson Pollock), the squeegee (Gerhard Richter), illusion (Carla Accardi), shaped canvases (Frank Stella), high relief (Judy Pfaff), and installation (Rachel Harrison).
The author discusses artwork and techniques that relate to his own abstract artwork, in which he used the poured paint technique as well as shaped and three-dimensional surfaces. Robert Linsley died in early February 2017. Given the book’s personal explorations of abstract art, it is regretful that we will not know what direction the author’s own artwork would have taken, particularly given his observation, at the end of chapter nine, on the limitations of the poured technique, that “to simply register the action of the weather or the effect of gravity is inadequate because these phenomena are external to the work.”
Beyond Resemblance is a working-artist’s insightful exploration of the relevance, and future, of abstract art that provides more questions than answers in order to promote thought and discourse. It is recommended for academic libraries at universities or colleges with studio art programs.