Book Review — Painting Abstract Landscapes

Cover of Painting Abstract Landscapes

Painting Abstract Landscapes

By Gareth Edwards and Kate Reeve-Edwards

I was initially interested in this book because I wanted to incorporate abstract elements into my own landscape work. It is undeniable that abstract elements lend a mystery  and poetic quality to artwork, but I didn’t want to go full abstract in my work. So, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more. 

Gareth Edwards is a professional abstract painter, he is an elected RWA academician, a long term resident of St. Ives historic Porthmeor Studios and a prominent member of Newlyn Society of Artists. 

Kate Reeve-Edwards is Gareth’s daughter and an art writer. They have collaborated to produce Painting Abstract Landscapes. 

In her preface, Kate describes the pleasure of learning about her father’s techniques, but more so, collaborating with her father brought her into his studio where she watched him work, and had conversations which deepened her understanding of artworks she had known throughout her childhood. She began to understand the philosophy,poetry and thoughtful process of building a painting. 

In his introduction, Gareth Edwards sets the stage for what is to come. It is an essay on being an artist. Abstract Landscape Painting was first developed by Turner and Edwards pays homage throughout the book.

He describes his frustration at the lack of information available to his students regarding abstract landscape painting.  He decided to write this book to fill that void.

This introduction put me in a new mindset for approaching my work. I confess, when I paint it is practice for the most part. I rarely think about constructing ” an object and a window ” as Edward’s describes  a painting. An object recognized for its own qualities and a window for the viewer to look into and explore. I gave no thought to the viewer and the experience I might create for them. I’m so caught up in color, composition and value relationships that I have simply been practicing. Now, after reading this book, I became aware of the very important aspects of poetry and mystery and I want to begin building that into my work.

Those elements form the foundation of Abstract Landscape Painting.  These three words are consistently capitalized throughout the book,  I feel the Edwards’ are serious about making this an accepted genre of contemporary art. And that is what sets the book apart. Yes, there is the usual coverage of color,value and composition and the other elements listed in the contents. The difference here is these elements are explained in the context of their ultimate service of providing a way for the artist to express feeling, emotion and resonance with the natural landscape. This book is a bridge between the technical and the poetic in painting. Every part of building a painting is described with this end in mind. Very few practical guides mention how to tackle that part of creating an artwork. 

If you read my review last month for Trust the Process by Shaun McNiff this book will go hand in hand with the suggestions from McNiff’s book. It’s like a how to on trusting the process. 

But it’s not just wild abandon.  Here, Edwards covers the subjects from his own experience of creating abstract landscapes for 25 years. Taking what he learned academically, his own experience and his knowledge from teaching students, he guides the reader through the use of paint,  mediums, surfaces, tools and his own process for working.  Central to that process is the idea of a theme. Not just for the current painting, but the deep emotional response an artist has to nature.

Do you know what your themes are?

Edwards suggests you must make an effort to recognize your themes and nurture them in order to connect to your work.

Peace Burial at Sea

Peace Burial at Sea  JMW Turner

  • Abstract Landscape painting seeks to combine instinct and poetry with fundamental skills.

And so, with that in mind, basic fundamentals such as composition, tone, color, space and texture are introduced and yet transformed into the tools we need for emotional expression and resonance that impart deep meaning and connection.

Each chapter is a collection of art history and examples to study, but also, guidance on how to achieve your unique visual expression. 

Particularly interesting was the discussion on linear perspective and atmospheric perspective and how to incorporate the two to get a feeling of movement and depth into a work and, at the same time, maintain a sense of mystery allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions.  This point of view is something I have been searching for in my work and Edwards leaves it to the artist to decide how much of each to incorporate in order to achieve their vision. 

Process pictures are presented throughout the book, detailed photos of works by Edwards let us see the texture and mark making, the fractured surfaces and atmospheric quantities that he strives for in his work. 

Then, the icing on the cake! The final chapter, ” How to finish a painting ” is a  collection of essays focusing on the finishing techniques of various artists. An intimate look at how each artist considers the character,  resonance and life of the work. In this chapter I came to understand the emotional connection of the artist to the artwork and how that connection guides the action of the artist. Resulting in a give and take that imbues the artwork with life force and resonance that will create lasting appeal. 

I never expected to be transformed by this book, but I am. I have been searching for a way to impart emotion and resonance in my work and now I have a guide.  I don’t know where it will lead, but I will trust the process and incorporate the suggestions from this book into my own work.

The Artists Book Club recommendation:

This book is a catalyst for the artist. Whether you paint landscapes or still life, if you are searching for a little mystery and poetry in your work this is a must have book. Beginning artists may feel a little overwhelmed but it’s good to be exposed to these very important concepts.