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It’s not that scary

July 30th, 2019

Image by the AGO.

This AGOinsider story was written by Cassandra Engineer, AGO Communications Coordinator.

Picture this: you’re wandering through the AGO, making your way through beautifully detailed landscape paintings and lifelike portraits, when you’re met face-to-face with a large abstract work. You turn to your friend and say, “I can do that!”. This is the story of how I tried to prove it.

Abstract Painting is a four-week course at the AGO  that takes place one evening each week for three hours – a great way to flex your creative muscles. I joined AGO Instructor Michael Toke in the third session of his four-week course to give you the inside scoop on what a typical course looks like in the Dr. Anne Tanenbaum Gallery School.

First things first: what is abstract art? Abstract art is free from representative qualities. Unlike art forms that are meant to represent real life, abstract art is independent from visual references in favour of exploring colour and form.

For this course, a basic knowledge of painting techniques is recommended, which you can learn through the Introduction to Painting course offered at the AGO. I confess I am not a complete novice at this. I have a background in visual art, but I typically deal in realism. I draw and paint portraits, objects and things that exist in the real world as I see them. While this may give me an advantage with basic techniques, there is no doubt that abstract art still proved to be challenging for me.

During the three-hour course we explored many terms, methods and techniques, yet still had ample opportunity to create. The course began with a review from a previous class, in which we spent time viewing the work of other students and hearing some of what they learned throughout their process. Michael then gave us a creative prompt to get the ball rolling — we played with the idea of doodles and the “mindless doodling” we often repeat while we’re on the phone or sitting in class – and did some practice “sketches” on paper.

Next, we spent time talking about visual language and conceptual framework, referring to examples of artists such as Picasso and Hofmann, with references to cubism, surrealism and rayonism. The class then participated in a demonstration of wet-on-wet techniques for acrylic paintings and discussed the idea of addition and subtraction in abstract art. Then we were set free to create…

There is something truly intimidating about standing in front of a blank canvas. Without the use of a true reference, like a photo or an object, I felt a bit intimidated. But throughout the evening, Michael made a real effort to help break down the barriers many of us might have when it comes to approaching abstract art. He was encouraging and helpful throughout the whole process. By the end of the class, I felt much more comfortable with the idea of abstraction (see painting below) and was itching to create some more!

My completed painting. Image by the AGO.

If you’re looking for a challenge or to try something new, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and into an AGO course. There’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing the final product of your work and confidently saying, “I can do that!” (And prove it!).

Try the Abstract Painting Intensive (a one-week course) from August 27 to 30 with Michael Toke and follow him on Instagram. If abstract painting isn’t your thing, there are many other courses offered at the AGO.

Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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