Art History Formal Analysis – Loren Teed (Untitled 1995)
Teed’s brightly coloured abstract painting poses a challenge to any viewer attempting to appropriate it to other abstract still-lifes, for although it is a still-
life, it is a still-life in motion. With strong vertical
lines, deliberately disjointed horizontals, and mostly
organized curves, Teed’s work radiates a feeling of absolute potency that is powerless only to the hands of time.
The fascinating spatial and surface arrangement of the piece is what most lends it this untouchable quality. Although there is a centrally located form, the eye is not immediately drawn to it—there exists an odd harmony that forbids the viewer from instantly scrutinizing and mentally highlighting a single form, you are obliged to absorb all the forms as a single solitary body on first impression. The central figures are positioned on a black background. The black does not excessively emphasize the bright forms it encompasses; instead it counterbalances the surrounding mix of vibrant reds, pinks, and verticals. Lack of emphasis on any specific object is imperative to the balance of the entire painting, even though the objects themselves do not appear ‘balanced’. The pink and purple pastel object in the middle, which looks like a coiled-up bunny toy, precariously balances an inconsistent succession of spheres. Two of the spheres are identical in size, but the white one on the bottom is partially eclipsed by its red counterpart on top. The red sphere demonstrates a technical rarity in Teed’s work; it is the only other obvious case of colour mixing besides the pastel ‘bunny’. The orange highlights accentuate the red ball’s spherical dimensions, giving the three spheres the appearance of mid-air trajectory, as if Teed captured the moment photographically; in motion; but frozen.
Despite the lack of formal symmetry and the seemingly arbitrary placement of forms and figures on the canvas, there is still an overall balance to the piece. On the right side of the canvas, a white pedestal supports a blue form that encircles four floating carrot-coloured cube shapes, resembling a wide-mouthed goblet with orange ice-cubes or even a fancy goldfish bowl. Directly below it is an upright tubular shape that resembles a simple vase. So cleanly painted, the vase flawlessly captures the elements of modernist abstraction. Because it partially eclipses the bottom of the white form above it, the vase also adds to the unusual simultaneously atmospheric and linear perspective of the painting. The ‘goblet’ and ‘vase’ on the right side are equally balanced with the tall and thin apparatus form on the far left. The form looks like a chemist’s ring stand, and its back extends all the way to the top, merging with the strong vertical lines of the background behind it in the top left corner. These verticals are balanced by the eclectic melee of black, pink, and red orthogonal lines in the bottom right corner. These endless and seemingly unbounded orthogonal lines and forms are crucial to the painting’s perspective, especially the triangular figure in the top right corner. It appears to be bridging the central black expanse to an object behind it, hidden from the viewer.
Teed plays with our assumptions about what ‘line’ implies by carefully keeping patterns entirely away from the black—nowhere in the painting do patterns encounter black, even the body of the red-on-blue splotched triangular bridge form instantly transforms into solid red, and the navy and sky blue stripes in the inside back of the ‘goblet’ object are intercepted by all of its surrounding colours except for black. Teed manipulates the effects of black in a less inconspicuous way by outlining only certain forms
By creating only two very strong diagonal lines, Teed successfully forces us to revert our common tendency to register a painting’s middle as its most crucial point. The diagonals radiate from an assumed focal point on the far left that we don’t see—thus, the black surface creates a spotlight-like effect on the forms and objects it accommodates without emphasizing them. With the casual repetition of three green cylinders along the bottom, Teed again adds to the illusory perspective, for although the cylinders are perfectly symmetrical shapes, the cylinder on the far right teeters perilously between coloured precincts, creating more intrigue than interest. Perhaps Teed used the permissive objectivity that indefinite perspective offered his viewers to contrast with the simplicity yet incredible saturation of colours in the painting. The violently clear reds are sobered by the black gravity yet cheered by the arbitrary assembly of varying pinks, oranges, and yellows. A complete lack of shadowing and shading in the piece is remunerated by the strong opposition created between the vertical lines, diagonal lines, and the organic and geometric shapes. In the vertical stripes of the top left, there is a slight disruption in our vision for no apparent reason; the lines tab slightly like the labeling on a folder, but proceed to straighten out once again.
The vertical lines also demonstrate Teed’s use of repetition, both obvious and candid, and his exceptional skill in combining them. One of the stripes has a traffic-light repetition of circles.