Liza Johnson

     I feel a constant pull between realism and abstraction. Realism is stressful and a huge challenge for me, but I love a good challenge. Abstraction is interesting and relaxing. Years ago, I had a painting professor tell me that I had to “earn my abstraction” before she would allow me to actually create any abstract work for her class. She later told me, as I was working on a self-portrait, that I would always be an abstract painter. She felt that even my realistic work had elements of abstraction within it.  I eventually went to complete abstraction, creating many large 6’x6′ paintings, but the words of that professor have played in my head many times throughout the years. As an art teacher I developed a greater understanding of and respect for this idea of “earning your abstraction.” I firmly believe that a good foundation in the basic drawing and painting techniques that are needed to create realistic subject matter, especially portraiture, can only strengthen the abstract work of an artist.

     Within the past couple of years, it has become a challenge and an obsession for me to create portraits that are as realistic as possible and I love the simplicity of a pencil and paper as I struggle for realism. Most of my portraits are of my beautiful children, friends or the loved ones of those that have commissioned me to do a piece for them. I greatly enjoy trying to capture that specific look, in either pencil or paint, that  makes the viewer  think that they almost know what the person in the portrait is thinking or feeling.

     I still find abstraction to be a relaxing break from the stress of realism and I continue to have a curiosity about the varying feelings of the general public about abstract work. I wonder what it is that makes people believe that certain types of work are more credible as quality artwork and what it is that makes some people place a high value on realism and completely disregard abstraction?