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Abstract Watercolor Paintings - A Rise in Popularity

by Lindi Venter
by Andrew Swart

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Abstract art, especially abstract watercolor paintings, have become a mainstream genre of art and particularly well known through the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky is accredited with discovering the abstract art accidentally in his studio, when he suddenly noticed that colors and shapes were descriptive on their own and did not need to be defined. Based on this finding, Kandinsky combined different artistic elements with the abstract form to create interesting, organic shapes in bold colors. During the 1920s, the artist’s work underwent dramatic change, when it started depicting more geometric than organic shapes. Most of Kandinsky’s abstract watercolor paintings were inspired by music, as is apparent from the titles of his paintings, Improvisations and Compositions.

Watercolor Painting as an Art Form

Abstract watercolor paintings use the color and form of the painting as the subject matter, rather than a recognizable or traditional subject. Abstract watercolor painting ranges from the geometric to the more fluid, although both require great planning and execution. Abstract watercolor paintings also depict figurative abstractions, such as a spiritual experience, emotion or sound - Although eliminating the details, the basic spirit and essence is retained.

Abstract watercolor paintings basically took after the post-Renaissance movements of Impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism. Each of these movements sought to affirm the notion that a painting does not need a representative subject to convey the message of a painting.

Rise and Fall of Abstract Watercolor Paintings

Since the prehistoric times, watercolors have been used to ornament walls in living and communal areas. With time, new techniques and mediums were developed, which led to increasing popularity of watercolor paintings. During the medieval period and the Renaissance, watercolor paintings in the form of frescoes and murals were widely popular.

The popularity of abstract watercolor paintings can be attributed to the American as well as British artists. Since watercolor paintings form a complex art medium, artists are at ease with improvisation, since spontaneity is an essential element in watercolor paintings. While watercolor paintings were always popular in Britain, the American artists followed and practiced under British artists. However, during the late 19th century, the US witnessed a surge of watercolor paintings with an emphasis on individualism. This was in stark contrast to the British adherence to rigid traditions and schools of art. The popularity of watercolor paintings also increased with the discovery of paper. Artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are known to have extensively used paper to record their thoughts and to practice.

However, the growth of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s led to the decreasing popularity of watercolor paintings. This was because watercolor was a small, intimate medium that provided limited scope to expressionists. However, the second half of the 20th century witnessed artists like Sam Francis and Paul Jenkins use innovative watercolor techniques and revive the popularity of watercolor paintings.

Trends in Watercolor Paintings

The latest trend in abstract watercolor paintings is the emergence of the do-it-yourself option. Thanks to popular TV programs like “Trading Spaces,” which actively encourage people to create their own art to hang on the walls, anyone can create an abstract watercolor painting. Despite this DIY trend and its current popularity, the amateurish watercolor paintings can never be held up in comparison to the work of the great masters like Kandinsky.