Mo Tuncay is a self-taught and extraordinarily gifted abstract artist who paints, not so much scenes, as he does notions of scenes—paintings that allow his viewers to experience the emotions of being in these ideal spots. We viewers may not agree on what we’re seeing, but, for the most part, we all recognize a similar–if not identical–feeling from a Tuncay image. Having said that, let me express my unwavering wavering, oscillating and vacillating about my decision to write about abstract art. The more abstract a piece is, the more personal is the immediate response for the viewer. Unlike realism, in which the personal response comes after understanding of what one sees, making a connection with a literary context, examining symbols and other elements in the visuals and “knowing” about what the image says and what it’s about, abstract works begin with the personal response—in the opposite way from realism: the emotional and more intimate and private response begins the internal show, and from that, each viewer determines what he or she sees on the canvas. The problem is that, when I tell other viewers what I see before they have had a chance to examine the piece themselves, then I have imposed myself—my understanding—on them, and they will be hindered in reaching their own understandings of the same piece. So, for me to write about Mo Tuncay’s work, I need to partially destroy it for you because I will have to begin to interpret these pieces before you are able to do so on your own, and that’s sad. There are, however, ways you, as a viewer yourself, can fight against my demolition, and I will discuss these, but you will ultimately have to make yourself a stronger interpreter of art for your own benefit if you are to stay my hand.
Thankfully Mo Tuncay is a crafty artist who follows the number-one rule of my very first music teacher, Mrs. Conrad, who taught us that every time you play a recital, for every three or four pieces your audience is not familiar with, you need to play something that they are familiar with so that they can see how good you really are. As it applies to abstract pictorial art, I would interpret it this way: Every once in a while, paint something that is less abstract so that your viewers can use their understanding there to help them interpret your more abstract canvases. With Tuncay having done that, I can dramatically diminish damaging what you derive . . . Dude.
With that, let’s jump right into one of Tuncay’s apparently less abstract canvases, a work simply entitled “Landscape Art,” that seems to present a familiar scene. Before you read on, take a gander for yourself (Below) to see if what you see agrees with what I am about to say. I’ll wait:
So, here’s what I see: A small glade whose only specificity comes from the title. We could be looking at any glade on any mountain. There is a small pond that is deeper on the right side of the canvas than on the left where the water seems to be drying, leaving a bit of mud in which we can see the reflection of the dying leaves on the trees in the distance. The trees on the right, nearer the source of water, are green and lush, despite the fact that they are growing on what appears to be a small hill or knoll leading away from the water. One might assume that the pond is fed from a stream leading down that hill. There is more texture to the drying leaves on the left, and that is both significant to see and important to have been included because it emphasizes a tactile difference between the softer, more delicate-to- the-touch green leaves on the right where there’s less texture, which suggests that softness and offers some contrast to the dryer and more brittle leaves on the left. The sky is mostly clear with some wisps of non-threatening, white clouds in the distance. Overall, Tuncay presents for us a charming scene of a spot for rest and recovery.
Assuming that you can agree with what I see, we can discuss the emotional impact as well. I find myself wanting to sit on a log or a rock and take the scene in. It’s tranquil and pleasant. The clouds hint at a bit of a pleasant breeze, and the water even looks refreshing.
Now, ask yourself this: Do I see the same thing in the painting that this writer does? If you don’t, then decide what you do see. I DARE you to prove me wrong, and I won’t take offense. Then, once you establish what you see, contemplate what you feel. Are the feelings similar? Do not do yourself the disservice of assuming that, since I am writing, that I must be correct. It’s not about being correct; it’s about appreciating and interpreting. Trust your own instincts. “Reach out with the Force, Luke.”
For this painting in particular, I am willing to bet that both our visual and emotional receptions are very similar. Let us, then, look at something less concrete, but don’t try to “see” anything in it. Look at the image and think about how you feel. The title is, “In to Blue.” (Please note that the title has been translated into English by the artist from his adopted language of Dutch. Therefore, “Into Blue,” might also serve as a more grammatically correct title.)
My initial feeling from this painting is a sense of foreboding despite the pleasant blue that carries most of the canvas. I am deathly afraid of heights, and this painting’s vertical orientation gives me a sense of great height. So, once I have that in mind, I go on to “find” something visual in the presentation, and I immediately see a tall waterfall with something emerging from behind—coming “out of blue” regardless of the title. It’s not clear what is emerging, and that lack of clarity adds to my misgivings inspired by this work. It could be something quite innocuous. On the other hand . . .
What you experience is from you and what you see as a result is equally personal, but that is the beauty of abstract art. Tuncay is not painting a picture, and, to be honest, there is no reason that an artist must paint visually recognizable images. There is no biblical commandment, no prerequisite for an artist’s entrance into heaven that dictates that he or she creates something conveniently common to appeal to our vision. Tuncay is painting an emotion for us, and that is the strength of his art.
But this brings us into the next important point of understanding a work of pictorial art: considering the title. For the abstract artist, a title can give too much information to the viewer and can cause as much damage to his viewer’s appreciation of the work as another person’s writing can. Less is distinctly more for a title of an abstract work. It must hint; it mustn’t interpret on its own.
For example, the first painting I discussed, “Landscape Art,” is titled to orient us, but the title is only enough for us to understand that it is a landscape work. But the specifics are entirely up to the viewer, as they should be. It is for this reason that many abstract works are untitled altogether. The “subject” is entirely up to the viewer. In fact, the same is true of many modern poems. I’m thinking mainly of E. E. Cummings who never titled his works. Editors have, for organizational reasons, used the first lines of his poems as titles, but the works are untitled for the same reason that many abstract pictorial works are: “Don’t give the reader/viewer too much information.” The same is true of many classical pieces of music: the titles give mere descriptions of the form of music or of the speed in which it should be played. An untitled abstract work hearkens back to this fine musical tradition. And it is here that Tuncay oversteps his bounds for the title of one of his pieces: “Magical Sunset.”
Brooding moodiness seems to take the main stage with this piece, and the title seems to suggest to viewers that they should shift their focus from the darkness to the light; from the chaos of life to God, from our problems to our blessings and so on. In this way, the painting with this title reminds me of a scene from the movie, Forrest Gump, in which the titular character, on his first day of school, is refused seats on the school bus, row after row, but that’s not where Forrest rests his focus. Instead, out of this dark moment in life—one with which we can all identify— Forrest focuses on the voice of the young girl who invites him to sit with her, and he describes her voice as the “sweetest voice in the whole wide world.” He could have focused on all the rejections, but, instead, he focuses on the light. It’s a lovely scene.
This is all fine and dandy, but Tuncay’s title for this piece is taking me in directions that, on an emotional level, I don’t want to go with this work. I want to focus on the darkness of the work, not because I want to brood, but because, while a person is in the darkness, he knows that there will be an end of it, and that darkness will make any incipient light more rewarding. When I see this work, I am reminded of “The Deluge” by Francis Danby (1837) or of “Snowstorm, Avalence and Inundation—A Scene in the Upper Part of the Val d’Aosta by Joseph M. W. Turner (also 1837).
These are dark pieces, but it’s okay for art to have its darkness, especially since art, all on its own, is its own light in an otherwise dark world. As the graffiti artist wrote: “Earth without ART is just ‘eh.”
So, yes, Tuncay erred on the side of “TMI” for this title, but he doesn’t live in the repetition of this error. Consider for a moment his work, “This Is Where I Long to be.”
The title gives us only enough information to intrigue us, but viewers have no idea where Tuncay is taking them. The only sense we have from the title is that it must be a pleasant idea, and the colour scheme, which is mainly large patches of pleasant pastel colours, offers no hint of tension. Virtually everything after a subtle hint in the title is left to us to imagine. When I see this image, my eyes are taken immediately to the centre where there is a series of circular features. I see halos there, and I am instantly reminded of so many late medieval or early renaissance depictions of biblical events. I am reminded, for example, of Simon Ushakov’s “The Last Supper” for all of the halos, and of “The Lamentation” by Giotto, for the same reason. Even so, these are not happy events, and, really, I don’t long to share in them, not if I am to be honest. After all, I cry at sad commercials, let alone sad, real-life events. No, if it’s a place I long to be, then it must be a happy event.
Then I look at the large baby-blue patch just to the right of centre. That area, especially with the yellow patch to the right of it, reminds me of the Virgin Mary kneeling in a manger scene, and with that realization, I am immediately transported to a scene like that of Giotto’s “Adoration of the Magi” or “Nativity.” Yes, I can easily long to be in a scene such as one of these.
But that’s just me. I love Christmas with all the trimmings and celebrations, so it’s easy for me to be transported to the Nativity. It’s not important for you to know where I am taken for you to be taken to where you long to be. Where do Tuncay’s circular features transport you? To answer that, you need to simply enjoy the art and, perhaps, talk with someone about it, because, just like writing does for me, many people learn more about themselves once they begin talking about themselves. So, what does Tuncay’s abstract art teach you about you? The fact that such a question can even be uttered, gives justification and power to the art of the abstract.
Enjoy a few more of his works here. Click images to enlarge.