Artists explain to Alice Ross how abstract, surreal and conceptual art can fuel their creativity

Abstract and surreal art offers a chance to let go, to be purely creative, to work unconstrained by representing reality.

It allows you to work with all your emotions and communicate your thoughts and feelings through colour, texture and shape. Of course, the ways in which creatives choose to go about rendering these slippery concepts into art varies hugely.

Some turn to the surreal, where charged, symbolic objects and elements brush up against one another in fantastic, suggestive landscapes or settings. Others turn to the conceptual, where the idea dominates, and the means in which it is executed pales into the background. Yet others render their ideas into the purest forms they can, creating abstract pieces by divorcing their work as far as possible from the realm of recognisable objects.

More often, however, these three strands – abstract, conceptual and surreal – overlap, so a piece that is largely abstract may have recognisable elements that suggest a more concrete meaning.

For many artists, abstract and conceptual pieces are a way of exploring thoughts and feelings that are just out of reach. Justin Mezzell (justinmezzell.com) explains: “Most of my abstract work comes from a desire to convey a message that I, myself, don’t fully know how to articulate.”

Jonathan Foerster (atleastwedream.com) points out that abstract art is a uniquely pure way of depicting emotions which, in themselves, have no concrete appearance. “I like to think of my work as a representation of feelings, emotions, thoughts and ideas that usually stem from my personal experiences,” he says.

“Since there are no visual aspects to how these are perceived, I’m basically putting a face to them,” he continues. “Love, fear, anxiety, anger, passion, lust, death, life are all covered widely within my work and there is usually a combination of many [of these]. My work is a timeline of my life and what I’m going through or working out at the time – if I’m not trying to work something out, my personal artwork output slows down pretty drastically.”

Justin Mezzell created The Not-So-Lonely Planet for an article in Neue Magazine on “the ever-closing disconnect of humanity that is being bridged by an increasingly digital society”, he says

As far as Jonathan is concerned, these are thoughts he can’t express any other way. “I am a very quiet person in the flesh, but through my artwork I’m expressing many things that may never leave my head, heart or mouth.”
Danilo Rodrigues (danilorodrigues.com) says that abstract and conceptual art is all about striving to make
the invisible visible: “We have five senses which make us experience the world around us. But I think where we keep it all, the mind or the soul, is a mixture of time, form and colour that does not obey any of our senses. Trying to represent that is so interesting.”

His colourful, eclectic collages, populated by people so pristine they resemble shop mannequins, have a strong mystical dimension that reflects his own spiritual wanderings, he says.

“Lately my personal work has had shamanic studies as its theme – I studied this for a time in Brazil. I am always trying to represent all those lessons and feelings that these studies have given me.” Some of his other work represents musings on Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths, he adds.

“I’ve always been interested in creating separate planes of existence that somehow parallel our world,” says Justin Mezzell. “The goal is to create a sense of familiarity in a fantastic universe”

Edvard Scott (edvardscott.com) says that his vivid, dreamlike images are the purest way he can express himself. “It’s my way of formulating ideas. For some people words come naturally, for others music. For me this way of illustrating or drawing happens by itself.”

He continues: “That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it does mean that I can’t draw beautiful, almost photographic portraits – partly because it doesn’t [communicate] my ideas, and partly because I simply am not familiar with
the technique required to do it.”

Creating abstract art doesn’t always mean abandoning representative artwork entirely: in Edvard’s art, shapes, graphic motifs and splashes of colour are intertwined with hints and intimations of objects – anything from aviator shades or arrows to human faces – to create suggestive and completely absorbing compositions.

He says that his artworks often form around a particular motif. “When I start shaping things in my head they look like certain parts of my illustrations: a form, a colour combination, a pattern… They all grow out of something. What I like is, I see different parts of the world, and what they become [in my art] is up to me. It’s not the abstract that attracts me: it’s the things I can make abstract.”

This sense of experimentation, of transforming the world to come up with entirely new forms and juxtapositions, is a common theme among abstract and conceptual artists. Justin Mezzell explains: “I’ve always loved the open nature of working with non-literal elements: abstraction is one of my favourite platforms for experimentation.”

“My work is a mixture of collage and abstraction, but always incorporating real elements,” says Danilo Rodrigues, who created this illustration for Junto magazine

These experiments aren’t always an instant success. “There are times I’ve worked on a piece with vigour, and it eventually dissolved into disaster. Other times, a project that began sub-par has become some of my favourite
work, because of the freedom in conceptual art to chase different directions.

“Abstract design can be quite a gamble for an artist to take,” he reflects. “But without challenging the process consistently – and failing more often than not – I don’t think I get the vision I’m ultimately striving for.”