Key Takeaway: One of the most painted subjects, landscapes lend themselves terrifically to abstraction. Choosing the artist and the style you love is an adventure in travel — memories of destinations past and dreams of places to visit in the future. Let’s dig in to abstract landscape paintings.
Before we dive in, if you feel like you need a quick primer on what abstract art is, please read this short post called “What is abstract art?” For the purposes of this article, an abstract landscape is one which, to varying degrees, isn’t trying to be photorealistic.
A Quick Art History Tour of Abstracted Landscapes
The earliest abstract landscape artists weren’t called that. They were part of other movements like Impressionism (Monet), Post Impressionism (Van Gogh), and Fauvism (Matisse). Instead of trying to paint exactly what they saw, they painted a version of what they saw, changing colors and forms to fit their version of the world in front of them.
Typically, abstract representations are about editing out unnecessary information and modifying visual cues to convey other meanings like emotion or mood, to communicate a sense of place. Sometimes the tools an artist uses to create their work influence the artistic decision-making, as in this example of a woodblock print.
Perhaps one of the most well-known images by a Japanese artist, this color print from a wooden block carving by Katsushika Hokusai is a terrific example of choosing which details to include and which to leave out. Much of today’s abstract art is influenced by the art of Japanese woodblock prints (though the technique originated in China).
Another famous landscape painter, Claude Monet, was one of the earliest abstract landscape painters in Europe. He, like the other Impressionists in the movement he founded, wanted to capture the feeling of being in a place, particularly through an emphasis on representing color and light more than faithful reproductive detail.
This particular example from among his dozens of paintings of haystacks in the French countryside captures the light of sunset, the colors in the shadows of the stacks, and the texture of his subject tremendously. Even if the subject matter doesn’t thrill you, it’s amazing to see how he builds color in a way that makes you feel like you’re there.
Like Monet, Vincent Van Gogh did a spectacular job capturing the colors of a place. I had the privilege of visiting the asylum where we stayed in St. Remy, France, and when I looked out at the fields with olive trees, or the fields of sunflowers, it was rather amazing to me how faithful his representations were when it came to color and light. Van Gogh’s abstraction was primarily about detail (or lack thereof) and more about creating movement.
The painting above conveys a windy day even though it is a completely static image. It’s an ordinary landscape but an extraordinary painting that comes to life through impeccable composition and use of a restricted color palette.
Last in our brief survey of abstract landscape history, a self-taught painter, Henri Rousseau, whose works are super detailed and yet still not photorealistic. We know this because even though most of his landscape paintings take place in a jungle, he never left France to see a jungle with his own eyes. His reference materials were sourced mostly children’s and botanical art books.
Rousseau was a master of the brush, blending so many shades of green into perfect representations of leaves and grass blades. In this painting, as is the case in some of his others, the sense of scale is out of proportion to reality. This technique makes the figures in his paintings, who are often the subjects, seem small in comparison to the natural settings in which they are featured.
An unfathomable number of abstract landscape paintings, drawings, and prints have been created in the intervening century. Many of their works are copyright-protected so I can’t post them here, but here are a few I’d suggest checking out if you’d like to continue to catch up on a more recent history of abstract landscape art:
- David Hockney (b. 1937) often works from memory, changing life’s colors to a vivid palette and warping perspective to suit what he wants his viewers to see. The work he was doing in the late 1990s, especially his work around The Grand Canyon is worth your time.
- Georgia O’Keeffe (b. 1887 d. 1986) was best known for her floral paintings that remind us of lady parts and cow skulls, but her abstract landscapes continue to inspire artists working today. Here’s a quick survey of her work.
- Richard Diebenkorn (b. 1922) is an abstract expressionist who flourished in California during the mid- 20th century. His abstract landscape paintings really push what we think of as a landscape, while still evoking a sense of place, mostly through use of color and color fields.
Artists Making Abstract Landscape Paintings Today
After the Abstract movement exploded on the scene in the early 1900s, the world of art was never the same. Now artists are free to create whatever we want, most of which ends up being abstract.
Here is a selection of living artists whose abstract landscape paintings inspire me in my own work. I personally am most inspired by the natural landscape (as opposed to man-made landscapes) and vivid colors. I also really appreciate the work and though that goes into the visual editing which occurs when an artist abstracts a real subject.
Vahe Yeremyan, an Armenian-born painter currently living in Los Angeles, is a prolific painter. His works vary terrifically in subject matter, color palette, and amount of abstraction. The best style term I can use to describe Yeremyan’s work is Impressionism. Much of his work is a more modern, broad-brushed take on the ideas Monet was developing. Here is a selection of his works that I enjoy.
Jun Youngjin is a Korean artist living in Seoul. Her work is mostly an ongoing series called Painting for painting and is characterized by landscapes that are rendered geometrically, creating a pixelated effect. I don’t love all of her work, as some of it looks like it belongs in a video game for kids. The selections shown here reflect strong color theory, abstraction applied in a consistent way, and nice composition.
I first came across this artists’ work on Kottke.org where “frequent topics of interest among the 26,000+ posts include art, technology, science, visual culture, design, music, cities, food, architecture, sports, endless nonsense, and carefully curated current events, all of it lightly contextualized. Basically, it’s the world’s complete knowledge, relentlessly filtered through my [Jason Kottke] particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.”
Kottke shared the artist’s work because “They are analog and organic but also more than a little pixel-y.” I agree with his assessment, but from a more technical art perspective, there’s a lot going on in these works — how the colors relate to each other, how Anderson divides the cityscape and its reflection subtly but evidently, the dynamic foreground element which draws you in to this imagined cityscape, and the different applications of paint make this work a brilliant example of abstract landscape art.
How to Choose an Abstract Landscape Painting
When considering the purchase of an abstract landscape for your home or office, a few “standard” pieces of advice should be considered:
- Do you want a painting, a drawing, or a print? Original paintings can bring life to any space. Drawings are often very organic feeling and contain a lot of detail. Prints often provide a very clean and minimalist mode of decoration.
- How large of a piece do you want to buy? Will it go above a bed or a desk? Will it decorate a hallway?
- Do you want a highly abstracted work or something quite recognizable? Notice how large brush strokes are, or how much detail has been included in the work.
- Do you have a color or color palette in mind? Are you looking for a bold color palette that will stand out or is something subtle more to your taste?
- Do you have a subject matter in mind? Maybe a favorite place to which you’ve travelled or somewhere you’d like to visit some day?
There are a practically unlimited number of styles of abstract landscape art. Here are a nine different paintings, representing some of the many styles,colors, and subjects for you to consider. I hope it inspires you to go find an abstract landscape painting to buy and love and support a living artist.