Degree Name

Doctor of Creative Arts


Faculty of Creative Arts


For this study, two series of abstract paintings have been produced, each demonstrating a distinctive and different working process. The analysis of these methods forms the catalyst and the main focus in the argument for a reappraisal of formalist theory within contemporary art practice. The working methods establish a significant departure from the conventions of painting influenced by formalist theory and culminating in the New York school of Abstract Expressionists in the middle of the twentieth century, where the expressive mark or gesture made by the artist was of paramount value. Instead, methods that provide for a disconnection from the expressive mark have been developed; such as a press and release technique similar to mono-printing; and a method that involves the movement of the canvas support rather than the expressive movement of the hand or arm of the maker. Formalism became the dominant theory in western visual arts in the middle of the twentieth century but for the past forty years has been seriously challenged by postmodern artists, critics and theorists. An historical background of formalism articulated by Roger Fry (1909; 1920), Clive Bell (1958) and Clement Greenberg (1939; 1940; 1960; 1961) is presented together with a critique of formalist thought by Suzi Gablik (1991; 2001), Rosalind Krauss (1981; 1993), and Thomas McEvilley (1990; 1993; 1996). The methods that have been developed in the production of the paintings, and how they relate to the issues raised in the analysis of formalism are discussed. In particular, issues relating to the role of the individual as painter, the disconnection from the expressive mark, and the content and meaning within the work are examined. The contrasting working methods of Irish American artist Sean Scully (b.1945) and German artist Gerhard Richter (b.1932) are used to illustrate this examination. A more moderate approach to formalism rather than the exclusive and extreme position held by Greenberg is proposed, one that still focuses on the formal qualities of the work as a primary consideration in the making and evaluation, but acknowledging other influences within the process of production, which in turn influence the reading of the final work. Many artists such as Mark Rothko (1952), Robert Motherwell (1982) and Howard Hodgkin (1996) have identified the retention of integrity as an essential quality within a painting. Jacques Maritain (1943; 1953) has presented an analysis of how truth and honesty is embedded in painting, but most writers and scholars have largely ignored him. By utilising his arguments, it is argued here that the integrity of the method of production is a vital characteristic in the evaluation of a painting and this thesis explores how it can be corrupted as well as retained. The significance of this body of work is that it extends the range of methods of image making within the field of abstract painting, particularly those that do not involve the expressive mark of the maker. Furthermore, it addresses the issue of integrity within the method of production in the visual arts, which is largely neglected in current literature.