Abstract Perspectives: A Conversation With Ellen Globokar, Ai-Wen Wu Kratz, and Mark Schiff 

“It is like a poet or a composer in music to create a work from imagination. An abstract painter is a painter who has the skill to create a visual presence from nothingness.” – Ai-Wen Wu Kratz

Ellen Globokar, Mark Schiff, and Ai-Wen Wu Kratz have one thing in common: they see reality in abstraction. Using various modi operandi, the artists filter what they see through the lens of their individual sensitivities and perceptions. 

Globokar, a skilled oil landscape painter, crafts Japanese paper collages that reflect the quiet beauty of the natural world. Her pastel-hued tapestries evoke contemplative scenes of marine shores, riverbanks, flower fields, or tranquil autumn afternoons. Kratz explores the full gamut of artistic expression with symphonic compositions firmly rooted in geometry. Her sources encompass classical music, ballet, nature, and the literary arts, which she weaves into dynamic narratives that tantalize the five senses. Schiff takes a more expressionistic and immediate approach to his art. Using a technique similar to Pollock’s dripping, he creates multi-layered surfaces that vibrate with color and sizzle with energy.

In this interview they speak of their passion for abstraction, how it has shaped their view of the world, and what their vision for the future is. 

Why Abstract Art?

Globokar: After years of painting landscapes, still lifes, and figures, one of my teachers suggested I take an abstract painting class. I found it liberating. The first time I saw the Diebenkorn exhibit at the Whitney in NY in the late 1990’s, I was in awe. Until then, I could look at an abstract painting and appreciate it, but Diebenkorn’s work really affected me because I could feel the landscape and the space and distance in his paintings. For the past several years, I have spent half the year on representational art and the other half creating abstract collages. Switching back and forth keeps me from getting stale or bored, and more importantly, enhances creativity. 

Ellen Globokar
Ellen Globokar, Kaleidoscope #3, 2023, collage on canvas, 30″ x 24″
Ellen Globokar
Ellen Globokar, Kaleidoscope #4, collage on canvas, 30″ x 24
Ellen Globokar
Ellen Globokar, Rock Me on the Water, collage on canvas, 48″ x 36″

Schiff: It lets me express myself and really let go! I channel my passion for the mystery of life into my painting. Each painting becomes an expression of my connection to life and offers the viewer an expansive invitation to engage in the conversation of living.

Kratz: To the general public or playful individuals, abstract art may appear to be ‘anything goes’. From my own experience, I find it easier to make a painting to describe a subject matter than to write a poem about the subject matter. To compose artworks in abstraction is an intellectual practice. It is like a poet or a composer in music to create a work from imagination. An abstract painter is a painter who has the skill to create a visual presence from nothingness. Instead of giving the viewer a description of an object, his goal is to maximize the full potential of each visual element. The end result is to entice the viewers’ imagination. From this, creativity is multiplied.

Abstraction often acts as a filter of reality, whether inward or outward. Could you share some insights into your creative process and how you approach translating your perceptions and experiences into art?

Schiff: When painting in acrylic, I love to overlap layers of color to create texture and interest. To me, this layering technique is dynamic, bold, solid, and grounded. These are the same qualities that represent a sense of stability in my own life. My work has been compared to Monet and Pollock. Pollock’s works appear wild, and chaotic and show the pain in his life. Monet painted a sense of beauty and peacefulness. I am expressing the human condition and its extremes. 

Mark Schiff
Mark Schiff, Granada Lilies, 2022, mixed media on canvas, 60″ x 48″
Mark Schiff
Mark Schiff, Reims Lilies, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 48″
Mark Schiff
Mark Schiff, Summer Lilies 3, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 48″

Kratz: I attend concerts, ballet, and modern dance performances, and operas, and listen to music and books in my studio. I find it beneficial to make correlations between fields. For example, the pauses in a piece of music would cultivate my sense to place the negative and positive spaces on my canvas. I would imagine myself to be an unyielding choreographer who delineates the sequence of steps and movements on the stage, or to imagine the glorious expansion of an excellent soprano sustaining a high G note for more than 20 beats while articulating the lyrics.

Globokar: I have been fortunate enough to always live near water. I grew up in Michigan where you are never far from a body of water. I am fortunate to now have a home on Delaware Bay where I can see both the bay and ocean from my deck. I have watched thousands of sunsets from the beginning until the last light and I am still fascinated by what appears before me. I love the depth of space and movement of the clouds–the color changes and how when you isolate a particular color it is completely different than how it appears when it resides next to another color. 

Ellen Globokar in her studio in Somerset, Maryland

The use of color is prominent in all your artworks. How do you select and work with colors to convey your intended messages or moods?

Kratz: One’s choices in all the aspects of making a piece of artwork are intimately related to one’s perceptions and experiences. A great variety of paintings that represent the same mood will result because the choice of colors to represent the same mood would vary from person to person. Moreover, our senses of the relation between colors also differ from person to person. To select and work with colors to convey my intended messages or mood, I would use my own judgment, based on my feelings and perceptions.

Ai-Wen Wu Kratz
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz, In Praise of Children Literature, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 32″
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz, Color Logic II / Red, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 10″
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz, Color Logic II / Green, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 10″

Globokar: While I set out about 16 colors (paints and dyes), until I begin layering them on top of each other, I won’t know exactly where it’s going to go. I try to put out a variety of colors mixing them with white or greys. Sometimes I use metallic paints. Next, I choose from all the paper I have painted. Sometimes it might just be a corner that I think is beautiful. I tear them into pieces and lay out similar colors together–like a painter’s palette, and I begin. Although it’s the color you probably notice first—I am thinking about the light, form, and space—I don’t just want a canvas full of color. 

Schiff: Lately I enjoy using blue and white–it reminds me of water and the ocean. It feels like a moment of meditation and introspection.

What do you hope viewers take away from your artwork in terms of emotions of personal experiences?

Ai-Wen Wu Kratz
Ai-Wen Wu Kratz painting in her studio

Kratz: The creative motivations I aim at are spirituality, intellectualism, and aesthetics. To the viewers of my works, I wish to convey positivity and hope. In general, no artwork of mine carries a literal message. They are entities that intend to enhance the viewers’ day-to-day life. It is not to beautify, but to lead the viewers to feel and to imagine so as to attain a higher level of spiritual and intellectual experiences. I hope my works do what classical music does to classical music lovers. The same it is with what literature does to us.

Schiff: Let go and enjoy life. We are in sync with a big universe, which I believe we can live in harmony with and be a vibrant part of each and every day. I hope that viewers respond openly to my work. Each painting is a dialogue, a conversation, between each viewer and me. It is a unique interaction because it doesn’t involve words; it is a way to reach out visually. I enjoy hearing from viewers about their responses.

Globokar: I hope my work takes the viewer to nature—whether it’s a wild, cascading fall explosion of color, a breezy spring morning, or a peaceful sunset on the water. Peace, joy, meditation, and beauty. The world is dark enough these days, so for me, my art is my escape. For 25 years, I used my brain, passion, and energy for politics, and I respect those who express pain, injustice, or evil through their art but that’s not where I am right now.

What is your vision for the future of your art, and how do you see it evolving over time?

Studio portrait of Mark Schiff

Schiff: I think I will apply paint in the same way in the future–a lot of dabbing with brushes and small tools, as well as my hands. I may change the size of my canvases as well as the colors that I select for each work of art. It may depend on something personal–my emotions at that moment–or it may depend on something larger–my reaction to things going on in the world.

Globokar: I spent several months this year, taking all the different ideas I had and just experimenting, not worrying about whether something was working or marketable. When I first began making collages, most of my palette was soft–a lot of variations of greys, blues, and pastels. Later, I drifted toward brighter colors, and larger shapes, with more movement, and combining both horizontal and vertical pieces. Recently, I started using tiny bits of paper in some of my work. I’d like to try this on a larger scale.

Kratz: My father supported me in my vocation to be a painter. His pounding words were, “Be strong in ethics. Your works mirror you.” When I work, I aim to make visual poems. From the body of my works, in the end, I would like viewers to be able to find evidence of intellect, purity, and creativity.


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