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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Abstract Avenger

Until the late 1960s, he had tried, despite his own aesthetic judgement, to appreciate abstract art. He had visited galleries across the world to study works by Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Mondigliani, De Stijl, Miró and other ‘masters’. He had conceded a modicum of technical competence in some compositions, but retained the suspicion that these painters had conspired, somehow, to perpetrate the biggest practical joke of all time.

The abstract expressionist movement had reinforced his hypothesis. Even the closest study of pieces by Tobey, Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko failed to reveal any technical skill beyond that of a poorly coordinated chimpanzee.

He accepted that abstract art could be seen as a response to photography. With the advent of the camera, painting had lost a purpose in recording and representing the world. Even historical or mythical scenes could be posed and captured on film. This sometimes led him to doubt his conspiracy theory. Perhaps it had been legitimate for painting to seek radical new routes, even if some had halted in incomprehensible cul-de-sacs?

Then he saw Telephone Booths by Richard Estes. He had been stunned by a painting which not only replaced a photograph, but surpassed it. Photorealism had given the artist control of detail that a mere camera would have been forced to delegate to the serendipity of the moment. The brush could eclipse the lens.

In an instant he realised that the abstract ‘masters’ must have known that photorealism was possible. Their 'art' had been unnecessary. It had all, without doubt, been a lazy, self-indulgent scam. Perhaps this deception, of itself, was the ‘art’ that the perpetrators had intended to create - a living installation of deluded, suggestible connoisseurs claiming to discern meaning in nonsense?

Now that he had finally understood, he felt no anger towards the ‘artists’. It was very, very funny. Nevertheless, he recognised the unfairness upon those who remained innocent victims of this practical joke. He sympathised with the ultimate humiliation of those who still struggled to find complex pseudo-intellectual language to attribute meaning to the meaningless; those who battled to suppress any nagging, philistinian thought that a ten million pound canvas might resemble the product of small child with a crayon or a cat having been sick.

Justice had to be done; but justice appropriate to the crime. As he emerged into sunlight from the womb of the Estes exhibition, the Abstract Avenger was born.

The Avenger listed one representative work by each of thirty ‘crapstract masters’. He then revisited the galleries where each hung, taking covert photographs and making detailed notes of floor-plans and gallery routines.

Even now, those of us who came to know of his ten year mission do not fully understand how the Abstract Avenger was subsequently able to modify each painting, unobserved. Even less, how those changes have remained undetected for the past quarter century.

Nevertheless, I have always enjoyed a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to see Pollock's One: Number 31, or a visit to the Miró Foundation in Barcelona to view Miro’s Morning Star, or a visit to London’s Tate Modern to see Mondrian’s Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue.

When using the correct photosensitive glasses, the Avenger’s words, ‘This Work Is Total Bollocks!!!’, dominate each of these paintings - and the twenty-seven others.

Yesterday, the Abstract Avenger died peacefully in his sleep. I must now fulfil his final instruction by posting this obituary to the world’s press together with the glasses that reveal abstract art in its true colours.