The paths to abstraction are straighter and shorter than one might realise—and they can double back. Let’s begin with the rock art—engravings and paintings—found in every corner of the globe; from Africa to Australia, from Norway to South America. They share specific characteristics even as they have a regional flavour, and these same characteristics—notches, circles, lozenges, clutches of dots alongside schematised stick figures—all point to symbolic abstraction as a precursor of naturalism. Such abbreviated motifs are a record of man’s apprehension of his world. Clearly abstraction had particularly early beginnings. This mark-making by our prehistoric cousins—the impulse to incise or…
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