The Representational vs. the Abstract

The Representational vs. the Abstract

A WTP Website Review

By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor

Marie E. Saint-Cyr is a Haitian-American painter based in Suffolk, NY, who migrated to the United States from Haiti when she was eight years old.  She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and a summer program at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute in Florence, Italy. Stylistically, her paintings frequently evoke the charm and vibrancy of Caribbean pastorals as well as the urgency and energy of urban landscapes. She states in her website,, “I focus on inventing a new space that challenges our notions of how two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes should interact in a space.” A daunting task to say the least, given the canvas is a two-dimensional surface. 

The painting “Welcome,” a loosely painted environment with hints of architectural elements, illustrates this spatial concept. In the center foreground is a representational bench, finally an illusion of a three-dimensional object expressed on a two-dimensional surface. Perhaps her concept is more accurately described as how the abstract and representational styles might interact in the same space. I wondered if the bench represents a welcomed respite in this chaotic environment, hence the title “Welcome.” However, I see no room for rest in this busy composition.

Most abstractionists choose not to report on the visible, but strive to expressively reveal the unknown and might question why you would want to present these two distinctively different styles on the same surface arguing with each other. Saint-Cyr states she “explore[s] the idea of painting without too much intention, allowing chance to take over,” yet her concept is very intentional. I am curious to see if she evolves a more striking way of contrasting the two styles or continues to seek ways to blend them. Perhaps adding an actual third dimension will emerge.

The Representational vs. the Abstract painting
Marie E. Saint-Cyr, Welcome, 2018. Oil on canvas, 60” x 72”

Depths and dimension are complicated issues in contemporary painting. The second-generation lyrical abstractionists (Helen Frankenthaler, etc.) have allowed more room for an allusion to atmospheric depth. Some may argue that real dimension is the next step. In her work “The Beginning,” dramatic swirling motion of what seems to be a roller-coaster track certainly alludes to dimension. Saint-Cyr lures the viewer onto this track, but there is little emphasis on realism here, as the fractured glimpses of a carnival become a foil for the sweeping rhythm that dominates the composition. The high-keyed color certainly lends this painting a contemporary flair, despite its reference to two-dimensional cubist composition.

the representational vs. the abstract painting
Marie E. Saint-Cyr, The Beginning, 2017. Oil on canvas, 48” x 60”

Her series Paper/Mixed Media is generally populated with representational figure studies.  I felt “Sleeping Juju” was the strongest, with its excellent sense of anatomical volume rendered by her pencil strokes.

painting by Marie E. Saint-Cyr
Marie E. Saint-Cyr, Sleeping Juju, 2012-2014. Color pencil on paper, 18” x 24”

Marie E. Saint-Cyr has also been involved with significant public art projects. Her mosaic wall mural in New Castle was inspired by the varied cultural makeup of the town, and immediately reminded me of Gaudi’s decorative mosaic wall at Park Güell Barcelona, Spain. She creatively selected the image of an octopus to symbolize the town center, its tentacles reaching out into the various highlighted communities.

installation by Marie E. Saint-Cyr
Marie E. Saint-Cyr, Wall Mosaic.

All in all, Marie E. Saint-Cyr is a talented young artist whose work is evolving, and we look forward to following her development.

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