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Archive for the ‘Semiotics’ Category

Every language has a word for three colors: black, white and what would you think?  Yellow, mauve, turquoise, chartreuse, magenta, grey, beige, orange, purple?   Nope,  RED.  Oh, of course, you say.

There are languages that lump all other colors into one word, something like “colorful.”

Why would we single out the color red above all others? Look at strawberries, apples, cherries.  The color red evolved in nature, in fruit specifically, simultaneously with our love of sweetness.  Ripe fruit tends to be red and sweet.  Think strawberry.  Our evolved taste buds longing for sweetness—and, therefore, red—lead us to eat the strawberry.  It’s the strawberry’s way of spreading its seeds and thereby assuring its proliferation.

But we think red is important because it satisfies our craving for sweetness. The red fruit is a source of nourishment and calories to burn and therefore is important for our survival.

It’s not that your mouth is watering when you see red in a painting.  The association is more subtle. Red is deeply connected to survival.  So, red has gravitas.

Test other colors for gravitas:

Not so much, wouldn’t you agree.

 

 

 

 

Again, this exercise in seeing is brought to you courtesy Adobe Photoshop.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.katherinehilden.com

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https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/03/03/red-and-repetition/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/green-anyone/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

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You know by now that I like to ferret out why a painting or drawing holds my attention.  In an abstract painting this is particularly puzzling because no reference, no narrative, no memory is evoked.  Then how is it that these bold non-referential brush marks can be so compelling?

There are two factors. One is composition, the other is color.

The composition here is based on repetition.  There are three “brackets” of different size, orientation and articulation. By articulation I mean how clearly the “bracket motif” is stated. The small one at upper right looks like an emergent, potential bracket.  The largest one of the three is more elaborate than the mid-size one at upper left.  The artist, I’m sure did not analyze her process this way, but rather painted intuitively.  And that’s because the repetition of forms is so compelling in a composition.  We like repetition, rhythm and rhyme in poetry and music. And also in our visual art.

What about that yellow dot? Go back up to the original painting and notice how your eye goes back to this tiny element and how fascinated you are by it. That’s it!  The small yellow dot breaks the repetition, it adds a high note.

The second factor is color, which will come up in the next post.

As I was working on this analysis, I randomly pulled a book off the shelf.  It was a book of poetry by Billy Collins, “Aimless Love.”  I opened it at random and read:

Lucky for some of us,

poetry is a place where both are true at once,

where meaning only one thing at a time spells malfunction.

Cassie Buccellato, painting in oil, 6′ x 4-1/4′

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

www.katherinehilden.com

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In the early 2000’s green was a fashionable color, meaning it was associated with romantic love.  In Steve Martin’s 2005 movie Shopgirl (he wrote the screenplay) the walls of the shopgirl’s apartment were green. I remember thinking, how odd, I thought green walls were for hospitals.

So it goes with color associations.  We talked about that earlier, in the post about blue.

There have been paintings of solid black (Barnett Newman), solid blue (Yves Klein), solid white (Bruce Nauman) and solid red (Malevich). But solid green?

In the 1990’s the Tate showed large solid color paintings by Maria Lalic, including a green that is, however, not applied evenly and flat but thinly striped. So we can’t count it.  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/maria-lalic-2639

What is it about green? Why has nobody made a solid green painting? Kazimir Malevich would not have shown a Green Square next to his Red Square in 1915.

On the internet you can look up “color therapy,” and read that green is the most therapeutic color: “This is the most basic color of all in healing. It is the color which you always use first and last.” https://www.aetherius.org/healing-yourself-and-others/color-therapy/    Is that why walking in parks and woods is restful? But then, consider that there’s more hitting the senses in the woods than green-green-green.

A given color will affect us differently in different contexts.

Try this.

It’s 3 feet square.  In what room of your house would you like to see this?  Really?  For how long?

Next, imagine walking unassumingly into a museum or gallery and there it is, it 8’ x 8.’  Your whole visual field is filled, it envelops you, nothing else exists. Here you have green and its complementary color, red, for maximum contrast.  The Malevich juxtaposition in 1915 would have been comical, but here the contrast may give you a profound jolt.

Now let’s take another break from color.  What happens when you switch abruptly between the Renaissance sensibility and the modern sensibility in which we’ve been immersing ourselves here? We will now toggle back again from 2000 to 1500.

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/those-blues/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

www.khilden.com

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Can you isolate a color from your memory or your culture or art history?

Just the word Blues triggers an association in your mind.  “Feelin’ blue”–you hear the music in your head.

Our culture and history are loaded (and weighed down) with the symbolism of certain colors.   In 15th century France red was the color of power, as in for the king; green was the color of love; blue was for the Virgin Mary. But in Renaissance Italy Mary is often shown wearing blue and red.  Symbolism falls apart easily when you stop to look and think about it even a little bit.

Consider the colors in flags, like the popular red and blue.  Any given country will have historic and symbolic explanations for the color of the stripes in its flag.  Same color, different symbols for different flags.

I’ve read that blue is the most widely loved color throughout the world.  No symbols necessary.

But here’s the thing. Any attempt to pin a color down to meaning, symbolism or cultural propriety has to fail.  The reason for this is simple:  color does not exist by itself, in isolation.  Any color will always be seen next to another color, i.e. in the context of another color.

Back to the hue called blue.  There are many variations of blue.

Does the blue at the top of this post remind you of uniforms?  Official orders? The proper way to do things here?  The energetic brushwork we saw in the red version of this painting, the original painting by Keven Wilder, seems to get dampened by this cold, military blue.  Doesn’t it?  I can’t be sure.  Color is subjective.

If you mix ultramarine blue with a little alizarin crimson, you get a purplish blue, but still blue, a so-called warm blue:

If you mix cerulean blue, which is already cool…

with a bit of yellow, you’ll get a very cool, even greenish, blue, but still blue. Like this:

After that, things get more complicated depending on what wall color you hang your blue painting or  whether the painting next to it will have red, yellow or orange in it, for example.

We’ve looked at this before.  https://artamaze.wordpress.com/?s=albers

The groundbreaking authority on the relativity of color is Josef Albers. For an eye popping introduction, go to: https://www.google.com/search?q=josef+albers&tbm=isch&source=hp&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjw48eBpMbgAhUHTawKHbmvDdEQiR56BAgEEBU&biw=1222&bih=815

Josef Albers is an essential teacher and companion in any study of color.  Keep his little book Homage to the Square at your side. He won’t simplify anything for you.  On the contrary, he will show you how infinite and subtle the perception of color is.  It may drive you a little crazy.  Ahhhh! Color!

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/black/

https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/red-and-rational/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

www.khilden.com

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Here we have it in black. What do you think now?  What do you feel?

Do you think this is more cerebral, more subdued? Neutral?  And does that go with “less emotional or not emotional at all?”  Even “cold?”

Would you consider this friendlier, more accessible, more tuned to emotion than the previous red version?

Would this be just right for a child’s room? A dining room?  For a corporate office?

Would you like it huge, say 10’ x 10’?  Then, would you like to have the huge version in your home or should it be in a museum?

Would you say it’s more “modern” than the original red?

None of these adjectives have anything to do with ultimate judgments of “like” or “dislike.” Actually doesn’t like-or-dislike come first, as the immediate gut reaction?  Gut reactions are emotional.  All other descriptions like “neutral” or “cerebral” come later, as rationalizations of that gut reaction, don’t they?.

This is a valuable exercise. Thanks to Photoshop we’re able to isolate one factor, in this case, color, in a painting. We can now test out how we react to color.  How do we associate to color?

Review the original at https://artamaze.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

http://www.katherinehilden.com

http://facefame.wordpress.com

http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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This painting by Keven Wilder is three feet square. It is monochrome; painted with only two tools, a wide brush and a wide squeegee. And it is immediately appealing.

Monochrome: the artist used only one color, red, and then the same red mixed with white for a paler, heathery red near the border.

The red was applied with a flat 3” brush. Then came the squeegee.  While the red was still wet (this is oil paint) the 3” squeegee, loaded with white paint, deposited white paint in the center of the painting, scraping some red into it in the process.

Appealing. The painting is immediately moving and intriguing.  How can that be? How can something be intriguing, when it can be described so easily, even mechanically?

The first reason is that in all cultures red is perceived as emotionally evocative. Red is sensuous:  enveloping, round, cozy, sweet, ripe, luscious, delicious.*

The second reason is that the strokes of the brush and squeegee are the opposite of sensuous.  They are abrupt, quick, random, indifferent, angular, flat, rational, raggedy.

These two qualities, red and rational,  are contradictory.  That contradiction creates drama in this painting.  You can deconstruct this all you want.  But the painting is not a well-argued paragraph in a debate or a dissertation at the Sorbonne.  It’s a paradox.

The paradox is to be inhabited.  And once you’re in it, you’ll be scintillating and lose your self.

*I want to talk about red in greater depth in future posts: symbolism, psychology, history, language.

Next, let’s run this painting through different hues.  What’s special about red?  We’ll see about that!

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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http://katherinehilden.wordpress.com

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George Stubbs (1724-1806) was sought after as a painter of horses, often shown with their proud owners.  His format is always horizontal, since a horse’s body is long.  To show it in its full glory you needed to portray it from the side, in its longest extension. In his paintings of horse and rider, the horse is more important than the rider, even if it’s the Marquess of Wocestershiresauce.

If the owner of the horse wanted to be shown as more important, however, the format had to be vertical.  Now the Marquess of Watever is shown in full verticality and his beloved horse…oh, wait, how can we get the horse in this picture?  Looks like we have to foreshorten the animal.  That means, the horse has to be shown either from the front or the back.  Well, we can’t have the horse’s hindquarters, the whatsit, poking out towards the viewer, so I guess it will have to be the head.

An example of a foreshortened horse is Joshua Reynolds’  portrait of Captain George K.H. Coussmaker.  The wall sign at the Met says, “Reynolds gave close attention to his portrait of George Kein Hayward Coussmaker, a lieutenant and captain in the first regiment of Foot Guards.  No fewer than twenty-one appointments—and at least two more for the sitter’s horse—are recorded between February 9 and April 16, 1782.  The composition is complex and the whole vigorously painted.”  Complex, indeed.  The  horse’s body is forced into a semi-circle, stretching its head to an anatomically unbelievable length. To show that the head is connected to a horse, Reynolds paints in some hooves,  pointing daintily like a ballerina’s toes.  A tour de force, all for the sake of framing the captain in an elegant arch. He must have been a vain, humorless man.

We get an even more daringly foreshortened horse in Henry Raeburn’s portrait of George Harley Drummond. This horse—and I wish we knew the horse’s name—is shown in complete indifference to the proceedings.  She grazes nonchalantly while the aristocrat is posing for his portrait.  Aside from the anthropomorphizing of the animal, the artist has solved the foreshortening challenge in an ingenious, witty and possibly satirical way.  Really, your lordship, the horse’s hindquarters?!

One wonders if the expression “horse’s ass” was in circulation in Scotland in the early eighteen hundreds.  Perhaps the man in the fine boots had a sense of humor—after all, he must have approved the composition—and hung it in his great entrance hall where he positioned himself to greet his neighboring land owners as they arrived for his party, letting everybody know what he really thought of them.

The Met, once again, stays away from the possibility of satire: “The foreshortened view of the grazing bay horse is the most complex part of the composition, though not the most important.  It is curious, therefore, that the animal’s hindquarters should so prominently displayed.”

Exquisitely painted hindquarters, yes.  But the Met is prudishly polite: the horse’s ass is  obviously the most important part of the painting!

Happy April Fools Day to All!

George Stubbs | The Marquess of Rockingham’s ‘Scrub’, 1762

Joshua Reynold (1723-1792).  Captain George K.H. Coussmaker

Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). George Harley Drummond.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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