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Posts Tagged ‘color’

I presented the ideas of Johannes Itten in that class (see previous post) and also the paintings of Turner.

Art historians discuss Turner in connection with the aesthetic of the Sublime, a central idea in Romanticism.  The Sublime was opposed to beauty, restraint, balance, harmony.  Romantic poets felt tormented by infinite longing and passion that could not be contained.  In their debates about form and content , form lost its former respect.  The content of turbulent emotion and the newly discovered dark aspects of the psyche—not as sin but as depth and authenticity—were seen to correspond to the awe and terror of natural forces , such as mountains and oceans.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 –1851) is famous for his seascapes, which are most often turbulent and terrifying:  burning ships; ship wrecks; drowning, shackled slaves; blazing orange skies. Though he was a member of the Royal Academy, he had to endure much ridicule from his contemporaries who preferred polite, sedate , well-ordered pictures to be mollified by.

Turner also painted landscapes.  He hated the color green and painted landscapes while avoiding that color.  What is a landscape?  We keep coming back to that question in my landscape class.  Turner assures us that it’s not about the color green.

I didn’t present the Sublime in class.  Just looking at Turner gives you goose bumps and you GET it.  Elaine C. again faced a white canvas by putting down color and letting the form follow.  This is a small painting, about 12 x 16.  If it were 48 x 64, it would pull us into the Romantic Sublime.

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The Bauhaus was a school of art and (later) architecture in Germany, founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.  In the first three years of its existence the school’s teaching methods and aesthetics were set by Johannes Itten, an artist inclined to Eastern philosophies and meditation.  He was instrumental in bringing Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee to the school.  The twenties is a time of tremendous energy in German art movements, for example German Expressionism and The Blue Rider, both concerned with the primacy of color.

Itten wrote “The Art of Color” and devised the Color Sphere, shown here.

He abandoned 19th century teaching methods, involving rules and the traditional subservience of color to subject matter.  Instead of color filling in a drawing, color became the starting point.  He discovered that students find color associations that are unique to their temperament and sensibility.  You start with color, he said.  Then you contemplate it and the next color will follow from this contemplation.

This sounds easy.  What could be easier than plopping down a dollop of color.  Turns out, it’s not. When we’re  in preschool, yes, but when we’re adults, there are often too many psychological barriers.

I suggested Itten’s approach in my class.  Through our windows we could hear the wind howling.  The lake was turbulent and muddy, the trees were bare and raggedy.  Elaine C. put a wisp of green on her white canvas. Itten would have noticed, as I did, and he would have kept his meditative distance, as I did.  The colors developed, as if on their own.  I can’t explain how this happens.  But I do know that the painting comes out of the process itself.

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Your brain loves a straight line.  It’s quick, leads you from one end to the other in an instant.  It divides one side from another and no ifs or buts about it.  Then the brain dusts off its hands, congratulates itself on a job well done and moves on to something else.

When you put a clean crisp line into your painting you tickle that part of the brain that wants to know what’s what and therefore your attention will go to that line and you will be pleased.

Let’s look at a recent painting by Ellen G.  Here on the right you see it in the almost-finished stage.  We get the sense that this is a construction (it was derived from a collage, measuring less than 2 inches) and that directs us to see is as an abstraction, an invitation to engage in interpretation, that necessary pastime of us moderns.  What am I looking at here, the eye says.  Well, I see a reddish trapezoid, a bit of green on the right, an L shaped yellow thing, a fuzzy dip (#3) into a lead gray rectangle and then, oh look, there this thing on the lower right that looks like a landscape(#1).  Thank you, artist!  You gave me something to identify and latch on to because it relates to the real world.  Once you see this picture within a picture, it will dominate your attention.  This hilly vista with a suggestion of something like telephone wires just came out like that. In the original collage it was a bit of torn paper.  No matter, here it’s incarnated as a landscape and it takes over and you keep going back to it.  The rest of the painting then will look irrelevant, if you can even get yourself to pay attention to the yellow and the red.

Now, look what happens when the edge at #2 is made absolutely clean and straight.  Your eye zooms to it.  The “landscape” at #1 still demands your attention, but now it has competition.  The clean line at #2 compels your eye up.  Then what?  There’s a synaptic jump and you land at #4.  What’s #4?  Nothing.  It’s pure shape and color.  It’s an angle, the intersection of two lines, not as compelling as a clean line would be, but, hey,   it’s red.  So there you are at this angle, which forms an arrow.  And where does the arrow lead? Down to #1.  So, the artist has us coming and going, moving through this painting and wanting to stay with it.  When this happens, your brain becomes mind and you love puzzlement. There you are, looking at this thing, feeling entranced.

What about the yellow-orange L shape?  That’s texture.  Texture engages you with its emotional power.  See next post.

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At first glance, this painting by Charlene W. may seem self- indulgent.  And it is, it is self-indulgent in the sense that it goes wild with color and transgresses against our sense of realism. Well—we’ve been here before—who cares about realism.  We’re not hired to document the Hapsburgs’s holdings in lumber.  We’re painting because we might stumble upon some way to document our sheer excitement at the sight of shapes and the way light plays on them—and the way colors play on canvas.  You can see that Charlene got into color.  She was standing on the Evanston Art Center’s grounds and looking at a cluster of trees.  Very ordinary trees, by the way, and none of them were blue or purple.  Nor were there nearly as many as she put into the painting.  She invented. She invented for the sake of color, rhythm and—let’s call it—exuberance.

The exuberance is, however, reined in by compositional restraint.  Notice the faint suggestion of a horizon at the top.  The tree trunks are all vertical; no tree is sinewy or leaning.  And then there’s the X formed by the yellow light going from upper left to lower right; and the repetition of the dark trunks on the lower left and then on the upper right which cause the eye to move up, from left to right.

And what does the dotted green line indicate?  It goes through the most prominent tree trunk and indicates the Golden Section.

Without these compositional elements,  the painting might very well look too riotous and non-communicative.  If you enjoy looking at it, it’s probably because it comes at you from both sides, the rational (structure) and the emotional (color and texture).

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When André Derain painted this landscape in 1906, this is not what he saw.  The painting is called “The Turning Road, L’Estaque.”  That’s a town in southern France, I’ve been there and I can testify to the fact  that the trees there are not red and neither is the grass. It’s all green green green.

What Derain saw is closer to what Charlene W. saw when she painted three trees near the Evanston Art Center.  Tree trunks tend to be brownish-gray and grass is inevitably as green as grass.  This relentless greenness is one of the challenges of landscape painting. Not that we don’t like green.  On the contrary, the various shades of green in nature are cool, refreshing and relaxing.   We seek out such relaxing sites and it’s probably  why we like to sit on the porch and enjoy our lawns.

But the experience of a real landscape comes with the fresh scent of rain, perhaps, or a breeze  that makes us close our eyes in appreciation.  In a painting we don’t have these accompanying sensations.  All we have is a rectangle with color and shapes.  I can’t think of any painting that is as truly green as the landscape that inspired it.  And while we’ve had all blue paintings (Yves Klein), all black paintings (Ad Reinhardt) and all white paintings (Robert Ryman), I’ve never come across an all green painting.  Hmm, what is it about the color green…someone please make an all green painting so we can think about this more clearly.

Charlene, looking at all that green, turned to me and said, I want to have more color.  I showed her a book on Fauvism and she immediately recognized kindred spirits in that movement.  “Les Fauves” means “the wild beasts,”  an appellation attached to painters who showed their work in 1906 in Paris and shocked the dove-gray spats off the critics. Surely civilization as they knew it was coming to an end.  Well, it hasn’t and in my opinion has gotten a whole lot better in the past century.  One thing that’s improved, seems to me, is our love of color.

Charlene’s  landscape looks as if it were on fire.  Photosynthesis gives us the color green in vegetation, granted.  But in the larger picture, the oxygen that photosynthesis produces will become part of some combustion somewhere, maybe in your body—and your brain.  In your retina.  In your optic nerve.

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Your Internet Provider giveth and your Internet Provider taketh away.  Your call is important to us…your approximate waiting time is fifteen minutes…due to high volume of calls…you understand, don’t you.  No, AT&T, I don’t understand, and I’ve been trying to get a consistent answer from your people for three hours.  Insult to injury,  I have to talk on the phone.  Who talks on the phone anymore?  People make appointments by email—hello, that would be the internet—to talk on the phone.  The phone… so 20th century.  Like a Bogey flick or smoking or not moussing your hair, or whatever.

Luckily, I draw.  I’ve never been so desperately in need of drawing as this past Internet-deprived week.

I truly think there’s therapy in drawing.  The tools are simple: a pencil and paper, both of the ordinary variety, will do.

In case of extreme frustration with the world out there, I recommend color. You may think that’s too complicated or too messy.  Not so.  Use markers and glossy paper.  I recommend Chartpak markers and the PITT artist pen with the B tip.  By glossy paper I mean the kind used for color printing, available at office supply stores and  11 x 17 would be the recommended size.    The markers are expensive, so buy them when they’re on sale in August, half price in art supply stores.  Buy whatever you like and add to your palette over time.  Just start.  The PITT pens come in a variety of colors, buy black and maybe a brown and whatever else you feel like.

It’s about feeling.  That’s why I’m not giving specific advice, nothing “academic” about this.  I’m recommending that you doodle in color because color triggers strong emotional associations.  You’ll also discover that the materials I recommended make blending possible.  Blending itself has feeling overtones.  And one more thing: you will not erase.  In this medium, you can’t.  This means that your doodles will never be “good” or “bad.”  They will only transmogrify from one thing to another.

What to doodle?  You can invent forms and let them take you away.  Or you can pick up a magazine or some piece of ubiquitous junk mail and draw what you find there.

And exhale!

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