Friday, April 10, 2009

Artistic or expressive color


Descent from the cross. Peter Rubens

I have so far enumerated two methods of arriving at the color in a painting. The first is observation, that is looking out at the landscape or still life or whatever, and recording the notes you see there.

The second method is by using a formula. In the studio, what you want to paint is not before you, perhaps it is a mythological scene or you are making a painting inside from a drawing made outside. The color decisions are made using a formal logic, of which there are many.These vary from the most scientific, like a color wheel, to simply controlling what colors are on the palette to limit the colors you can produce.

The third method of coloring a painting I will call artistic or expressive color. Not because the preceding two methods are less artistic, but because in this method the colors are arrived at from the individual color sense of the artist.There seem to be artists who have an internal well from which they draw their color. So I am speaking here about the method rather than the result. All of these approaches have yielded masterpieces.

Monet would be an example of of a painter using observation. it was said of Monet that he was nothing but an eye . But God what an eye!

Below is an example of a painter arriving at his color through the use of formulae. Leon Gerome was a 19th century French academic painter. The Academic painters of that era were very well versed in assembling chords of color to make their work both beautiful and convincing.
He was not able to create this scene by observing colors in front of him in nature. He had to invent and use an ordered skein of colors

I would use one of the Venetians, say Paolo Veronese, as an example of someone using expressive color. Here's one:

Here is another;

I think this pieta is sublimely beautiful.
I could have used Van Gogh or El Greco for an example here. However you have seen so many of those, I thought I would use something a little less familiar.
The colors in these paintings can be analyzed with a color wheel . I suppose any painting can. However I think he used his colors more automatically than that. A musician whose music is played by ear can be analyzed in terms of scale and notation. But that's not how he makes music. There seem to be people who have an innate sense of color, a particular "talent" for its arrangement. More than any other skill in painting, skill in handling color seems to be as much endowed as acquired.. Not that a lot can't be learned about color, but there are artists seemingly born with a natural ability there.

I think an artist like Veronese, who is known as a colorist, had an internal, personal well from which he drew his color. Essentially I think he said to himself ,"It sure would look cool if I used this color here".

Like any other method this can lead to great painting in the hands of a master, or truly wretched color at the hands of a tyro. It gives the most original color, as it is the most individual. A great painting will look as if it could have been made only by the hand of a single man.

Many of the abstract expressionist painters had this particular ability, I am as you may have noticed, fond of Jackson Pollack. He knew his color theory, but I think he had an instinctive ability for color selection. I have often thought of borrowing some of his color schemes to impose on my landscapes, which color method would that be?


willek said...

The posts and the comments are all of an extremely high caliber. Please keep it up. My first teacher was a senior at the boston MFA School. He had me use a warm and cool of each primary and white. He said it was considered a "hot" pallet and athat it was an impressionist's pallet. He said to mix the colors for the near stuff with the warm colors and mix the distant colors with the cool primaries.Doing this resulted in an automatic creation of depth in my paintings. It was a revelation to the beginner I was at the time.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanx Willek;
I have a feeling you are much hipper now than you were then, however:
"Automatic" sytems like that are fine now and then. If you do an entire show of paintings done in a method like this, they all look the same.
I have a few sort of stock methods, one actually learned from a friend using the Dumond palette involves stepping distance back by modification with different cadmiums, that I haul out either for variety or to get a painting up and working that is stuck,or worse,dull.
Its handy to have a bunch of "novelty" methods in your repertoire to deal with things in original ways,or to survive difficult problems that pop up routinely in paintings....Stape

jeff said...

I just say the Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese show at the MFA in Boston last week. There are some real gems in that show and one by Veronese that is walking off the canvas and the colors look so vibrant.

It is a show well worth going to.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the reminder. I do want to see that. I was in Venice a couple of years ago and was really taken with Tintoretto. I had a good Tintoretto book as a kid. Great art and it doesn't get as much attention as it should. I suppose because it is mostly over in Italy.....Stape

Robert Ellefson said...

Could you expand on the idea of color chords? Or lead me to a later post where you talk more about it? A google search yielded way too many music pages to be fruitful. What is a color chord and what ways can it be utilized? Thanks! -Robert