Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Ideas on colour

Ideas on colour:

Beginning posts will explore theoretical aspects, which I find essential for in-depth analysis or description of art. I wholeheartedly believe that to fully understand something one has to discover how did the enjoyed thing was made, its material, colour, the way that the light falls, then the period in which it was created and its history, so that finally one can say that he/she knows, understands, adores, or finds this particular thing inspiring. I tend to think that it is not possible to be inspired by an object without knowing what the object represents, who it was made by or why it was made. It might be an old fashioned approach, which is more time consuming, but again I prefer to know less if the knowledge I possess is of a good quality. Lately I was drawn into theories on colour. Colour is an essential and vital element of art, performance, even music. There are several fragments of texts from various artists I would like to share with you. Firstly in this essay, I will analyse my favourite excerpt from a letter of Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo:

“[…] Absolute black does not really occur. But like white, it is present in almost all colours, and forms the endless variety of greys- distinguished in tone and intensity- so that in nature one really does not see anything but tones and intensities[…] By adding black and some white one gets the endless variation of greys, red-grey, yellow-grey, blue-grey, green-grey, orange-grey, violet-grey....”

Most of all I enjoy artists' views on colour or form as they have a background in working with the medium, they feel most delicate differences in the tones and shades, here we have a view on the idea of lack of purity in colour, every shade in van Gogh's opinion has a certain amount of grey in it, which creates a world of grey shades varying on warmth or cool, shade and intensity. As if for van Gogh everything begins from black or white mixed in various variations. Black for him is present but never definitely on its own, never an absolute black. This opens a pallet of colours, no longer just yellow, blue, violet, he offers a different perspective, which requires nature of explorer as one to see what van Gogh is writing about has to learn to look, has to teach one's eyes to see those delicate at times, less obvious differences. Vincent's works has a lot of this to offer he beautifully operates with colours, similar shades delicately mingling in the thickly applied paint.  

Cypresses, 1889
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) Oil on canvas; 36 3/4 x 29 1/8 in. (93.4 x 74 cm) Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.30)

 In Cypresses, the idea expressed by Vincent is beautifully visible, cool shades of blues and greens, delicately joined by warmth, which is hardly noticeable. He refers to the cypresses as a 'dark patch' and this dark patch for him is a colour as if this aspect in the process of painting was more interesting for him. His sensitivity to colour was exquisite,  we can see colours from close signifying nothing but patches or thick bulbs of paint, from distance they move, vibrate, as if planning to leave the canvas, or to imitate the move of the leaves and grass accompanied by a delicate blows of wind. Van Gogh is like classical music, always alive, complicated, emotional and colourful, to cherish his art one has to see his works live and once seeing them to spend a longer moment in analysing thickly placed paint and to move together with his work, once closer once a bit more distant, only then the power of colour and form will show its secrets to the viewer. And once it happens it is an emotional and moving experience, and then one can say 'I have seen van Gogh and I understood him'.

Another interesting point to make is the approach of van Gogh's contemporaries to the idea of 'primary' colour,  in Colour and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism John Gage (p.31) states:

" was one of the important achievements of the experimental psychology of van Gogh's time to have shown that a love of strong, saturated 'primary' colours was not the preserve of primitives or of children, but was also common among educated European adults[...]"

Twentieth-century directed artists towards strong, vibrant colours. One can think of Impressionists, and then Gauguin, Munch, Cezanne, and then followed by Picasso, Dali, Rousseau, Matisse, Kandinsky, Bonnard, Hopper, Kahlo and many others. Those great painters were using colour as a tool to express culture, like did Gauguin or Kahlo. A tool to express form like did Miro and Picasso, and a tool to express imagination like did Dali and Kandinsk.

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940
Frida Kahlo, Nickolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings, 1953
Joan Mirรณ

Considering colour on so many levels gives it strength, which has to be included in the interpretation of the painting and expands interpretation to deeper layers. Gage makes an interesting point on colour:

“It was these psychological as well as technological developments that lay behind what has always been recognized as the enormously expanded interest in high contrasting hues that marks the visual expression of twentieth-century Western culture, and which has sometimes been characterized, rather misleadingly, as the emancipation of colour in the modern world.”

Colour was always an important tool of art, in Ancient Greece all stature and highly ranked buildings were encrusted with gems and painted in vibrant reds and blues. In Medieval era, Churches were filled with colours so that those who could not read were able to experience the significance of their faith. In Renaissance colours were far more delicate, but still spoke to those who wanted to experience art, as were hiding various symbols. Baroque offered more vibrant shades as was all about splendour and excess. Each period had to offer different approach to art so that it was distinguished from the preceding period, Twentieth-century was no different in that matter, it was different from previous and opened space for the future developments in art. And theory of colour is one of the factors which changed together with the trends. I shall write more on the ideas behind of the importance of colour form perspectives of other painters and theorists and on its symbolism which is fascinating. But for now I shall leave you with some points made by use of Vincent van Gogh's ideas. I am interested what other people think of him as a painter, so feel free to share with me your beautiful thoughts.