Thursday, November 21, 2013

True Colors and Colorists

Note: Robert Genn is a Canadian painter whose weekly comments about art and life have been insightful as well as witty. I especially enjoy his quotes from artists and others.
Robert now battles cancer. This is one of his latest blogs. His daughter, Sara, also a painter, will continue his posts. Their way of spelling color as colour makes my spell check wake up, but it is the Canadian/English way.
If you enjoy this post or find it informative, Google Robert Genn and sign up for the newsletters. BBL

Dear Artists,
There are colourists and there are colourists. There are those among us whose colours are clunky and crude--and there are those whose colours are deadly, tasty, and "right on." There are even some, like Paul Gauguin, who believe colour ought to be arbitrary--that is, it's a good idea if the sky is green and the grass is red. 

Self Portrait with Halo -- oil on wood 29 x 20 inches by Paul Gauguin
Self Portrait with Halo
oil on wood
29 x 20 inches
by Paul Gauguin
Self portrait -- oil painting  by Joaquin Sorolla
Self portrait
oil painting
by Joaquin Sorolla
While we're at it, there are those who think tone values are more important than hue--which is similar to saying colour is arbitrary. But even newly baptized novices know that if you manage to get the right colour your painting can look "true." God may work in light, but we mortals work in pigment. Getting the colour of the light through haze in front of a distant range of hills is, for many, the Holy Grail. It's not in the magic of some new pigment, it's a matter of looking, seeing, mixing, testing and adjusting. 

Looking is opening your mind to your impressions. 

Seeing is replacing what you know with what you see. 

Mixing is the knowledgeable confluence of pigments. 

Testing is comparing your preparations with the truth. 

Adjusting is the will to fix your flagrant wrongs. 

Guidelines for mixing: I know it's basic, but where you mix your colours (your palette) won't show how a chosen hue will react with others on the work itself. You must apply and consider. Also, many successful mixtures contain a mother colour, plus white and black. Don't be afraid of black. Having said that, garishness, when it occurs, is best neutralized with its opposite on the colour wheel. Get a colour wheel. And when you come to mixing, testing and adjusting, it's nice to know that practically everybody must silently and diligently struggle to get it right. There's no easy way. In the words of Chromophobia author David Batchelor, "Colour reveals the limits of language and evades our best attempts to impose a rational order on it. To work with colour is to become aware of the insufficiency of language and theory--which is both disturbing and pleasurable." 

For those who paint outdoors, colour work can seem devilishly programmed to perplex and confuse. On the other hand, film photography, with its errant chemicals, can also get things wrong. Digital reference material, because of its eternal tweakyness, has been sent by the Great Goddess to help us look more virtuous than we are. 

Best regards, 


PS: "Colourists are epic poets." (Charles Baudelaire) "Colour is the fruit of life." (Guillaume Apollinaire) "Colour is an act of reason." (Pierre Bonnard

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