November 20, 2014 § 5 Comments
Describing a breakthrough he had while struggling with a landscape painting, 19th century American painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder wrote, “…the old scene presented itself…and before my eyes , framed in an opening between two trees. It stood out like a painted canvas…three solid masses of form and color: sky, foliage, and earth. The whole was bathed in an atmosphere of golden luminosity. I threw my brushes aside; they were too small for the work at hand. I squeezed out big chunks of pure, moist color, and taking my palette knife, I laid on blue, green, white, and brown in great sweeping strokes. As I worked, I saw that it was good and clean and strong. I saw nature springing into life upon my dead canvas! Exultantly I painted until the sun sank below the horizon. Then I raced around the fields like a colt let loose and literally bellowed for joy!” *
A gallery of color massings from the centuries:
September 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
“We look up and see a coloured shape in front of us and we say – there is a chair. But what we have seen is the mere coloured shape. Perhaps an artist might not have jumped to the notion of a chair. He might have stopped at the mere contemplation of a beautiful color and a beautiful shape…” -Alfred North Whitehead
“Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.” -Maurice Denis (1890)
How often we forget the simple truth of Maurice Denis’ statement as we peer into our three-dimensional world and try to “make” a tree, a face, a figure, or a teacup on our canvas. Annie Dillard’s essay on seeing, from a previous post on this blog, reminds us of just how far we’ve come from the infantile state of innocence when visual sensation was just “color-patches unencumbered by meaning.” The struggle to regain this innocent vision of color and shape is a large part of our “training” as artists. We want to be able to see our sensations, not just the things those sensations add up to, because this kind of seeing is what allows us to form questions that we can take to the palette. What is that hue? What is its tonal value? What is it’s degree of saturation or intensity? These three questions are the Holy Trinity of color mixing. (There’s a fourth, but we’ll save it for another post.)
But mixing color is only one piece of the puzzle. The color has to have a boundary or shape. This is the meeting place of drawing and painting. Stripped of the third dimension, the world’s forms and spaces precipitate two-dimensional shapes. Out of this distilled essence painters compose their paintings. Here are some painters who remind us of the beauty of shapes, all kinds of shapes. That’s what paintings are made of.