11. GRADUATE STUDIES IN PAINTING, PART 1 (the interaction of color)


In the muddled state of mind in which I started my graduate studies in painting, it's not surprising that I was grasping for a direction...any direction.  Up to that point, much of my painting direction in undergraduate studies had been directed by projects assigned by my instructors.  Now I was on my own.

It seemed natural that I start where I had left off, so I began from my Paul Klee and Bauhaus inspired geometric abstract oil paintings...

IRREGULARLY GRIDDED PAINTINGS
  
I was soon experimenting with applying oil paint with rollers in which I could modulate color very subtlely.  For contrast, I masked off stripes that set off the background colors.  These paintings had a soft meditative glow rather than the staccato rhythm of the prior gridded paintings.  You had to spend time with them to appreciate them...


BAND MODULATION SERIES, 1967-68



In addition to Paul Klee, I was studying the work of Piet Mondrian and Ad Reinhardt who worked in a square, or squarish, format...


STUDYING JOSEF ALBERS'S INTERACTION OF COLOR FOLIO VOLUME

My interest in experimenting with color and abstract painting led me to a folio volume in the university art library of Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, published by Yale University Press in 1963 as a limited silkscreen edition with 150 color plates. I took this rare book home and studied it in-depth for months.  It became my primary teacher and inspiration throughout my graduate studies.

I applied what I was learning to the paintings I was creating at the time.

The silkscreened pages have overlays that can be lifted to reveal how the eye is fooled and manipulated by various color/value relationships.  It was fascinating.

I was amazed at the degree a color changes optically when juxtaposed with contrasting colors. This was fascinating---like magic; a color appears to change just by the color placed next to it.  The gold color bar looks darker and bluer when placed on the orange background while it looks lighter and more yellow when placed on the blue background...

Below are examples from studies that I made, including cut-out overlay, for a notebook inspired by the original folios.  What it demonstrates is that the same color red looks very different depending on its surrounding color.  You can see (left below) that it is the same color red when a cut-out sheet is placed over to block out the background colors.  When it is lifted (right below), the single color red looks quite different.  When surrounded by a light green, it looks redder and darker but when it is surrounded by a dark violet, it looks lighter and more orange...


SAME ORANGE & GRAY SQUARES ON VARIED BACKGROUNDS

Above you can see how the same color square looks ('interacts') significantly different depending on the color and value that surrounds it.  The orange square looks red and darker on some backgrounds and lighter and more orange on others.  And the gray square looks lighter on darker backgrounds and darker on lighter backgrounds.  It's all relative.

BRINGING A STATIC SQUARE TO LIFE

What came out of these studies in my first year of graduate school was a series of abstract paintings I created exploring the principles of color interaction.   For me, at that time, one of the most interesting aspects of composing was seeing how I could take a very static...even lifeless...shape like a square and make it alive and dynamic.   

I had been looking at a number of paintings who did this very thing...including Albers, Klee, Mondrian, Malevich, and Reinhardt...and these artists inspired me.  They all took squares and really brought life to that static shape.  Below I have an example of each (I have eliminated the color so that the basic composition is more clear)...

PAINTERS CREATING DYNAMIC SQUARES

The interesting thing to me is that it is all a matter of relationship, contrast, and proportion within the square.  With this idea in mind, and color interaction as well, I divided a square into sections, putting a square in the middle of the square composition...

A SQUARE WITHIN A SQUARE

MY COLORED SQUARE SERIES, 1968

If you look carefully at the 'black,' actually dark blue, squares (above), you'll see a shimmering color in the square in the middle with additional colors aligned above and below that square.   You have to look at them each individually for a while and you'll begin to see glows of colors, but they are very difficult to discern as separate shapes within the larger square. 

In the left painting, there is a dark magenta middle square with dark green rectangles above and below; in the middle painting, there is a dark green square with magenta rectangles above and below; and in the right painting, there is a large dark magenta square with dark green rectangles above and below.   You have to really concentrate---meditate---before you see the subtle glow of those colors.   That fascinated me.


Copyright (c) Donald 
Archer 2020  All rights reserved.

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