Sunday, January 15, 2017

Color vibration

Well, here I am again, I haven't written a post in a long time. But I am announcing this years dreaded Snowcamp and I will append that to the end of this post. I have been traveling and painting (as always), I did a show at the Guild of Boston Artists with T.M. Nicholas and David Curtis and also have been serving on the board of that institution. I am renovating my old house here in New Hampshire, losing my hair, and writing a book, so I have been very busy even if I am not writing the blog. My old friend James suggested I write about this post about vibrating color so here we go......

Vibrating color, or broken color is a way of enlivening the passages of a painting. Instead of laying a flat tone like a house painter might, the paint is applied in dots or rice like strokes that the viewers eye assembles at a distance. This confounds the eye a little, mimicking the complexity of nature, producers more interesting color than a flat tone, and gives a shimmering and lively look to the painting. Vibrating color is a form of pixilation, but unlike on your TV screen or in a newspaper photo is large enough to be noticeable, but still small enough for the viewers eye to read it as an image. Here is a demo I did on how to lay a painting in with broken color. Painters have used color vibration since the renaissance, but the impressionists are characterized by its use. Here is a passage from the Willard Metcalf painting above.

In the shadow passage here you can see Willard dropping little brushstrokes of different values that give transparency and life to the shadows. The shadow is made transparent because we look within it and perceive those darker marks. In fact, that is how you get transparency into a shadow, put something in there to be perceived, the viewer looks into the shadow and sees something within, hence it is transparent. A couple of little dark accents will do it, without those the shadow would read as flat. If you were to slide a wedding ring across this painting virtually everywhere you would find a blizzard of little strokes of different color, rather than a single flat tone. If you look in the lower right hand corner you can see the different strokes of color assembling to show the color of the earthen path there. Instead of mixing all of those colors he sees in that path into a single note, which he certainly could have done, he lets them mix optically. Sometimes this is called divisionist color. It looks much more lively than a flat tone would.
 Below is a Hassam that is full of broken color.

and here is a closeup.

This method gives the painter out on location a number of advantages, first, it is really fast, with changing light, time is very important. Hassam isn't painting individual rocks but the appearance of the whole area. Because his brushstroke or pixel size is "fixed" he doesn't need to add ever smaller detail such as little cracks between the rocks, he has thus limited his resolution. The viewer will imagine all the little details for himself. This is also more like the way we really see, broadly without examining all of the little details of a scene, apprehending the entire scene at once instead of a hundred closeup photos stitched together.
Here is a Pissarro.

Here is a picture that is entirely made of broken color. It has the look I call "colored rice". There isn't a flat area in the whole thing. The treatment here has made the picture. It is not "what it is a picture of" but "how it is a picture of" that is important here. This could have been a very matter of fact  picture, but Pissarro makes it exciting because of the way he chose to handle the paint. The painting dances before us in a joyous flurry of febrile excitement. It is deliberately both nature and paint at the same time.

Below is one of Monets Haystacks series.

and here is a closeup of that.

This is the same technology pushed to a greater extreme than the previous examples ( which were made later, incidentally) Monets only interest is the effect of light, There is not much expression of the solidity or form of the subject. This was sort of a series of science experiments for Monet as he was more interested in this point in perfecting the broken color technology than picture making. But when he had it figured out he returned to making pictures using these new ideas. Here is a water lilies painting that is a picture.

You can see his use of the divisionist color particularly well in the water in this one.

People are enthralled by broken color brushwork and they will remark on how the painting looks like nature from viewing distance but when they walk up to it find only abstract looking marks. They are entertained by the slight of hand. This is a method or a tool however. Like most ideas or methods in painting it brings advantages and disadvantages, there are always trade offs. This type of handling can destroy form, some of the French Impressionists sacrificed form to get the effect of scintillating light, some of their work, Renoirs for example can look as if they are made of feathers. The painters of the next generation modified this kind of technique to reclaim form in their paintings and still get the benefits of this kind of handling. When next I write I will go into that a little.


Here is a view from Sunset hill, where I will be teaching the dreaded Snowcamp again this year February 25th, 26th, and 27th. If you would like more information please click here.
Here is a link to the Inn at Sunset Hill