Colour (Documents of Contemporary Art) Notes

Colour (Documents of Contemporary Art)

  • Colour is diverse and divergent; fluid, elliptical and contradictory; often obscure, esoteric or strange; sometimes funny, and altogether fascinating. (15)
  • Colour belongs both to the arts and to the sciences both to high culture and to popular culture, both to theory and to storytelling. (15)
  • Colour is truly fluid: it spills over subjects and seeps between disciplines; and no one area can mop it up and claim a privileged or proprietorial relationship with the subject. (15)
  • For many who have written on the relationship of colour to form, the problem of colour is often its unreliability, its seeming randomness and its apparent autonomy. (19)
  • We cannot touch colour, even though it constantly surrounds us an we are in some ways touched by it. (19)
  • Colour has often been regarded as the least valuable of artistic resources and the least relevant subject for the critic. (19)
  • Colour has often been regarded as superficial, supplementary and cosmetic; attractive to children, a potential distraction, as well as feminine, as too concerned to the senses and emotions. (19)

Notes On Colour (Paul Gaugin/ 1896-98)

  • The photography of colours will tell us the truth, the real colour of the sky, of a tree, of all materialized nature.
  • Truth is in front of our eyes, nature vouches for it.
  • The sky is blue, the sea is blue, the trees are green… all of this is called local colour, but the light comes and changes the look of every colour at will.
  • Men apply their tones delicately, with upmost care, for fear of being called coarse; the women apply theirs with vigorous, bold strokes, so as to be considered masculine and jaunty and hot-blooded.

The Education of the Eye (Paul Signac/ 1899)

  • All pure bold colour is shocking; people only admire paintings that are flat, smooth, muted and dull.
  • Within the pretext of shading: half a figure is covered with brown and the public willingly accepts it, but not the use of blue or violet.
  • Shadows of blue or violet repel the viewer.
  • Without the simplest contrast of forms, there would be no lovely lines of perfect colours.
  • The painter must know how to arrange these diverse elements, sacrificing some so as to give weight to others.
  • Juxtaposition of colour, however intense, with no concern for contrast, is merely daubing, and not coloring.

A Child’s View of Colour (Walter Benjamin/ 1914-15)

  • Colour is something spiritual, something whose clarity is spiritual, so that when colours are mixed they produce nuances of colour, not a blur.
  • Colour is single, not as a lifeless thing and a rigid individuality but as a creature that flits from one form to the next.
  • Colour for children appears fluid, the medium of all changes and not a symptom.
  • A child’s view of colour represents the highest artistic development of the sense of sight; it is sight at its purest, because it is isolated.
  • Children also elevate it to the spiritual level because they perceive objects according to their colour content and hence do not isolate them, instead using them as a basis from which to create the interrelated totality of the world of the imagination.

Aphorisms on Imagination and Colour (Walter Benjamin/ 1914-15)

  • Colour is beautiful, there is no sense in producing beautiful colours, because colour follows in the wake of beauty as an attribute, not as a phenomenon in its own right.
  • Colour absorbs into itself, by imparting colour and surrendering itself. Colour must be seen.
  • The harmony of colour is a single think within a particular medium; it lacks multiplicity, because it is undefined and exists only in perception.
  • A theory of harmony is possible only in the transition from light to shade, with reference to space.
  • On painterly colour: it arises as a simple phenomenon in the imagination, but its purity is distorted by its existence in space and this is the origin of light and shade.
  • These form a third thing between pure imagination and creation, and in them painterly colours have their existence.
  • The action of light on objects which led to the discovery that the line, according to the old laws of painting, no longer existed, but was deformed, broken by luminous rays.

The New Plastic in Painting (Pier Mondrian/ 1917)

  • To determine colour involves: the reduction of naturalistic colour to primary colour, the reduction of colour to plane and finally, the demolition of colour- so that the image appears as a unity of rectangular planes.
  • Reduction to primary colour leads to the visual internalization of the material, to a purer manifestation of light.
  • Colour arises from light as well as from the surface, the material.
  • Reducing natural colour to primary colour changed the most outward manifestation of colour back to the most inward.
  • The abstract-real painting must rely upon the three primary colours, supplemented by white, black and grey.
  • The principle within abstract –real painting be free of individuality and individual sensations, and that is express only the serene emotion of the universal.
  • The primary colours in abstract-real painting represent primary colours in a way that they no longer depict the natural, but nevertheless remain real.
  • Colour in painting owes its appearance not only to visible reality but also to the vision of the artists: the artist inwardly changes and interiorizes the outwardness of colour.
  • The new plastic’s abstract colour is meaningless to subjective vision: abstract colour omits individual expression of emotion- it still expresses emotion, but an emotion dominated by the spirit.
  • In nature, as in art, colour is always to come degree dependent upon relationships but not always governed by them.
  • In naturalistic expression, colour always leaves room for subjectivisation of the universe.
  • Although colour becomes tone through relationship, colour remains dominant.

Non- Objective Art and Suprematism (Kazimir Malevich/ 1919)

  • Painting arose from the mixing colours and- at moments when aesthetic warmth brought about a flowering- turned colour into a chaotic mix, so that it was objects as such which served as the pictorial framework for painting.
  • A new framework of pure colour must be created, bases on what colour demanded, that colour must pass out of the pictorial mix into an independent unity, a structure in which it would be at once individual in a collective environment and individually independent.
  • The system is constructed in time and space, independent of any aesthetic considerations of beauty, experience or mood, but rather a philosophical colour system.

Space-time and Colour (Theo van Doesburg/ 1928)

  • The plastic expression of space is inconceivable without light, light and space complete each other
  • Colour and light complete each other.
  • Just as various colour (example, red, blue and yellow) each have an energy of their own, the modern materials, each possess and energy of their own.
  • Blue and yellow produce two entirely opposed energies, this opposition is called tension.
  • The application of this tension in space and time is as aesthetically relevant as the application of two colour on a plane or in space. 
  • All painting in the past implies continuation into space and therefore being subject to the continuation of time, possessed the character of repetition.
  • After illusion had been eliminated from painting and the picture had ceased to limit itself to the representation of the individual expression of personal experiences, painting achieved a relationship to space and more importantly to man.
  • Through this relationship of man to space, a new notion was established in architecture, the notion of time.
  • The movements of man in space gained an importance fundamental or paintings role in architecture.
  • A man had remained fixed in a certain position in reference to static painting, and although decorative or ‘monumental wall-painting’ had already made him susceptible to a kinetic, ‘linear’ termination of the picturesque in space, the plastic expression of TIME-SPACE PAINTING would enable him to experience the full CONTENT of space in a pictorial manner.
  • Architectural space must represent mothing but expressionless and inarticulate emptiness so long as colour has not transformed it into the true expression of plastic space.

Note of Orphism (Robert Delaunay/ 1928-3)

  • Colour is endowed with movement, with life, and not with the stasis of crystal, or known archaisms.
  • We will present a complete visual transformation in the appearance of colour, to every dimension of visual order.
    • Through a pure and new creation that will be truly expressive of our desire to live.

On Monumentality and Colour (Fernand Léger/ 1943)

  • Colour is a raw material indispensable to life.
  • A bare wall is a dead, ‘anonymous surface’, it will only come alive with the help of objects and colour.
  • A stained wall becomes a living element.
  • Until the pictorial realization by the painters of the last 50 years, colour or tone were bound to an object, to a representative form.
  • It was modern publicity which at first understood the importance of the new value: the pure tone ran away out from the paintings, took possession of the roads, and transformed the landscape.
  • Colour was the new object, colour set free. Colour had become a new reality.
  • Liberated colour will play its part in bending new modern materials and light will be employed to make an orchestration of everything.
  • Psychological influences, conscious or unconscious, light and colour, are very important.
  • Colour tries to cover over humdrum daily routines. It dresses them up.
  • Colour keeps within itself its eternal magic which, like music, allows truth to be wrapped around.
  • A work of art is a perfect balance between a real fact and an imaginary fact.
  • We should therefore remember that in the progression of ever more perfect fusions of colour and sound, in the ever more perfect images that reflect the reality of our time, we shall also draw nearer to an ever fuller representation of the absolute truth of our unique, socialist way of life.

Eye and Mind (Maurice Merleau-Ponty/ 1960)

  • Colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet.
  • It is not a matter of adding one more objectless perception whose perfection consist in simulating an empirical vision to the maximum degree.
  • The painter’s vision is not a view upon the outside, a merely ‘physical-optical’ relation with the world.
mage result for barnett newman pagan void

Frontiers of Space (Barnett Newman/ 1962)

  •  Gea (1945) and Pagan Void (1946) both contain a section of void from which life originated.
  • One does not destroy the void by building patters of manipulating space of creating new organisms.
  • A canvas full of rhetorical stokes may be full, but the fullness may be just hollow energy, just as a dazzling wall of colors may be full of colour but have no colour.

Pagan Void (1946)

Colour, Time and Structure (Hélio Oiticia/ 1960)

  • With the sense of colour-time, the transformation of structure became essential.
  • It was no longer possible to use the plane element of representation, even when virtualized.
  • Structure rotates, becoming temporal: colour and structure are inseparable, as are time and space.
  • A sense of light can be given to every primary colour, and other colours derived from them, as well as to white and to grey.
    • However, for this experience one mist give pre-eminence to those colours most open to light: colour- light: white, yellow, orange, red-light.
  • White is the ideal colour-light.
  • It is the most static, favoring silent, dense, metaphysical duration.
  • Grey is little used, because it is already born from this unevenness of luminosity between one white and another.
  • Yellow, is the least synthetic, processing a strong optical pulsating and tenting towards real space, detaching itself from the material structure, and expanding itself.
  • Yellow also resembles a more physical light, more closely related to earthly light.
  • The important thing here is the temporal light sense of colour; otherwise it would still be a representation of light.
  • Orange is a medium colour par excellence, not only in relation to yellow and red, but in the spectrum of colour; its spectrum is grey.
  • In the spectrum, it is found in the category of dark colours; but pigment it is hot and open to light, it possesses cavernous sense of sense light.
  • Other derivative and primary colours; blue, green, violet, purple can be intensities towards light, but are by nature opaque colours, closed to light.

Interaction of Colour (Joseph Albers/ 1963)

  • Horizontally, the tones follow each other, perhaps not in a straight line, but of necessity in a prescribes order and only in on direction-forwards.
  • Tones are not heard backwards.
  • Colours appear connected predominantly in space, constellations can be seen in any direction and at any speed.
  • Tone juxtapositions can be defined by their acoustical relationship and thus measured precisely by wave length.
  • Colour, when applied, not only appears in uncountable shades and tines, but it additionally characterized by shape and size, by recurrence and placement.
  • Complementary colours are a basic colour contrast, but topographically are quite vague.
  • Illustrations of harmonic colour constellations which derive from authoritative systems look pleasant, beautiful, and thus convincing.

The Elements of Colour (Johannes Itten/ 1961)

  • Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colours.
  • The primeval essence of colour is phantasmagorical resonance, light becomes music.
  • Light, the first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colours.
  • The world and its sound, form and its colour, are vessels of a transcendental essence that we dimly surmise.
  • As sound lends sparkling colour to the spoken word, so colour lends physically resolved tone and form.
  • The primeval essence of colour is a phantasmagorical resonance, light becomes music.
  • In any attempt to account for subjective colour, we must attend to the most minute traits; but the essential factors is the ‘aura’ of the person.
    • Light blond types with blue eyes and pink skin incline towards very pure colours, often with great many clearly distinguished colour qualities.
    • Contrast of hue is the basic feature, depending on the forcefulness of the individual, the colours may be more of less luminous.

An Essay in Aesthetics (Roger Fry / 1909)

  • The emotional elements of design:
    • 1st: Rhythm of the line which forms are delineated.
    • 2nd: Mass. When an object is so represented that we recognize it has having inertia, we feel its power of resisting movement, or communicating its own movement to other bodies, and out imaginative reaction to such an image is governed by out experience of mass in actual life.
    • 3rd: Space. It can dominate our perception of actual life and still life held within art.
    • 4th: Light and Shade. Our feelings towards the same object become totally different according as we see it strongly illuminated against a black background or against light.
    • 5: Colour. That this has a direct emotional effect is evident from such words as dull or melancholy in relation to colour.
  • All these emotional elements of design are connected with essential conditions of our physical existence; rhythm appeals to all the sensations which accompany muscular activity.
  • Mass to all the infinite adaptations to the force of gravity which we are forced to make, the spatial judgement is equally profound and universal in its application to life.
  • Colour is the only one of our elements which is not critical or universal importance to life, and its effect is neither so deep not so clearly determines as the others.
  • They have a great advantage over writings or poetry, that they can appeal more directly and immediately to the emotional accompaniments of out base physical existence.

On Colour (Sonia Delaunay/ 1966)

  • Colour liberated from descriptive, literary use: colour grasped in all the richness of its own life.
  • A vision of infinite richness awaits the person who knows how to see the relations of colours, their contrasts and dissonances, and the impact of one colour on another.
  • Add to this the essential element- Rhythm- which is its structure, movement based on number.

Batchelor, D. (2008). Colour. 1st ed. London: Whitechapel.

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