How important is colour?
For this Post I attach the first chapter of my book “Painting with Light and Colour“. Its title is “All you need to know about painting“, which was an assertion made to me, during the first weeks of my life as an artist, by the Polish artist, teacher and mathematician, Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. This fount of knowledge on European art went on to tell me, with equal conviction, that “all good painting is based on colour” and that “the use of colour in painting should be based on colour in nature”. The importance to me of these two dogmatic propositions with the elaborations and explanations he added, when combined with a third that he made at the same time, can hardly be exaggerated, for they provided a basis for my life’s work, not only as an artist and teacher but also as a scientist.
The reason why, what I now refer to as, “The Dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko” were to prove to be so fruitful, related to their origins in his personal synthesis of ideas that critically influenced his predecessors. Particularly important among these were Seurat, Cézanne and Bonnard (Bohusz-Szyszko’s mentor). Also important was the fact that these artists and their Modernist Painter contemporaries were so importantly influenced by the revolution in the science of visual perception that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
This watershed for scientists and artists alike followed upon the realisation that the colour we see in the external world is not a property of surfaces but a creation of the eye and brain, based on inputs from the amazingly complex patterns of the colourless electromagnetic energy that enters the eyes. From this starting point came realisations about “induced colour” in its various fascinating manifestations. As part of the same revolution came the ideas about the three primaries and optical mixing that led to Seurat’s forging of his pointillist methods to fulfill his ambition to “paint with light”. Little can he have known that he was also bringing about a transformation in the meaning of the word “colourist”. From the time of the so called “Venetian Colourists” to the time of Surat, the meaning of the word “colourist” centred on whole-field lightness relations (popularly referred to as “chiaroscuro”). As we shall see in later Posts, from now on, being a “colourist” meant being a master of whole-field colour relations.
I am proposing to write more on all these issues in subsequent Posts. For the time being, I want to share with you how it came to pass that I encountered Marian-Bohusz Szyszko, the Professor of Painting at the Academic Community of the Wilno* University in London.
*The Polish name for the formerly Polish town that, due to border changes that took place as a result of the Second World War, has now become Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania.
The threat posed by Hitler and Stalin was the reason for the fleeing of large numbers of academics from the historic University of Wilno, then in Poland, and their regrouping in London as the Academic Community of the Wilno University in London.