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Pictorial space and Modernist painters

Introduction

This article on “Modernist painters and illusory pictorial space” was written in response to Posts Page comments by Ken Marunowski (see comments section of Chapter 10 : Illusory pictorial space and light)

Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock and a space within the picture surface

Clement Greenberg was a high profile mid twentieth century art critic whose thoughts on Modernism in Painting influenced a generation of artists. He had much to say on the paintings of Jackson Pollock to which he accorded  a special importance. One of the reasons why was that he saw in them an unprecedented type of “pictorial space”. This he called  “a space within the picture surface”

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pictorial space
Figure 1 : As predicted by Professor Bohusz-Szyszko’s rules for creating a “harmony that runs parallel to nature”, the many repeated colours in this typical painting by Jackson Pollock can be perceived as jumping out from the picture surface, thereby creating in front/behind relations and what Greenberg described as a”space within the picture surface”.

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A moralistic reaction against photographs

His  claim had a history. In the late 1860s. a number of young artists saw a threat in the degree of realism manifested in images taken by the recently invented camera. The  approach they chose for countering it was purely conceptual. It was based on a two step rationalization. First, they argued that realism of photographic images was such that it deceives the eyes and, second, that deception is “immoral”.

The way these artists, later known as the Impressionists, sought to avoid analogous immorality in their own figurative paintings was to emphasise the reality of the actual picture surface. Their main strategy for doing this was accentuate “surface texture” and “personalised mark-making”. Luckily for the history of painting, one outcome was that they discovered the exciting potential of exploiting the dynamic relationships between the reality of the picture surface and the illusion created by the figurative aspects of their work.

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pictorial space
Figure 1: A main pioneer of the exploration of  personalized mark-making was Berth Morisot, as illustrated in her painting  “Girl on divan”.

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Two new developments

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pictorial space
Fig 3 : Compositions like this are immediately recogniseable as being by Piet Mondrian. As in the vase/faces illusion, we can either see the white, red and yellow rectangles jumping out of the black framework or visa versa. The in front/behind implications provide an example of the kind of space Mondrian  described as a “spiritual space”. This kind of space is analogous to the “space within the picture surface” that Clement Greenberg saw in the much more complicated paintings of Jackson Pollock.

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In the course of time, the successors of these early Modernist painters discovered that figuration is not necessary for creating illusory pictorial space. They found that perceptions of it could be evoked in non figurative paintings, by means of  “cognitive cues”, the most important of these being “overlap” and depth-indicating “diagonals”.

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Diagonals
Fig 4 : According to the rules of linear perspective, the diagonal lines in this painting by Bart Van Der Leck (1876-1958) can be seen as receding and, therefore, indicating the “illusory pictorial space” that was anathema to Mondrian.

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However, despite the exciting possibilities offered by real surface/illusory pictorial space dynamics, Piet Mondrian and other purists could not help concluding that any kind of illusory pictorial space was a “deception” and, accordingly, both “immoral” and to be avoided at all costs. Nor did  they consider this to be a trivial matter. Mondrian permanently  broke off his close, working relationship with Bart van de Leck because he had included a diagonal in one of his paintings.

Poor Mondrian had to soldier on alone. At times he must have felt despairing. However hard he tried, he could not find a way of altogether eliminating perceptions of illusory pictorial space. Eventually, his deeply religious worldview rescued him. It suggested a way of rationalising himself out of  the morality problem, namely, to rename the  “pictorial space” that he was unable to eradicate as “spiritual space”.

An illusory space within the picture surface

Seemingly unaware of Mondrian’s discoveries, Greenberg discerned what he described as “a space withing the picture surface” in the paintings of Jackson Pollock. This he argued was fundamental different from the “illusory pictorial space” found in the work of his Modernist Painter predecessors. However, although influential for a number of years, his claim did not convince number of later artists and theorists. Although these had no difficulty in seeing the space that Greenberg has identified, they insisted that it was illusory and they were right to do so. We now know that they were seeing was the same kind of illusory pictorial space found in the the“vase/face illusion”, in which the vase can be perceived as being either in front of or behind the inward looking faces .

The problem that now arose was that this kind of illusory space provoked an optical disturbance of a kind that some saw as an undesirable (described in the chapter on “negative spaces” in “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain”). To remove this in the interests of creating a pure, undisturbed colour experience, artists of the 1950s and 1960s, felt obliged to eliminate all traces of Greenberg’s “space within the picture surface”.

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Three colours
Figure 1 : This was the first painting I saw by Michael Kidner. Each of the three colours are repeated in six different contexts. If  the psychologists of visual perception and Joseph Albers are to be believed, this should mean that none of the three colours looks quite like any of the other eight of its kind. Michael wanted to eliminate pictorial space. Did he succeed? Ellsworth Kelly would have said “No”.

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However, when they tried to do so, they found the task they has set themselves to be more difficult than they had bargained for. Indeed many decided that they were faced with an insoluble problem. They had come to the conclusion that, as long as there is more than one region colour on the picture surface, there is no way of avoiding some degree of visual tension. The reason was no longer necessarily the repeated colours of Mondrian and Pollock, it could also be the figure/field separation that occurs at the earliest stage of perceptual processing, in which the object (figure) is picked out at the expense of its context/background (field). In the view of artists like Ellsworth Kelly, the only remaining way of producing pure colour experience would be by means of single colour paintings. As these could be described as “coloured objects hanging on a wall”, the question that then arose was whether they should be classified as “paintings” or as “sculptures”. Many seem to have plumped for the latter.

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pictorial space
Figure 7 :“Ellsworth Kelly, “Diptych: Green Blue” (2015). In this late painting, the artist wanted to produce two examples of pure colour experience. Did he succeed? Or, is the way we perceive the separate colours influenced by their proximity to one another? Notice the shadows under the colours that show that they are not painted on the same picture-surface, but rather as separate, intentionally isolated objects.

In 1968, the Museum of Modern Art in New York provided the art world with what turned out to be a watershed exhibition. Its title, “The Art of the Real” ,was deeply significant. From the conceptual point of view, it signed the death knell of one of the most influential strands of the broad tapestry of “Modernism in Painting”. For those that believed this to be the only strand, the future of painting had to be in some manifestation of Post Modernism”.

None of this necessarily deterred artists from carrying on regardless with all the different possibilities.  They will always be free to embark on new explorations of:

  • Trompe l’oeil
  • Real surface/illusory pictorial space dynamics
  • Space within the picture surface
  • Explorations of the “art of the real”.

All are to be found in work produced up to the present day.

Footnote 1

As a footnote I think it worth mentioning that the issues discussed above were central to the teaching of both my main mentors.

  • Professor Bohusz-Szyszko felt the main importance of his rules was that they ensured what he described as “the integrity of the picture surface”.
  • Michael Kidner followed Greenberg and Pollock in believing in the importance of eliminating illusory pictorial space, as defined by them. He also made good use of what they described as “the space within the picture  surface”, in other words what I  have been likening to the illusory pictorial space exemplified in the vase/face illusion.

Footnote 2

Incidentally, Professor Bohusz-Szyszko told me that the fact that his rules ensured the “integrity of the picture surface” was one of the main virtues of the dogmas he shared with his students is. According to him repetitions of the same colour in different parts of a panting broke the “integrity of the picture surface, either by jumping out in front of it or by creating the illusion of holes within it. We now know that this theorising was wrong. As explained in many places in my books, what they jump out of is illusory pictorial space. What actually happens is that they are perceived as jumping from surfaces in an illusory world, and integrating with the actual picture surface. From the practical point of view this theoretical distinction does not matter for in both cases the outcome is that the eye and the brain are confronted with incompatible and therefore disturbing perceptual cues.

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Colour constancy demonstration

Colour constancy sets the ball rolling

It was unequivocal evidence of “induced colour” and “colour constancy” that triggered the realisation among scientists towards the end of the Eighteenth Century that colour is not a property of surfaces in the external world but phenomenon that is made in the head. Once this idea had been digested, it gained momentum and evidence began to pour in to suggest that all visual experience is a creation of the eye/brain combination. This game-changing paradigm shift was to lead, not only to the birth of the science of “visual perception”, but also to fundamental changes in the practice of artists,  either when drawing or painting from observation or when seeking control of pictorial dynamics. This is why the “constancies” and “simultaneous contrast dynamics” play such an important role in my books on the practice of painting and drawing. It is also an important part of the reason why I have written “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”, the last volume of my four volume series that explains the science behind so many of the ideas elaborated upon in the remaining three volumes. In going more deeply into the subjects that play such an important role in these books about artistic practices, it plunges us deep into the astonishing nature of the working principles of visual perception. Apart from the sheer wonder this must surely generate, knowing about the ways these determine how we “look” and how we “see” should have a significant benefits for artists: The deeper understanding and appreciation of the extraordinary things that are happening in our heads should help artists to:

  • Deal with the many practical problems that invariably face them when drawing or painting from observation
  • Make more creative use of their physical and conceptual tools.

The next Posts I will be chapters from the science volume.

A life changing event

This Post on “colour constancy” is the first from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”. Its inspiration derives from Edwin Land’s irrefutable demonstration of the phenomenon of “colour constancy”, which proved to be a milestone in the search for an understanding of a subject that turned out to be of key importance to the understanding of how we “perceive surface”, “sense space” and are “aware of of lighting conditions”, all subjects of key importance to the ideas presented in “Painting with Light and Colour”.   

Below are:

  • A photo of the equipment used by Land for his epoch making colour constancy demonstration.
  • A reprise of the “Introduction” to the chapter and a link to a .PDF version of it (no need to read it twice: if you read it below, you can skip it in the chapter)
  • Links to Posts from “Painting with Light and Colour”, all of which (particularly chapters 7 to 11) have a debt to research that grew out of the colour constancy demonstration.

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colour constancy demonstration
Figure 1 : The set up for Edwin Land’s first colour constancy demonstration, comprising a multicoloured “Mondrian”, three light sources, projecting the three light primaries, and a telescopic light meter that could take intensity readings from each patch of colour separately.

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Introduction

As explained earlier, a key event in my life was the encounter with Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. The ideas he shared set me off on a lifelong journey of discovery. My first step was to set about testing his seemingly extravagant assertion that it is only necessary to follow two rules to guarantee a good painting:

    • There must be no repetition of colour on the same picture surface.
    • All the colours used must be mixtures containing at least a trace of complementary.

After four years of experimenting, I proved, at least to my own satisfaction, that there is a special quality in all paintings that abide by these two rules. It is difficult to describe, but it involves the creation of a sense of pictorial space and harmony.

Fortunately, a troubling paradox arose that would eventually have a profound effect on the development of the ideas presented in this book. It concerned the Professor’s physics-based proof of the invariable variability of colours in nature. This asserted that no two parts of any surface will reflect exactly the same wavelength combinations into our eyes due to:

    • The complexity produced by the inter-reflecting surfaces
    • Variations in viewing angles and distances
    • Atmospheric filtering

The paradox is that, if the light reflecting from two parts of a surface can never be characterised by the same wavlength combination, how could artists repeat colours on a picture surface? Even if two regions were painted with exactly the same pigment-colour, how could these appear as the same?

Other people might already have known how to resolve this mystery, but for many years I had no idea how to do so. My first inkling of a solution came after many years, as a result of reading a paper by Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera. In it was a powerful demonstration of the phenomenon of “colour constancy” and an attempt to explaining it. What the demonstration showed was a region of colour within a multicoloured display (henceforth referred to as the MCD) being perceived as remaining the same, even when the experimenter changed the combination of wavelengths being reflected from it. I was excited because here were two colours being perceived as the same despite reflecting different wavelength combinations into they eyes? For me it was a eureka moment. However a big problem emerged for it was soon clear to me that the explanation of the colour constancy demonstration suggested by Land was not neurophysiologically plausible. An alternative had to be found. I could never have guessed at the treasure trove of discoveries that would come out of my struggles to provide it. This chapter describes Land’s demonstrations in the context of an earlier attempt at explaining colour constancy. The next chapter introduces our neurophysiologically plausible colour constancy algorithm.

The colour constancy chapter

 

WHAT SCIENTISTS CAN LEARN FROM ARTISTS – CHAPTER 13-COLOUR CONSTANCY

 

Other chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”.

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Chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

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Finding a maximum of colours

This Post provides a link with Chapter 13, the third of the five colour mixing chapters I promised to publish in the coming days. Its title is “Finding a maximum of colours”. As with the others Posts on colour mixing, I start with an image followed by an edited version of its “Introductory”.

maximum of colours
Plenty of colours are needed, even for painting a single flower and its context

Introductory

Estimates have been given as to the number of different colours that can be made from mixtures of the paints available to artists. The smallest of these sug-gests hundreds of thousands. At first sight such enormous numbers might seem to be daunting. However, there is no need to worry. It turns out that the huge extent of colour space that they indicate is quite easy to navigate, both in theory and in practice. Chapter 13  explains the theory, while Chapter 14 shows how it is surprisingly easy to use it in practice. You can read Chapter 13 by clicking on the link below. Chapter 14 will be made available very shortly.

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CHAPTER 13 – FINDING A MAXIMUM OF COLOURS

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Other Chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”.

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

Chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

These deal in greater depth with subjects that feature in the other volumes

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Colour mixing: clarifications

Recently I was asked if I could post the five colour mixing chapters from my book “Painting with Light and Colour” (Chapters 11 – 15).  I will be surprised if you do not find that many of the ideas in them are new, interesting and practical. At the bottom of the page is a link  to Chapter Eleven, the first of the four chapters, whose title is, “Colour mixing – definitions and misconceptions”. To whet your appetite (below the image) I have included a slightly edited version of its “Introductory”.

Coloour mixing 1
Figure 1 – A young student exploring some of  the practical colour mixing ideas explained in the four colour-mixing chapters of my book

Introductory to Chapter Eleven

Introductory
At the outset of my life as an artist, my conception of colour-mixing was of a dry and mechanical subject. I thought of it as no more than one of those necessary basic skills that could easily be picked up along the road. To my surprise, nothing turned out to be quite so routine as it had seemed, and one line of enquiry led to another in a most seductive way. Each new development plunged me deeper into the history either of science or of art, until an engagingly coherent story emerged. The result was a practical understanding of a kind that might be difficult to find elsewhere.

“Most how-to-do-it art books have sections on colour-mixing and there are a number of tomes that offer technical information for professionals.  These latter tell us that scientists have understood the physics underpinning colour-mixing theory for a very long time: Certainly they have done so since James Clerk Maxwell’s lecture on colour vision, given at the Royal Institute, two years before the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.

In view of the availability of all these  sources of information, it might be thought that there is nothing left to add. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. The problem is that:

  • Too many painters are being seriously misled by the half-truths and even falsehoods which have entered into the stock in trade of popular colour-mixing theory.
  • Science has far from stood still since the 1870s. Particularly since the 1970s, scientists have been finding out a great deal of new information about how eyes and brains work and, as a result, have arrived at a number of new understandings that could help artists in practical ways, which are not being made use of by the artistic community.

For these reasons and others, it is clear to me that there is a need for the up-to-date approach to practical colour mixing that is supplied by the next chapters.

One approach to clarifying matters is to place the information presented in an historical context. Doing so reveals that:

  • Some of the best of ideas have been obscured by the passage of time.
  • The evolution of colour-mixing theory, owes much to parallel development of the histories of science and of art.
  • The story of when, how and why artists adopted new colour-mixing practices, provides many insights into their potential uses in painting.

With respect to the links between the discoveries of the scientists of visual perception and the practice of the artists, the evidence is usually sparse and often ambiguous. To compound the problem history (not least the history of science) becomes distorted because it is told by people who write with the benefit of hindsight and sometimes from the perspective of a particular prejudice.

It may surprise some people to find how many famous scientists are credited both with more originality and much more fully developed and rounded versions of their ideas than they actually had. A mismatch of this kind may be suspected in the relation between the confusions inherent in the early development of the ideas developed by Seurat and Cézanne and the neat synthesis of them by Professor Bohusz-Szyszko. Similarly it is unlikely that any of the early Impressionists had as clear a conceptual framework concerning the real surface/illusory space dynamic as was eventually to evolve from their pioneering ideas. While these are very interesting areas for discussion, the process of trying to unearth and pin down exactly what the early pioneers had in mind is a work for scholars. The focus of this book is artistic practice and it is the more refined picture as developed by the more recent artists and theorists that are the most useful in terms of their practical value.

We start a short survey of these by providing some basic definitions as used in this book:

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CHAPTER 11 – COLOUR-MIXING-DEFINITIONS & MISCONCEPTIONS

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Other Chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”.

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

Chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

These deal in greater depth with subjects that feature in the other volumes

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MY BOOKS ON ART PRACTICE

There are four books covering four subjects:

1.  Drawing    2. Painting    3. Creativity    4. Related Science

* The Posts on the book chapters come first and are followed by Posts on other subjects.

(Please scroll down to the book or to the subject matter that interest you)

* The most recent posts and revisions are highlighted in red

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Why the books are needed

1. DRAWING BOOK

Chapters from “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain”

Other Posts on Drawing:

2. PAINTING BOOK

Chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

 

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

 

3. CREATIVITY BOOK

Chapters from “Fresh  insights into Creativity”

Extracts from Chapter 10: “Having fun with creativity”

4. SCIENCE BOOK

Chapters from “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”

(These deal in greater depth with subjects that feature in the other volumes)

5. EXTRACTS FROM THE ‘GLOSSARY’

6. MISCELLANEOUS

7. PAINTING SCHOOL NEWS

 

Request for comments on the chapters from the books.

I look forward to your comments in the section provided at the bottom of each Post. When you have made them, please leave your email address and tick the box “Notify me of new posts by email.”

Enjoy

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books

 

Practical Applications

This post is to provide a link to Chapter 30, “Practical applications”, the penultimate chapter of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. As explained in its “Introuctory”, This suggests sixteen exercises: The first eight of these are designed to make clear the practical value of ideas presented in the chapters dedicated to “painting with colour”. The second eight bring in ideas found elsewhere, not only  in the part of this volume dedicated to “painting with light”, but also in the separate volumes, “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain” and “New Perspectives on Creativity”.

Physics books tell us that colour can be defined by the three variable of “hue”, “saturation” and “lightness”. However, as explained earlier, if we are to consider whole field colour relations and their effect tn picture perception, the fourth variable of “texture” must be added. As a result, the definition of “colour” must be stretched to include achromatic elements. The exercises in Chapter 30 keep this fourth variable and its implication for achromatic images in mind.

CHAPTER 30 – PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

Some non figurative images for your enjoyment

Although the exercises in this chapter relate to figurative drawings and paintings, the principles apply equally to non figurative work.

All of you who have come to the Painting School of Montmiral over the last 18 years, will know Sarah Elliott and at least some of her wondeful drawings and paintings.

Here are four of the most recent (two with details), exhibited in May 2021, at her MFA final review  show:

Sarah Elliott

Sara Elliott
Detail of “Green Stripes”: oil on canvas

Sarah Elliott

Sarah Elliott
Detail 1 of “No Title”

 

Sarah Elliott
Detail 2 of “No Title”

Sarah Elliott

The titles of these paintings in order are:

  • “White shadow dyptich”, oil on canvas 32 inches X 64 inches
  • “Green Stripes”, oil on canvas and  48 inches X 60 inches.
  • “No title”, oil on canvas and  48 inches X 60 inches
  • Song lines  32 inches X 64 inches

If you want to see more of the art works in Sarah’s show, I imagine that all of them will be appearing shortly on her website.

Other chapters from the two books contained in “Painting with Light and Colour”:

BOOK 1 : “Painting with Light”

BOOK 2: “Painting with Colour”

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

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More on experienced reality

The purpose of this Post is to provide a link with Chapter 29 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour“. Its focus is on the nature of I have been calling “experienced reality”. Here I will introduce it with a slightly edited extract from the “summing up” at the end of the chapter.

How far does a combination of this chapter and earlier ones help us to pin down the nature of what I have been calling “experienced reality”? I am afraid the answer has to be,“very little”, for what we mean when we use the word “see”, will always remain inherently elusive. There is no escaping the fact that this intimate aspect of our daily lives is in constant flux. First, we are confronted with one of the most fundamental truths of visual processing, namely that, in order to look at anything, we have to take it out of context. Second, we find that, when we do so, the object of our attention is subject to the ‘constancies’, a state of affairs which catastrophically disrupts whole-scene-relations. Third, the only way of approaching the task of finding out what these relativities actually are is by means comparative looking. True, this provides us with a succession of instances of what, in some senses, can be called reliable information about differences. But it only does so at the expense of finding a new starting point for each comparison, and this is a manoeuvre that entails resetting the whole system to what is almost certain to be a different lightness range.

One thing this inherent instability of visual perception means is that, when we try to analyse a scene (including if it is a painting), we will be facing a problem in some ways analogous to representing running water with a still image. No doubt this is what made Cézanne describe painting as “So damned difficult”.

But, perhaps finding a definitive solution is not what we really want. As Robert Browning wrote, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” The advantage to artists of the ideas presented in these books is that they can at least help us struggle fruitfully towards this goal. It may be unattainable but, as many of us can testify, groping our way towards it can be a richly rewarding experience. Maybe, this is why Cézanne followed his statement about the difficulty of painting with the heart felt assertion, “I want to die painting.”

 

CHAPTER 29 – MORE ON EXPERIENCED REALITY

Three portraits of a man who wanted to die painting

 

Experienced reality
Cézanne, the wild and passionate artist

 

Experienced reality
Cézanne making an effort to look presentable

 

Experienced reality
Cézanne just being himself in a not very elegant white hat

 

Other chapters from the two books contained in “Painting with Light and Colour”:

BOOK 1 : “Painting with Light”

BOOK 2: “Painting with Colour”

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

Go to list of all chapters and extracts from the books

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A synthesis of previous chapters

Introductory

The purpose of this Post is to provide a link to “Synthesis of colour ideas”, Chapter 28 of my book, “Painting with Light and Colour”. In combination with the next chapter, its role is to prepare for the practical applications of the ideas presented in Chapter 30. It brings together a number of the more important proposals found in both this book and the book on drawing, “Drawing on the Both Sides of the Brain”. In particular, ones relating to:

  • The history of artistic thought and practice in Europe, since the Italian Renaissance.
  • The evolution of the science of visual perception, from its origins in the middle of the Eighteenth Century to the present day.

Venetian Colourists not colourists

Before the arrival of this new science, artists, following the lead of the “Venetian Colourists”, had learnt a lot about introducing effects of light into the illusory pictorial space that they sought to create in their paintings. They had arrived at the conclusion that mastery of this ephemeral aspect of depiction depends on control of “lightness  relations”. To do this they adopted the rule that there should be no repetitions of lightnesses across the entire picture surface.  Paradoxically, it follows from this that the innovation which led to their being known as “colourists” had nothing to do with  two of the  three variables that are usually thought to be necessary to define colour, namely “hue” or “saturation”. Perhaps a better name for them would “Venetian lightists”.

CHAPTER 28 – SYNTHESIS OF COLOUR IDEAS

A reminder of “colourists” before and after Seurat

before and after Seurat: a synthesis
Portraits by Titian and Vermeer: No repeated lightneeses

before and after Seurat: a synthesis
Seurat, Van Gogh and Pissarro – The introduction of colour and colour mixtures into the depiction of illusory pictorial space

before and after Seurat: a synthesis
Matisse and Bonnard,  who helped inspire the simple and powerful synthesis of Bohusz-Szyszko

Other chapters from “Painting  with Colour”

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Cast shadows and aerial perspective

The purpose of this POST is both to introduce and provide a link to “Cast Shadows”, Chapter 26 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”.

A fundamental difference

 The book as a whole is full of what both the Impressionists and their academic predecessors called “rules of nature”. However, though referring to the same body of phenomena, these two schools of painting viewed them differently: Whereas the Academies seem to have wanted artists to follow them slavishly, the Impressionists were apt to question their value. For example, a quotation from Claude Monet makes his position clear : “I only know that my aim is to convey what I experience before nature and that most often, in order to succeed… I have to totally forget the most elementary rules of painting, if they exist that is.” Which of the two was right? My answer is “both of them”.

Aerial perspective

One of the reasons for Monet’s irreverent attitude to the rules was almost certainly a result of  being faced with consequences of the “constancies”, those brain-created distortions that mean rules concerning “measured reality” far from always correspond to actual experience. However, the particular focus in Chapter 26 is on the rules of “aerial perspective”, which  derive from the fact that the depth of atmosphere between the viewer and the object of interest can influence the way we perceive it. More precisely, they state that the deeper the atmospheric screen between the object and our eyes, the more desaturated  the colour of objects seen through it .
cast shadows
Monet : Woman in garden

Oversimplification

However, this rule oversimplifies actual appearances, for in every scene there are a multiplicity of other factors in play, all of which can interfere with it to such an extent that it becomes worse than useless. The only way of finding out the truth in any one situation is to follow Monet’s lead and do your best to find out the actual hue, saturation and lightness relationships in the particular scene you  are in the process depicting.

The focus of this chapter

In Chapter 26, the main focus is on one of the multiplicity of “other factors” and the very different rules that apply to it. It relates to our perception of “cast shadows” . What we find is that they regularly influence appearances in ways that run counter to the rules of aerial perspective. As in the previous chapter, an understanding of Mack Bands can help us to discover how and why.

CHAPTER 26-CAST SHADOWS

cast shadows
Down Rue de la Porte Neuve

 

See also the pastel painting of “The esplanade” in the “Introduction to BOOK 2″

Other Chapters from”Painting  with Light and Colour”

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Shading and surface form

What colour are shadows and shading?

This POST provides a link to “Shading  and surface form”, Chapter 27 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. It may surprise many that it comes in PART 2, which is dedicated to painting with colour. The reason is that the visual systems that are used to create colour consider blacks, whites and greys to be colours and, accordingly, they treat the blackness, greyness and whiteness of shadows, shading and highlights as colour.

Surface-solidity, spatial-separation and ambient-allumination

However, this fact of visual perception does not mean that the reflected-light does not provide information to other visual systems, working in parallel. In particular, the systems that tell us about surface-solidity, spatial-separation and ambient-illumination continue to perform their function. As explained in PART ONE of this volume, although they enable us to sense these properties, they never make them visible in the way body-colour is visible.

The problem of invisibity

The “invisibility” of these properties confronts artists trying to represent them with the seemingly insoluble problem of deceiving the eye/brain into “seeing” something that they cannot see. Luckily due to the research of Seurat, Cézanne, Bonnard, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko and others, a simple and, accordingly, practical resolution of this seeming paradox is available. Moreover, due to research undertaken by myself and colleagues, its efficacy can be explained in scientific terms (see many chapters in Book One of this volume and Chapters 13 and 14 of “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”)

The solution

The practical solution provided to me by Professor Bohusz-Szyszko is to ensure (a) that there should be no repetitions of colour in any part of the surface of paintings and (b) that all the paint that is actually visible to viewers of the painting should be made up of mixtures containing some proportion, however small, of complementary or near-complementary, pigment colours. In this conntext,  it is important to emphasise  that this solution should be kept in mind when painting shadows, shading and highlights.

CHAPTER 27 – SHADING AND SURFACE FORM

Two images and a question to consider

surfaces
Cowslips and violets

surfaces
Flowers in a vase

Question: Do all the “mistakes” and inconsistencies in the “flowers in vase” painting matter?

Other relevant chapters from Book 2: “Painting with Colour”

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Chiaroscuro

The main purpose of this POST is to provide a link to Chapter 25 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour” to which I have given the title “chiaroscuro” (the light/dark dimension). But first a word to explain why this is situated in the part of the book on “Painting with Colour”, rather than the part on “Painting with Light”, as most people would expect.

Black is a colour

The reason for this anomaly follows from the facts of visual perception (a) that colour is made in the brain and (b) that the brain classifies shadows, shading and highlights as colour. This counterintuitive state of affairs is a consequence of the way the eye/brain combination separates out surface-reflection from body-colour. Thus, the neural algorithm responsible for this impressive feat, confounds the sudden changes in reflected-light that occur at the edges of regions of cast-shadows and highlights, with the sudden changes at the edges of regions of body-colour.  For similar, though slightly more difficult to explain reasons, it also classifies gradations in the lightness profiles of surfaces as gradations in body-colour (for more on these reasons, see Chapter 9 of this volume and Chapter 14 of my book  “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”).

Link to chapter 2

CHAPTER 25 – CHIAROSCURO

Two chiaroscuro masterpices

Chiaroscuro
Sarah Elliott – Figurative charcoal drawing

chiaroscuro
Sarah Elliott – Non figurative charcoal drawing

Chapters from “Painting with Light ” (Part 1 of this volume)

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Colour and Surface

The purpose of this Post is to provide a link to “Surface and Colour”, Chapter 24 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. It continues the emphasis  of the previous three chapters of discussing practical uses of  viewing  conditions as a means of extending the range of the experiences available when looking at arrangements of colours painted on flat surfaces. As a means of doing so, it gives a detailed account of how the viewing conditions discussed both inspired and were put to use in the making of one particular nine panel painting. As in all my paintings, a priority was to create an illusory pictorial space, of indeterminate depth, within which the colours are liberated from the picture surface with a view to allowing them to interact more dynamically and in additional ways.

CHAPTER 24 – COLOUR AND SURFACE

Space and Surface

colour and illusory pictorial space
One of the eight experimental panels

Other Chapters from BOOK 2 of “Painting with Colour and Light”

Chapters from BOOK 1 of “Painting with Colour and Light”

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More on viewing conditions

This Post introduces Chapter 23 of my book “Painting  with Light and Colour”. It is the second of three chapters that concentrate on “viewing conditions”. Because all three are concerned with issues arising from my own science-influenced researches, you are almost certain to find a lot that is new to you. To give you a bit of a foretaste of what to expect, I have included  below a slightly edited a reprise of its “Introductory”. It follows the link to a .PDf version of the chapter.

CHAPTER 23 – MORE ON VIEWING CONDITIONS

Reprise of Introductory

This chapter continues the story of how my interest in thin lines led to previously unknown, or little explored, ways in which viewing conditions can affect the pictorial dynamics of paintings. Sometimes the changes they bring about are dramatic. At others, they can be extremely subtle or even virtually invisible. Those that influnce the way we experience paintings can be well worth taking into account.

Three paintings that give viewing conditions a dynamic role

viewing conditions
Three thin line paintings from the Stirling series. The bottom two are from the first project and the top one is from the second.

viewing

Other Chapters from BOOK 2 of “Painting with Colour and Light”

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viiewing

The integrity of the picture surface

Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend nature of this evidently questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossibility of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume (see contents list), will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours did not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out in front of any illusory pictorial space. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.

integrity

Two paintings that illustrate different meanings of the phrase “integrity of the picture suface”

integrity

picture surface
Cézanne: one of the Fôret du chateau noir paintings

integrity

picture surface
Ellsworth Kelly : Shaped painting on gallery wall – an experience of pure red

 

 

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Thin lines

A confluence of issues

This Post introduces Chapter 22 from my book “Painting with Light and colour”. It uses one of my paintings to discuss many issues that relate to viewing conditions.  These all apply to all paintings, but it is difficult to find information about them in other books. Indeed, it was not until I began work on paintings including numbers of thin lines that I became fully aware of many of them. My awakening was a result of the coming together of many strands of the story I have been telling in my series of four books.

  • The dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (see Chapter 1),
  • The “systems” ideas of Michael Kidner (see Chapter 8 of my book on “Creativity“),
  • My interest in the debates relating to “illusory pictorial space” (see Chapters 7-10 in “Painting with Light”, the first part of this volume),
  • My interest in the Modernist Painters obsession with what they described the “integrity of the picture surface”* and its dynamic implications in the history of “Modernism in Painting**
  • The use of thin lines as a means of exaggerating and, thereby, exploring “simultaneous colour contrast effects” (see previous chapter).

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Important warning

In general, whenever images of paintings are transferred to the computer screen, many of their qualities are lost. Sometimes this can be an advantage, but never for paintings that follow the dogmas of Professor Bohusz-Szyszko. This is particularly true for the images using thin lines discussed in this chapter and the next. Often, you will just have to take it on trust that the effects discussed are as described.

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An image of a painting with twelve of orange thin lines

Pictorial space

CHAPTER 22 – MORE ON THIN LINES

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Footnotes

* If you ask Google “What is a Modernist painter”, you get the following excellet summary:  Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.” However, if you had asked Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh,  Matisse, etc., etc., whether traditions of the past had been thrown aside, you would find that it was by no means all of them.

** Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend this questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossiblilit of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours do not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out of any illusory pictorial space, which is allways behind it. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.

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Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”: