Basic factors in painting

The purpose of this Post is to make available “the nature of painting, “Chapter 3” of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. It provides a quick run through some basic factors, which are so evident that some of their practical implications are too often overlooked. These are presented under four headings:

  • Real surface/illusory pictorial space ambiguities.
  • Whole-field colour/lightness interactions.
  • What paintings can do that nature cannot.
  • The human element.

All the chapters in my books have an “Introduction”. Below is the Introduction to Chapter 3. You can choose to read it now or when you click on the link to Chapter 3 that follows it.

Introduction

It is difficult to imagine a more useful first guide to painting than the dogmas of Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. However, they have their limits. Fortunately, as I believe the remainder of this book will make clear, it is both possible and worthwhile to go much more deeply into the reasons for both their strengths and their limitations. One approach to doing this is to trace the roots of the Professor’s assertions by reference to the work and ideas of his artist predecessors. Another, is to focus on the history of science and how it illuminated the subject of picture perception. Whichever our choice, it is inevitable that there will be much overlapping. The reason is that, in the nineteenth century, a particularly high proportion of the ideas influencing the community of progressive artists were rooted in the new ways of thinking about the world we live in that were emerging from science.

To prepare the way for the combination of theory and practice which provides the subject matter of the remainder of this book, this chapter offers a first introduction to basic factors that are necessarily in play when selections of artists’ pigments, mixed with various mediums are arranged on a circumscribed, flat picture-surface in such a way as to excite the feelings of people. The main reason for starting with these fundamentals is because:

  • Taking them into consideration can help artists to achieve a surprising number of widely sought after goals.
  • They provide reference points and context for so much of what follows.
  • Their importance is too often overlooked by practicing artists.

The basic factors in question will be presented under the headings,“real surface/illusory pictorial space ambiguities”, “whole-field colour/lightness interactions”, “what paintings can do that nature cannot” and “the human element”.

CHAPTER 3 : “THE NATURE OF PAINTING”

 

A selection of student work in which all  four of the basic factors listed above have been considered

Notice the range of:

  • Subject matter, on the continuum between abstract and figurative.
  • Depth of illusory pictorial space.
  • Mark-making.
  • Local and whole-field colour relationships.
basic factors
Stefan Rauch

 

basic factors
Kathy Davis

 

basic factors
Gordon Frickers

 

basic factors
Donal Bannister

 

basic factors
Ken Marunowski

 

basic factors
Huifong Ng

 

basic factors
Sarah Moore

 

For more Images of student work go to the main website and click onstudent work

 

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Early Modernists

Defining “Early Modernists”

In later posts, the subject of “Modernism” is discussed with special reference to its place in the history of painting. One conclusion that emerges is that “Modernism in Painting” has a very different history to other “Modernisms”. For example, despite all they have in common, it is significantly different from either Modernism in Literature or Modernism in Architecture. For this reason, in my books, where others might write “Early Modernists”, I use “Early Modernist Painters”.

Early Modernist Painters

The purpose of this Post is to share with you Chapter 6  of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. In it I outline the social, economic, scientific and artistic context from which the Early Modernist Painters emerged. I also give plenty of reasons why Modernism in Painting is different from Modernism in other disciplines. To access what I have written about all this and more, please click on the link below.

 

CHAPTER 6 – “THE EARLY MODERNISTS”

 

Some examples of Early Modernist paintings

To give some visual context to what I have written, please scroll down to the nine images below of the work of some key Early Modernist Painters. Notice that these include:

  • Eduard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne from the first generation, all of whom knew each other well from meetings in the home of Berthe Morisot and/or the Café Guerbois where they were joined by Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros (both students of the influential teacher Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran).
  • Emile Bernard, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec who, in 1886, met in the studio of Fernand Cormon and remained lifelong friends. Not long afterwards, they were joined by John Peter Russel the Australian artist. A big part of his importance to them and others was that, via the teaching of Alphonse Legros, he provided a link with Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran and his ideas on painting from memory.
  • Paul Gauguin who, with Emile Bernard, was co-founder of the the Pont-Aven School.  Gauguin also had links with Pissaro, Cézanne and Van Gogh, with whom he spent time in Arles.

Something to keep in mind when you scroll down to the images

We all know that reproductions of paintings whether in books or on websites are very different from the originals when we see them in galleries. However, what is less widely appreciated is the degree of difference between the paintings as they are now and the same paintings when first exhibited.  Thus, among the Early Modernists, Van Gogh used fugitive reds when mixing purples, with the result that the many purples he made by mixing reds with blues now appear as blues.

But the paintings that suffer the most are those of Seurat. The main reason for this is his extensive use of chemically unstable zinc yellows that have since turned brown. Because Seurat’s theory meant that most of the colours he used had to be, at least in part, mixtures between adjacent colours on the colour circle, these yellows occur in virtually all the greens, yellows and oranges in many of his paintings. The result has been catastrophic changes in appearances.

No wonder it is often difficult to fully connect what we see in some of Seurat’s pointillist paintings (for example, the one found below) with the contemporary descriptions of the excitements produced by the Pointillist method, such as those we find in the writings of Felix Fénéon, the admiring contemporary critic. For example, he writes:

  • “A pigment-based hue is weak and drab compared to a hue born of optical mixture: the latter, mysteriously vivified by a perpetual process of recombination, shimmers, elastic, opulent, lustrous” .
  • “The multicoloured specks melt into undulant, luminous masses”.
  • “The technique vanishes and the eye is no longer attracted by anything but that which is essentially painting” (incidentally, one of the first descriptions of paintings described in purely abstract terms).

While acknowledging the many admirable qualities of Seurat’s paintings as they appear to us today, these comments would now seem a bit over the top.

For more on Seurat’s mould-breaking ideas, see my POST on the Venetian Colourists  and in future Posts.

The nine images by Early Modernists

Early Modernists - Painting by Manet

An early Modernist painting by Manet, whom many consider to be the Father Figure of the Early Modernist Painters

Early Modernists - painting by Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot – woman and child in meadow at Bougival

Early Modernists - painting by Monet

Monet – Woman with Umbrella

Early Modernists - Painitng by Seurat

Georges Seurat – Bridge at Courbevoie

Early Modernists - Painting by Gauguin

Emile Bernard – Breton Women

Early Modernists - Painting by Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh – Starry Night

Early Modernists - Painting by Toulouse-Lautrec

Toulouse – Lautrec – Portrait of Jane Avril

Early Modernists - Painting by Gauguin

Paul Gauguin – Manao Tupapau

Early Modernists - Painting by Cézanne

Paul Cézanne – Portrait of Hortense his wife

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Colourists : different meanings

Colourists in 20th century art

A colourist can be defined as artists who give priority to the creation of colour-based experiences in their paintings. The problem is that it can be used in significantly different ways. In two Posts, I suggest two approaches to the unraveling  the consequent ambiguities. This post contrasts the very different meanings of the word for three particular 20th century painters who have been described as colourists. The Second Post analyses its meaning when used in the phrase “Venetian Colourists”. See also The Glossary entry for “colour

First approach: Two distinct types of colourist compared

I had two artist teachers who described themselves as colourists. One was interested in whole-field colour relations and the other in local colour-contrast effects. Both represented widely accepted meanings of the word.

  • Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, the Polish artist, teacher and mathematician, thought in terms of a multiplicity of colours (in principle many hundreds of thousands) and, more precisely, the effect of each and every colour on the picture surface on each and every other colour on it.

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colourists
Marian Bohusz-Szyszko – Detail from “the seven Archangels 1963–1979

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  • Michael Kidner, the English “Systems Painter”, thought in terms of a very limited number of colours (for example, two, three or four) and was principally interested either in local interactions between them or in their denotative function in his systems.
colourists
                                        Michael Kidner – Primary Colours 1967

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A well known American artist had different ideas:

  • Ellsworth Kelly felt that both of the approaches to colour just described divert attention from the experience of colour as itself. He came to the conclusion that the only way of providing a pure experience of colour was to cover the entire surface of a painting with a single colour.
colourists
                                       Ellsworth Kelly- Red Curves 1996

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But these are only three examples and many other possibilities exist. For instance, I have met artists and viewers who seem to think that producing more or less any array of what they consider to be colourful colours qualifies them as colourists, no matter how garish and discordant the results appear to the eyes of others.

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Venetian Colourists

Defining “Venetian Colourists”

In a previous Post, I compared three 20th Century artists who have been described as “colourists”, and who had very different ideas on the place of colour in painting. I also suggested that these were only three among many possibilities.

In this second Post, I comment on the meaning art historians’ give the word “colourist” when writing about two different groups of pioneer artists,  one that flourished in the  the Italian Renaissance and the other that overturned all sorts of preconceptions in the last part of the nineteenth century.  The two groups are:

  • The Venetian Colourists (Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, etc.) and other, later artists, who kept within the same tradition (Vermeer, Turner, etc.).
  • The Modernist Painter Colourists of the late nineteenth century (Cézanne, Gauguin, etc) and early twentieth century (Matisse, Bonnard, etc.).

Continue reading “Venetian Colourists”

Colour in painting

How important is colour?

The purpose of this post is to provide a link to the first chapter of my book “Painting with Light and Colour“. In it is a set of dogmas that changed my life. They were given me, during the first weeks of my life as an artist, by the Polish artist, teacher and mathematician, Professor Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. He claimed that:

  • “All good painting is based on colour”.
  • “The use of colour in painting should be based on colour in nature”.

The importance to me personally of these two dogmatic propositions and, more importantly, the elaborations and explanations he added, 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.

One reason why the dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko were to prove to be so fruitful, related to their origins, for they were his way of providing a synthesis of ideas coming from a number of his predecessors.  Particularly important among these were Seurat, Cézanne and Bonnard (one of Bohusz-Szyszko’s mentors). A major reason for taking the dogmas seriously is the the degree to which these artists and their Modernist Painter contemporaries were  influenced by the revolution in the science of visual perception that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

Figure 1 : Raising of Lazarus by Marian Bohusz-Szyszko

 

This watershed for scientists and artists alike followed upon the realisation that the colour we see is not a property of surfaces in the external world 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 understandings about:

  • Induced colour
  • The three primaries.
  • Optical mixing

It was these that inspired Seurat to develop his pointillist methods as a means of fulfilling 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 Seurat, 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:

  • Having access to a greater range of both more fully-saturated and more nuanced colours.
  • Being a master of  whole-field colour relations.

All these issues will be elaborated upon in subsequent Posts. For the time being, as promised above, I want to share with you the first chapter of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. It contains an account of:

  • 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.
  • All five of his dogmas, and the ways in which they proved helpful.

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“Painting with Light and Colour”: Chapter 1-“The Dogmas

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*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.

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Contents Lists for three of my books

The subjects covered are:

1.  Drawing    2. Painting    3. Creativity

These are followed by Posts on other subjects

Preface to all three books

1. DRAWING

Chapters from “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain”.

Other Posts on Drawing:

2. PAINTING

Chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

Other Posts on colour and light in painting:

3. CREATIVITY

Chapters from “Fresh  insights into Creativity”

Extracts from Chapter 10: “Having fun with creativity”

4. EXPANDED EXTRACTS FROM GLOSSARY

5. PAINTING SCHOOL NEWS

6. MISCELLANEOUS

Your comments on the Contents List page.

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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Caladrius bird for the contents list