Sunday, 19 September 2010

colour and form

I've been thinking recently about what I've been doing these last couple of years since I started painting again. In my mind, I've been thinking that I've just been working with colour - exploring colour, diving into it in a way I never had the courage to before.

And yet when I actually look at one of the first paintings, I see that it's, of course, not just about colour at all - it's about colour and form. Now, if you were an artist, you'd say, well of course, what did you think? But let's say you're not an artist, and you haven't been reading about art, or painting. Well, then you can forget such apparently obvious things.

Perhaps it was because for most of the time I ever worked on painting or drawing, apart from at art college, it was always drawing. For years, what years there were, before the 25 year freeze, it was always line and tone. Colour was too difficult. Too dramatic. And also, colour had to work with line and form, and line and form seemed hard enough on their own.

You can see why I though it was about colour, perhaps. Colour was the thrill, the adventure, was new. But actually, the forms were new too. The scanning technique I was using gave me forms, so I was freed from the vexed question of what forms, and why.

I even began to form a philosophy, to put into words, for myself, what moved me about such forms, and how they related to something I was always trying to do in painting and drawing, by feel. Something that was always at the edge of my consciousness, always just beyond my grasp.

But I was very wary of words for any of it, so conscious that words used in relation to images had the power to demolish their source in an instant (hence my comment to Jim, some time back, about thinking and talking being able to destroy so much....). Dimly aware, also, that contemporary art is so often 'conceptual' - ideas and thinking - and that what I was doing was somehow not this. Does the concept lead the creation, in conceptual art? Is that what confounded me? Because that doesn't seem to be what I want. I don't want to make art from the mind....

Anyway, back to colour and form. For some reason, a few weeks ago, I sat down with two colours, and started a gradual mixing thing, of the sort you do at college, or did if you were at college in the 70s. So, no form at all, really just pure colour.

And it had the strangest effect on me. As each colour appeared, it was like a kind of magic, a bewitching. Not just, 'that's pretty', or, 'that's a bit different from the last one'. The colours were so different to what I'd been using, which has been dense, high quality watercolour, not only primaries, but always pre-mixed. These colours had a different quality, a quality that linked them to pre-bright-synthetic-pigment days; to dutch masters and post-impressionists. But there was something else.

I'm learning already that this kind of thing has been discussed ad infinitum. This morning I was reading and excerpt from Kandinsky's 'On the spiritual in art' and he had a whole lot of early 20th century theorising about psychological responses versus other kinds of response. I'll try to get my head around it and make some sense of it here, next time. But in the meantime, something stirred, something tried to wake up, something beckoned. Not so different from when the painting started, or from when I started experimenting with running liquid yellow into liquid blue and became mesmerised by swirling fractals. What has changed, from all those years ago, is that I seem to have begun to tap into a kind of 'beginner's mind', which makes everything look new. And the simpler it is, the more dramatic it seems to be.

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