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Aug 25, 2011

Module 3; Assignment 4; Artists' colours; Task 1, 2 and 3

This assignment included looking at some of the great artists, among them  Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Bridget Riley, Joan Miro. 

Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)

Paul Gaugin was born in Paris, his father was a journalist and his mother half-Peruvian and daughter of a socialist activist and feminist in Peru. When he was 3, the family moved to live  in Peru but his father died during the journey. His mother, his sister and himself then lived with an uncle in Lima for four years before they moved back to France and as a young adult he joined the French navy before he started a career as a stockbroker. He married a Danish woman coming from a high society family. He had five children with her, they lived in Denmark for a while but eventually she left him and he returned to France.

Paul Gaugin had a life as colourful as his paintings. He is one important representative of the  “Fauve” movement. I visited the Tate exhibition last year and I love his paintings, not the least due to the bold way he frequently painted. I also like his intensive and bold use of colours. I have also been fond of his way of making his art look a bit naivistic – even if the naivism or primitivism is very cleverly carried out.

His Peruvian inheritance has affected his painting to some extent – but the most generally known part of his life, is from his periods in Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands – where he died from syphilis. He is known to have been living with very young girls in the Polynesian islands some of them being depicted in his paintings but there is also research defending his way of life, as that of the local culture.

Gaugin’s paintings are colourful, also his earlier work. He seems to use rather thick colour when he painted and the brushstrokes are possible to see in many of his paintings – especially in his later work. He had a relation with van Gogh, and stayed and painted with him for a few weeks, just preceeding van Gogh’s hospitalization and the story of his ear is claimed to have happened after a row with Gaugin. The influence can be seen in the painting of the house.

The later paintings, those of motifs from Polynesia, frequently use intense red, yellow and green colours – as blue but frequentlythe warm colours are dominating. Gaugin exerted a huge influence on his contemporaries, Picasso was one of them.

George Seurat (1859-1891)

George Seurat was born in Paris and started to take drawing lessons from the sculptor Justin Lequien and painter Ingres. He was also a student of Jean-Louis David. He might have been influenced in his meticulous style of working, by Ingres.
Seurat is known for having developed the art form of “Pointillism”. He was passionate of colour theories and of the effect of different linear structures. The Pointillism used little “dots” to created the overall impression of the colour composition and the very colour of the dots were not (in his art) mixed as he wanted to depict the “purity” of colours.
When he entered the art scene with his paintings loking quite different, many were opposed, however he had a strong supporter in the artist Paul Signac.
Signac commented on the pointillistic paintings and pointed out the importance of color purity in each brushstroke. Seurat is said to have invented a way to show what the colours really are like, and the optical effect of the mix of the “dots” of the pure colours side by side of each other.
He was also interested and fascinated by the effects of lines in the overall composition and he is said to frequently have sketched his paintings first as drawings on a geometrical grid. Painting number two and three (above) also show one of his known passions in a very clear way – that of how lines affect paintings and compositions. The third painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is his most famous painting and it took him two years to complete.
Seurat died in Paris in 1891 only 32 years old from an infection, most probably diphtheria, and his son died just two weeks after himself, possibly from a similar infection.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Henri Matisse was born in France and grew up in Picardy, north of Paris, and his parents owned a flower shop. He initially studied law and worked at court. He did not start to paint until he was 20 years old, and he soon decided to become a painter. In 1991 he started his studies at “Academy Julian” in Paris and initially he painted in a “classical style”, mainly landscapes and still-lifes.
In 1997-98 he visited a painter called “John-Peter Russell who lived on an island outside Brittany where he was introduced to the Impressionism and actually to the work of Van Gogh.
He changed his style of painting completely and started his development into making very colourful paintings. For a few years he painted in the pointillistic style after being inspired by Signac, and at the time he bought a large number of paintings of contemporary artists, of which Cezanne became a  subject for him to seek inspirations from.
Subsequently he got together with several artists later known as the “Fauves” (“wild beasts”) who painted in bright and bold colours and usually using colours for their motifs that had no resemblance with the true colours. The colours were also often in dissonant contrast. The second painting below, “Woman with a hat” was an important piece of work, exhibited and attacked but later bought by an important art dealer. Matisse became the leader of this group of Fauves, but later became a good friend of Picasso and they followed each other for many years.

Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Mark Rothko or rather Marcus Rothkowitz, was born in Russia to Jewish parents but moved as a child to the US, in the wake of anti-semitism in Russia. His father died shortly after he and his mother and elder sister had joined his father in the US, and the family had difficulties to support themselves and all three of them had to contribute by simple jobs. 
He won a scholarship for studies at Yale university but quit in his second year and moved to New York where he initially financed his living by work in the garment industry.
At this time he started his artistic development and in the beginning one of his tutors was Max Weber, who influenced him very much and made him realize that art could be a way of expressing emotions and religious feelings.
His first one-man-show mainly consisted of portrait paintings and gradually through the years he painted urban motifs, and he also had a surrealistic period as well as a mythological, until he gradually developed his signature style – the fields of colour that interact by the colours themselves and create different kind of light. In between he had a transitional period when he developed more and more into an abstract style.

One of his most famous paintings, No 18, depicts one field of black and one of warm orange. The fields are surrounded by a more brownish/black blurred contour.
In the beginning of his “multiform” period, he used vibrant colours, often reds and yellow, whereas in his later period employed darker blues and greens, greys and black – claimed to mimic his increasing dark mood..

He is claimed to have experienced not to be quite understood by critics but also by those viewing his work, and he felt it was difficult to explain that his paintings were expressions of deep emotional basic feelings. In the end of his life he created Rothko Chapel, which would need another few pages to describe – however a very interesting story as it was to be devoted to Roman-catholic beliefs.

Summary – the signature work of Rothko are usually quite strong or intense in colours and almost always the contours of the normally rectangular, horizontally placed fields of colour are blurred by using different nuances of the same colour . He usually uses 2-3 fields, sometimes intersected by one quite contrasting thin field of another colour. He usually employs only one or two colours but contrasted with a nuance of the same – eg yellow/orange or orange/orange-red; or blu/blue-green etc.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Jackson Pollock was born in a farmer’s family in Wyoming, US but the family moved many times during his childhood. Pollock was not very interested in art or drawing during his youth and first at high-school a teacher opened his eyes for art. In 1930 he moved to New York and enrolled in art school. A teacher there was very “anti-modern” I his teaching and a few years after leaving art school Pollock started his journey in modern art. He also, partly due to his former teacher showed interest in mural art and he attended workshops. He was employed in a federal art project in the mid-thirties till 1942  and worked subsequently as an easel painter. He had started to develop alcoholism and had a break-down during these years.
In the beginning of the forties he was introduced to Lee Krasner who introduced him to the inner circles of the New York art world. They subsequently married, and she encouraged his career and put her own on hold. He was introduced to Roberto Matta who encouraged him to introduce new techniques to allow for accidental effects and to allow for risky developments in his paintings. Subsequently he was also introduced to Peggy Guggenheim, an encounter which allowed him to concentrate more on his developing art work instead of having to support himself by smaller commissions.
In 1943 he had his fist solo exhibition in Guggenheim’s gallery; “Art of This Century” and one of the paintings was “Male and Female” (First painting below) and it is possible to see he has started to experiment with his famous dripping and splashing technique, something that was to become his signature style.
Splashing, dripping and pouring became synonymous with Jackson Pollock and the paintings that made him very famous were painted within a short period, mainly 1947-1951.

Pollock died in a car accident, with himself behind the wheel and drunk after a fairly long period of abstaining from alcohol.

His signature technique and style included splashing and pouring usually thinned paint, with the canvas stuck on the floor with himself then accessing the painting from all sides. He also used basting syringes. He frequently used enamel to paint with and the “Cathedral” was painted with enamel and aluminium on canvas. He sometimes also introduced objects into the thick layers of paint to produce a further change to the texture of the painting.

Bridget Riley (1931- )

Bridget Riley born in London in 1931, is a leading “Op-Art” artist. She is educated at Goldsmith College as well as Royal College of Art. In her early thirties she began to paint optic art in black and white. She exhibited in 1965 in Museum of Modern Art in New York, an exhibition which first attracted attention internationally to her work. Her painting “Current”1964 (first painting below) was used for cover of the catalogue of that exhibition.
She started soon after to explore colour contrasts after having become “disappointed” by the op-art as having become too commercial. She travelled, one of her several journeys was to Egypt which made her fascinated by the hieroglyphs. In 1968 she represented Britain in the Venice Biennal, and was the first British contemporary painter, and the first woman to be awarded the International Price for painting.
In current days she uses others to do the very painting whereas she herself makes the designs.

She seems to use mainly paint on canvas but she creates in her different works all kind of Itten’s colour contrasts. What strikes me about “Shadows” is that there does not seem to be any of the primary colours adjacent to each other. I can see only a few obvious primaries side by side by its complementary colour – in the almost upper right corner one finds blue side by side with orange. On the orher hand there she has emphasized the contrast by then pairing the blue with what seems to be black. I can see red (if it is red in reality) paired with green. At several places she has used different nuances of the same colour – blue/turquoise, orange/yellow/red. She has used both black and white to “break” the colours and that does create a life in the painting.

In the third painting which is a huge painting that is a mural in reality, she has used what I believe are colours diluted by white or grey. I do believe that the blue and green might be primary colours that are diluted by white, and connected to that is a diluted orange that is much less in abundance than the blue green. Could Itten’s rules be found here? A smaller volume of a complementary, orange against blue even if they are diluted? She has also used form in both of these colourful paintings – in the shadow play, she has used one single unit, a rhomboid, that she sometimes has multiplied. They are always exactly side by side, and the pattern is created solely by the contrasts between colours. In the last painting she uses rounded rhomboids together with pointed ellipsoids and rounded triangles in a clever composition.

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Miro was a Spanish artist, born in a family with a long and rich history of craftsmen. His family included a blacksmith, a watchmaker and his father was a well-known jeweller. He started drawing lessons at a young age and at 14 he enrolled at an art academy. During his years he lived in Paris, Barcelona but also in Mallorca where he lived for his last thirty years as well as when he died.In Mallorca there is a museum which houses more than 6000 (!) pieces of work by Joan Miro.
In his early twenties he moved to Paris and was introduced to the rich art scene of the time, and he – even if he was to be the leading surrealistic painter he did not want a label. Miro is known to have been quite experimental during his whole career and towards the later part of his life he used mixed media increasingly. Miro produced over a thousand prints by help of a printer in Paris by he also became a sculptor and he produced hundreds of ceramic pieces of work. During the last years of his life he was even talking about gas sculptures and four-dimensional painting.

In the surrealistic movement, “automatic drawing” and automatic painting” was an important technique, also very representative of Miro’s work. In a fully automatic way of drawing, where no representation of any motif is involved, your hand with the brush or pencil is moved by your subconscious mind. This means that marks and lines and whatever interruptions are seen as a product of your subconscious inner feelings and experiences. However most of the surrealistic paintings are supposed to be “illusionistic” where any represented motif has “suggested itself.”

Below there are three paintings by Miro from different time periods. The first, a still life reminds me very much of Matisse whereas his later work is very much Miro. It strikes me that he uses black to quite an extent to really underline contrasts even where he uses many of Itten’s obvious laws of contrast. In addition he uses black in combination with strong, frequently primary colours along with green. A further feature I feel is that he often uses soft roundish forms which to some extent also creates a contrast to the colours he uses, particular in his “signature” work.


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