Gerhard Richter, 1985, 57.4 cm x 86.4 cm, Oil on paper
The Henri Art Magazine (written, I think, by several authors) has a fascinating continuation of a discussion of color, “Color: Simulation,” published on Wednesday Nov. 4, 2009.
The author discusses how the perception of color has changed with technology, the technology that presents any color you want: directly out of the can (reducing the need to use traditional techniques to create luminescence or brilliance by direct observation and experience); and then, further “enhancing” and changing color as we know it, technology can produce a pure physics of color through light technologies (as seen on the computer screen.) This, he insists, has produced color as desire, as consumer directed, and loses color as personal and emotive.
I can’t do justice to the writer’s observations; you’ll need to read them yourself. And I’m not sure the polemic need be as strong as it is.
But I was reminded of Steve’s black and white photography, (also here, on A&P) and along with thinking that Steve’s work clearly transcends point-and-shoot photography of the digitized masses, I suddenly understood how the black and white refuses the seduction of the digitized web versions of color.
For Delacroix color brilliance can be found through the complimentaries and values of shadows, in the vision of experience. In our Postmodern age we find our color in the hues of commerce, through the optics of desire. The first is sloppy, fleshy, messy, natural – color found in life and in memory. The second is clear, clean, manufactured, ‘real’ – color found through a collective and through programs. And finally, there is the surprising Platonic idea that runs beneath our electronic world of light speed and light screens – heavenly color – color unimaginable – brighter, purer, seen from above. You’ll find that sort of color on your flatscreen – pulsating and irradiating into your eyes. It is hyperactivated color, direct color, color better than that in the can, color of light and speed.
And somewhat later, his polemic:
the meaning of color, the need of color, is reduced to buying and selling – pure electronic color IS pure commerce. I recognize this as the legacy of Postmodernism and the 1960s….
I of course love the “sloppy, fleshy, messy, natural” since that’s what I think I am and do –I color from life and memory. And I have had at least one (gentle) complaint from a client who said that my (textile) art didn’t look as brilliant in person as it did on the web. Fortunately, she accepted the piece anyway (I gave her the choice of sending it back) but I was suddenly made aware that nothing I could produce would look the way the technical feat of computer light makes it look.
Henri’s further comments somewhat broke my heart:
We’ve discussed this in the examples of Richter, Heilmann, and Yuskavage. In their works we are swamped with color, but it is color that goes no further than the surface. This color is part of the critique of Modernist color, the critique of visual meaning. It does not emote or inspire – it is there to entice, to show, to consume, while it remains wholly on the surface. It doesn’t move beyond the optical, it remains a product, straight out of the can, self contained and isolated. This color is about design, customization, decoration. It is the readymade found on the color chart…. The Postmodern world is about context, about the impossibility of meaning or narrative, and so, the color remains inscrutable. It develops discontinuities rather than relationships.
The whole post, as well as past posts leading up to these observations, are well worth reading. The Henri Art Magazine is a dense historical set of posts which present a critique of post modernism, of which this post seems to me to be the center. And it is something of what I feel about a great deal of prominent painted art today. Henri differentiates between reality, by which I think he means cultural context; and the natural, which is tied to “our bodies and our physicality.” His painting dilemma, as he describes it, is to try to sort through which of what he is doing is determined by “reality” (the cultural flux) and the “natural” (physical bodily being) and to find his way “between the two.”
“Color” he says, ” is not neutral, color can be meaningful, and for me, this is the sand in the oyster.”
Underwood, oil on linen, 4′ x 5′, 2009
I find painting the desert to be hugely about color (the forms are miniscule compared to the color, but the color is so subtle, so quiet, one has to almost stop breathing to see it. And to paint it, one (this one, anyway) has to forget about all those brilliant sunsets and photos of mesas blazing in the sun. No, the northern Mojave basin.range deserts have such quiet color that even Photoshop gets confused trying to find contrast or to “correct” the color. It’s a great, fun challenge.
And here’s a bit of nonsense, interactive art , an entirely different category of art. This is one that has little to do with color, but a lot to do with contemporary art. I can’t argue with it as “art” nor as “Art” but I find it sheer delight. It’s from Robert Genn’s The Painter’s Key newsletter, by the way, so you may have already seen it.