Confrontations With Colour
Everyone sees colours differently. The average human can see around 7 million colours. Some can see far more subtle shifts in hues than others, while some individuals with red-green colour blindness cannot distinguish between a green apple and a red apple. But even if we all saw the exact same number of colours, can we say that we see them in the same way? An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you in the world. – Lisa Feldman Barrett Just as individuals experience emotions differently and therefore feel the world differently, does our sense of colour effect how we see the world? Franz Marc was one of those artists who saw colour differently. Colour was not about enhancing the effects of atmosphere, weather and light like Monet, colour for Marc was about colour harmony and symbolism. Often using triadic colour schemes and tones that seem almost crude and jarring, Marc took what he knew about colour and turned it on its head. For the German Expressionist, colour was not about representing accuracy or being true to nature. Representation was just that, a colour that in his mind represented the animals he painted. Every colour was assigned a gender, an emotion and a spirit.
One of Marc’s most well-known quotes on the subject of colour: Blue is the male principle, stern and spiritual. Yellow the female principle, gentle, cheerful and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour which must be fought and vanquished by the other two.
Confronted by the horrors of the first World War, it was no wonder that Marc was drawn to more abstract forms and such bold, vivid hues away from the greys of warfare. Colour was his way of reconnecting with the world of beauty, and to the animals that he’d loved since childhood. Did his use of bold hues, representational juxtapositions of colour and form change how he witnessed the world around him? I like to think so.
Colour triggers powerful emotions, whether consciously or subconsciously. Many studies have shown that women are more confident when wearing red, and are more likely to be asked on a date when wearing red rather than blue. Music can stimulate a colour, emotions can played and senses tantalised. Our sense of colour can inspire beautiful symphonies, make our mouths salivate and even elevate our mood. Mood is perhaps the most crucial of the effects colour has on our senses. For me, certain colour palettes evoke a powerful sense of wonder, a longing to capture those particular colours in paint. Though I’ve painted in various styles and themes over the years – starting with Marc’s influence in my semi-abstract, colour-representational works – painting the cosmos has allowed me to explore a wider range of colours, and to choose my favourites depending on my mood and the subject I’m painting. Instead of painting animals, I can represent the cosmos with the hues and forms that best fit the mood I want to create, whether it’s an exciting explosion of a nebula to the more subdued clouds of a softy atmospheric piece. I realised that I am far more drawn to fluid shapes and forms, blends and the energy and sensations of colours, than painting any natural object. This could be the perfect basis for starting some more abstract painting too.
In my recent paintings, I’ve been re-using just a few colours, totally in love with the soft, feminine qualities that they reflect. For reasons I’ll explain later. I’m adapting my painting to create a visual effect, more than creating a realistic scene. Just as the stunning photographs from Hubble and others are often created using various wavelengths – often ones that are actually invisible to us – so that we can appreciate the splendour of the universe in all its glory. White is never white, and colour is only what you want it to say.
Currently on the easel!