Thursday, 1 March 2012

Back to Black


What with all yesterday's blueness, and talk between H.I. and me regarding David Hockney's take-over of the Royal Academy last night, this post is about colour.

H.I. - as you probably know - deals with colour for a living and, being a highly attuned, pain-in-the-arse painter, is ultra-sensitive about the whole business. Unlike a lot of our friends and acquaintances, we both agree that Hockney's huge paintings have no real sense of function or order in the use of colour, and simply squeezing primary colours out of a tube when executing landscapes like that, takes a lot more skill than he has got before you can get away with it. Matisse could do it, but poor old David cannot. I do like him as a person and a draughtsman, though. We will not be running up to London to see the latest show.

When talking to a friend yesterday who had just returned from seeing the exhibition, I said the above about what I thought to do with the colour, and my friend reacted as though I had no right to say it, not having been to see them in the flesh. When I asked him if there was anything that troubled him about Hockney's huge landscapes, he said that they lacked 'depth' - by which he meant physical depth - and I said, 'there you are then'. You cannot have a polychrome landscape with real depth without the proper use of colour.

There are aspects of my work which depend on the use of colour - I was one of the first restorers who tinted the repairs of stone antiques to disguise them, and at the time, I reckon I was the most successful.

Everyone - well almost everyone - is born with an innate sense of colour, but it takes careful observation and training to be able to artificially use it with paints. Someone asked me what my secret was when I coloured down stone repairs so well, and I said that there is no secret, it is just dry powder pigment with a little natural fixative. They said that if I told everyone about it, everyone would start doing it, and I said that everyone could not do it. Pointing to what appeared to be black blobs simulating the growth of a particular sort of algae, I asked him what colour they were. 'Black', he answered. No - they contained every primary colour in the palette, to a varying degree. It was knowing the proportions which made the difference between being able to do it and not.

So in the conversation between me and H.I. last night, we got back to black. One of her famous teachers at the Slade used to mix about 20 different shades of black for use in etching. These included 'soft' blacks; 'hard' blacks; red blacks; green blacks; blue blacks, etc. etc. depending on what was required. He had more blacks than Eskimos have whites. Black is black because it absorbs more of the spectrum of light than any other pigment.

Then we remembered - there really is no such thing as a true black. A true black would be utterly invisible, like a black hole which sucks the light in - ALL the light in.

So maybe true black exists after all?

15 comments:

  1. I think the reason I love grey skies is because there are so many more colours in them than blue ones.

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    1. Yes - grey skies are like mother of pearl.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I would permanently delete this accident, but that would only decrease my comment count. I'm up against Welsh animal abusers who rake in about 90 a post, so hey - get it where you can, like I say.

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  3. We were saying much the same last night. His earlier work was so much more interesting.

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    1. That little book illustrating Grimm's fairy tales?

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  4. Nice intelligent informative post, Tom. Interesting too!

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    1. That was the right thing to say, Broad. You must come round for dinner one day.

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  5. For some odd reason the story The Emperor's Clothes came to mind...was he wearing true black?

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    1. Hmm... What about Mr Potter's cloak of invisibility???

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  6. I do not call myself an artist, but I love to paint and I love color. I wish I could have a face to face discussion with you about what I like about David Hockney's Yorkshire paintings. I lived many years in Yorkshire and loved it; love the people; know and very much like a couple of Hockney's relatives; went to school in Bridlington. So am I just biased? I'm asking this as a serious question. I think I see in his paintings some quality that tells me immediately it is of Yorkshire and so I love it. How has he captured this? He says he likes the light in Yorkshire. Am I imagining this just because I have so many attachments there? I'd like to think I'm being a little more objective than that but I have no technical knowledge on which to base my preferences.

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    1. And why not? There are no hard and fast rules as far as I am concerned - if you like them you like them - I actually like most of them myself, but I would prefer to have someone like Ben Hartley hanging on my wall - even if I did have walls big enough to hang a Hockney!

      The only rules that apply here are the scientific ones to do with what happens in your brain when you place two colours side by side, and the way they change through juxtaposition - colour theory is a science, but it doesn't always have to be applied to art. If it works, it works for you.

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  7. Thanks Tom for this explanation. Appreciate you taking the time. I need to look into what color theory is all about I think.

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