border(line) oil on canvas by Pender Island abstract, contemporary artist barbra edwards
May 30 2015
On Colour Palette or Can a Painting be Introverted?

Reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”  I wondered about how the role of personality or mood shapes my own paintings. Also, how colour itself presents a painting to the world.

“ Some of the greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures found there.”  Susan Cain

So what creates ‘quiet and calm’ in one’s work? Structure, boldness of stroke, composition and actual size of paintings make strong paintings. A minimal painting can also be bold. But here I’m talking about neutral or saturated colour and it's impact on the perception of a painting. Each of us physically sees colour differently. As a painter that fascinates me. Just when I find the perfect gray-green in a painting, someone comments on it as a completely different colour. That stops me short! From a person’s comments about my work I know that colour triggers subliminal emotions, coming from personal life experiences. Listening to response to the paintings gives me feedback but more importantly helps connect us by sharing our experiences.

Like realism, abstraction can offer a sense of place.  A painting draws you into its space with mood and emotion. This can be achieved by choice of materials, the medium, the clarity of brushstroke (or whatever tool) and it’s texture or lack of. But colour plays a compelling role. As I work on a new painting, the colour is vital, to the point of my sometimes not being unable to "see" where I am with a piece. If the painting stalls and won't come together, I sit back and absorb what's going on. Often a colour or combination is not working. Once I adjust palette, the painting often moves ahead easily. This isn’t about control but rather listening to the painting. Unexpected change and surprise still happens but for me that dialogue with colour has to come together first.

Most artists become known for their palette. If you think of Matisse, Cezanne or Anselm Kiefer, their signature colours instantly come to mind. Joan Mitchell had a gloriously broad colour range. Pink comes to mind with Guston, though he might have argued it was combos of black, white, grey.

Sometimes I need to stretch my colour vocabulary. Up until I introduced red to my paintings I'd found the colour too aggressive for my work. It made me feel uncomfortable. Since then red has taken me on quite a ride, from boldly bright to deeply dark and of the earth. Angry to lyrical and somewhere in between… Finally red and I have found compatibility. However like the book “Quiet …” when there is chaos in my life or in our world, I tend to put quiet into my own work.

I consider the colour of neutrals of huge importance. In my love affair with grey, I’ve contentedly found there are as many new greys as there are combinations of paint. Finding them expands my personal colour vocabulary the same as expanding one's signature mark-making. Greys provide both space and a comforting cocooning effect for me in my work. Reflecting on my toned down paintings I realize they too have their own impact and strength. Like the introverted person, you need to slow down and listen to what they have to say.

“I came to mistrust my desire to explode the picture and super-charge it in some way…what is more important is a feeling of strength in reserve – tension beneath calm.”   Richard Diebenkorn

Border(line) and Take The Long Way are two new paintings that I consider quiet. They play with many shades of neutral  greys. Yes I know, I did sneak in a few bits of colour. You can see them this July at Seymour Art Gallery in North Vancouver. More on that exhibition soon…

Note: There are some gems in Cain’s book ‘Quiet …’ It’s informative reading for anyone raising quiet children or living/working with introverts. (one out of of every 2 - 3 of us) You may be surprised at some of the famous introverts she writes about!

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