Learning to See Color- An Exhibition

Is color the same everywhere for everyone?

What does color “mean”?

How have artists attempted to control color?

These questions are just a few of those posed by a rich and varied exhibition at the Victoria Myrhen Gallery at the University of Denver’s School of Art & Art History, opening next week, January 14th.  Contemporary artists from throughout the United States as well asmodern masters like Josef Albers and Helen Frankenthaler will have work on display that explores the complexity and nuance of color in art.

This show is co-curated by Jeffrey Keith, a renowned visual artist, color theory expert and University of Denver professor (and my former mentor), and Dan Jacobs, the Director of the Victoria Myrhen Gallery.

For those of you in the Denver area, or with plans to travel there soon, this show is a must-see! For more information, go to http://vicki-myhren-gallery.du.edu/.

What is Color Identity?

(Or, what makes a color feminine or masculine?)

My former mentor and art professor once gave me an exercise to push through a painting block I was experiencing. He said, “Make two paintings that are the most ugly paintings you have ever seen. Use every color you hate, and put them all into the same painting. Really go for it- try to make these paintings so hideous you cannot stand it. Get ugliness out of your system.”

I love color challenges. This was not my first from him- I had studied with him for many years by that time, and was fresh out of graduate school, stuck in the series of paintings I was working on, and needing something new. His challenge propelled me into another series, one very different from the work I had completed for my master’s thesis.

Years later I learned to pose color challenges for myself on a regular basis. I usually do this by limiting the palette I am working with, or trying to create a “mood” through my color choices in my work.

The past year has been an exploration of feminine and masculine color schemes.

As an artist I bristle at being called a “female artist”— why is there an indicator of gender needed; no one calls an artist a “male artist” — yet we live in a culture that places meaning on color. I call these Color Identifiers, also known as Color Analogues. Color can identify as masculine, feminine, or it can be both, depending on the contextual colors around it. This dichotomy compelled me in the studio, and my work evolved largely because of it.

After making what I call “pretty paintings”, which felt incredibly feminine, I found myself pushing into the masculine world of color in 2015. I noticed that so-called “male artists” that I admired had very different approaches to color, allowing the ugliness of colors to co-exist with the beauty of color— and within the same piece. This is a complex and sophisticated undertaking, and a huge color challenge. As examples I look to artists like Tim Hussey, Brian Coleman, and John Wood, whose works dance that line of beautiful and unattractive, a visual exploration of the French term “jolie laide,” in which a person is seen as “attractive but not conventionally pretty.”

Interestingly, I am not the only one exploring the color juxtaposition of “male” and “female” colors. Pantone chose two colors for the Color of the Year in 2016, a pale rose pink and lavender blue, to express our culture’s current obsession with gender identity and dynamics.

What also interests me about this process is the relationship I have with "feminine" colors as light, pale, pastel, warm, beautiful or pretty, and "masculine" colors as harsh, dark, muted, cool and unattractive. Where does that subconsciously come from?

Let me know what you think of my work- does it seem “feminine” or “masculine” to you? Does it bridge that gap as I intended? What are your “color identifiers”?

New Endeavors

While working on a recent commission, I was given a challenge: don’t use the color blue. Or purple. OR PINK. Let me tell you, it was not easy! My first 15 paintings were absolute failures. On the first go around, I created paintings with purple in them, and on the second, the red paint I was trying to use bled terribly and dried in strange ways. (Between the technical and professional failures, I was grateful for patient clients!)

But then, after a reboot with supplies and direction, I got it together, and created a strong series of work inspired by the colors and memories of New Mexico. The project was a great exercise in restraint, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had so much fun, I thought, why not do an entire series of paintings exploring my memories of the natural world?

And that’s what I am working on right now, along with furthering the Entanglements series.

All before my second child is due in one month!

Gotta keep it interesting, right?

Being the Artist You Are

One of the most profound moments of my artistic career happened not with a great mentor or inspiring artist. It happened, instead, with a professor I quite detested at the time for their negativity, cynicism, and angst. I never took another class from her, in fact. But their advice to me in that moment was one that has stuck with me to this day, and I still think of it often.

In my first semester of graduate school, I struggled to find my voice as an artist, flitting from style to style and media to media like a toddler exploring a room filled with new toys. I did not stay with any one thing for long. My lack of focus was frustrating, for how do you get a grasp on creating an entire master’s thesis when you cannot commit in the span of one artwork?

One of these professors said something to me at a studio visit towards the end of the semester that encapsulated what I was struggling with quite succinctly. During a weekly studio visit, the professor looked at all the work I had created, and said, point blank:

“At some point, Julia, you will have to just make the art you are going to make, and you are going to have to be OK with that.”

Say that again?

You will just have to make the art you make, and you are going to have to be OK with that.

Both revelatory and a shock, this was a lesson that has slowly sunk in over the years. What this professor meant was: be the artist you are. Don’t be someone else­– not your famous professor, best friend from art school, or that guy who randomly picked up a paintbrush one day and now sells paintings for $20,000 a pop. Not the Pop artist, or the friends whose art involves tagging the neighborhood. Don’t make someone else’s work; make yours, and be OK with that.

It has taken me decades of work as a painter and printmaker to hold my focus, creating abstract paintings and prints that explore my fascination with science and nature.  Only once I stopped flitting about in the studio, and buckled down to a series that could sustain me for years, did I start to feel my confidence as an artist grow. These years of dedication were affirmed recently, when I met with a gallery director, who said to me, “You just keep your style, your palette, your vocabulary.” She said that if I don’t, my work is not authentic. And authenticity is something I value as much as beauty and craft.

So, be brave, artists. Just keeping making YOUR art.

 

How does your Ikea poster make you feel?

Recently a friend of mine asked if I ever made large paintings. She had been staring at the same IKEA poster on her wall for a few years and had suddenly realized she hated it. It had a picture of the Eiffel Tower, but she couldn’t relate. It meant nothing to her, she realized, and she was starting to figure out that maybe she wanted something she actually liked on the wall.

A few weeks later, another friend, who had recently purchased a painting of mine, confessed that she still hadn’t hung the work. In fact, she said, she and her husband had not hung virtually any work. She asked me to come over and help her hang my painting- and few others too. The  walls were pretty bare, and it was driving her nuts.

What these two stories have in common is a sense that what we look at on our walls affects us. Blank walls can feel empty, and make a home feel temporary or transitional. It makes it hard to “root” ourselves in an empty home. At the same time, when we have images on our walls that we don’t like, we can feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied in our homes. They don’t feel authentic to us, but feel fake and disconnected.

It doesn’t really matter what you put on your walls as long as it resonates with you. Art and design is completely subjective, and what works for one person won’t work with another. You might like Pop Art, Street Art or Minimal Art.

Tastes can also change over time. What thrills you one year looks dowdy or outdated the next.

This can cause one to fear making a choice about what to put on the walls of your home, or to not be sure where to put the work. But have no fear- trust your instincts.

Some things that might work are:

    • Think about your taste. Where do you like to shop for clothes? Are there brands you like? What do they have in common? Try to find art like that style. For example, if you like shopping at Anthropologie, you might like vintage or folk art.
    • Look at your space and think about where your eye naturally settles. Those are good focal points, and places for art.
    • You can mix and match styles of work. Go vintage, modern and expressionist all on one wall, hung “salon style”. Put different styles throughout your home for an eclectic touch.
    • Don’t worry too much about art “matching” your colors or space. That can be in the back of your head, but don’t let it drive your decisions. This is a home, not a hotel lobby.

Most of all, think of how the work makes you feel. Spend some time with it. Make sure the work makes you feel good.

Art on the other side of the tunnel...

I live in Danville, a town on the other side of the Caldecott tunnel by about 30 minutes from Berkeley, without traffic. It is a pretty little place, but very suburban. OK, extremely suburban. And in this part of what is called the East Bay, there is a bit of a dearth of cultural ANYTHING, especially for the visual arts.

To be fair, there are some local arts associations made up of primarily painters of landscapes and still lifes, who show their work at a few local non-profit spaces. These are also host to performing arts shows and some juried art exhibitions. I have nothing against any of this, except that I start to crave seeing lots of art, especially contemporary art, and there is not a lot of it our here. In other words, we don’t exactly have any gallery districts, much less a gallery walk on a Friday night or an open studio tour. If you want those things, head your bum through that tunnel or over the Bay Bridge, and get your art fix in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

Then again, people don’t live here for the art and culture, they live here because it is safe and clean and pretty and has good school districts. It is great for raising kids- one of which, I have. But if you are an artist, or an art-lover, you start to miss having something interesting and beautiful to look at.

Imagine my surprise, then, when at my place of work in Walnut Creek, a friend mentioned that there is an art gallery in the town of Lafayette! Just two towns over from Danville.

 Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Downtown Lafayette, CA.

Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery in Downtown Lafayette, CA.

On a Saturday, my husband and toddler and I drive all of 17 minutes to Lafayette to see this gallery, a cooperative space called the Lafayette Art Gallery. After checking it out (and it was really nice), I stumble upon another art gallery up the street, the lovely and gorgeous contemporary space Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery, named for the fabulous owner of the gallery herself.

Filled with Jennifer’s bold, expressive, and colorful abstract paintings, the space glowed with color. The gallery is clean and simple in design, allowing the art to pop! Nothing is overhung as well- each piece gets its own place on the wall. (No salon walls here!)

Jennifer opened up in February after lamenting the lack of art on this side of the tunnel. (She apparently read my mind.) She plans to rotate shows of contemporary artists throughout the rest of the year, and has some great events planned, one coming up in just two weeks. Learn more here.

I highly recommend checking it out, locals. It is filled with beauty!

Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery
Address:
 3620 Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette CA 94549
Hours: Mon-Sat 11AM-5PM

Harnessing Chaos

AtWork-1 Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. ~ John Lennon

For the past month or so, I have been wrestling with a painting. I tried all my usual tricks- sneaking up on it with white paint to "cover up" the parts that were not working, simplifying it, making it more colorful, making it more complex- none of which worked. I ended up with a bit of a mess.

OK, it was down right ugly.

The colors were, frankly, atrocious: acid yellow with earthy teal green, pale pink, weird beige (is beige ever weird? Well, I figured that one out!) and baby boy blue. Their dissonance haunted me for days. In yoga class I would find solutions to the problem, only to not have time to act on them. Finally, this past weekend, I attacked the piece. I knew it needed red, but not just any red: CORAL. That almost-orange-and-almost-salmon color that is gracing all the home decor blogs and catalogs this season.

Oddball

 

So there I was, painting some circles on this piece, with each one thinking, oh, crap, there's another thing I'll have to fix.

But I kept going. Trying to relate the halves of the work, add points of connection, reference and movement, and balance the color scheme so it stayed weird, but not unnervingly so.

This painting is really about trying to find structure in chaos... at some point making peace with the chaos. Therefore the work is not "pretty," but it has a jolie laide quality that makes it work. It is not at all what I set out to do, but somehow, I found a way to harness the chaos and coalesce it into a loose sort of structure. That's why I named it "Oddball."

 

***********************************************************************************************

I've got a lot in the works right now that I'd love to share with you! Join my newsletter to find out about my latest work, art shows and events, and get tips on beautiful art to check out in person and on the web. I would love to connect with you and deliver beauty to your inbox. Sign up here.

 

(I promise I won't share your email OR send you millions of messages. Expect them about once a month, actually.)

Buy some art. Hang on your wall. Enjoy.

Illuminate Recently I was approached by the startup Artify It about offering limited edition prints of two of my original works on paper. I am pleased to say they are now available for a short time (one week to be exact)!

I am not going to bore you with the fact that limited edition prints are a wonderful way to start collecting art affordably (they are). But if you were to look at buying art because it is affordable, why not just buy it at a Big Box Store? Then you can get all the "paintings" you need, on sale and in the designer colors that will exactly match your couch!

Instead, I prefer to think of buying my work through Artify It as more about buying something special and adding uniqueness to the space you frequent. Or perhaps you know an art-lover that will get a total kick out of the work too, so you buy them a gift. What a nice way for someone to "live with beauty"!

In any case, if you are interested, click the photos and they will take you to the website for purchasing. I hope you enjoy!

 

BloodEarth

Art & Beauty: Jessica Torrant

Jessica Torrant is a colorist: her medium may be paint, but her language is color. She embodies that famous quote by Paul Klee:

“Color possesses me. I don't have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.

Oh, and she is the closest thing I have to an artist soul sister, both of us collectively birthed by Joan Mitchell, Arshile Gorky, Willem DeKooning, and Helen Frankenthaler. (Among others, of course.)

In her own words, Jessica says, "I look at making art as therapy— and what's the point of therapy if you aren't honest? I think beauty in art is honesty in art, with at least a sprinkling of hope.  Even if that hope is, 'I'm still here, even through all of this ugliness, and I'm not going anywhere even if I'm completely broken.' "

Her intricate color harmonies and layers of interacting organic form create an emotional complexity in each work. These are the kinds of works you have to sit with. And that color... yum.

Jessica lives in rural Northern Connecticut with her husband. She studied at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where her mutual obsession with abstraction began. Her work is collected worldwide, and she exhibits throughout the US and London.  To experience more of Jessica's beautiful work, check out her Etsy shop and her website.

Transcendence

betweentwoworldsoriginal

For today.

Harbinger300 I will not weigh in on gun control, or the need for better screening and treatment for mental illness. I will not tell you to "hug your kids a little tighter" (even if you do) or to write your congressman. Urgings are not my intention. I may or may not agree with any of them, but right now, that is not at all what I want to say. I want to tell you this:

I created this piece, Harbinger, in Spring 2010. At the time I was living in Mountain View, CA, trying to figure out my next move in life. Stuck in a depression so profound, so deep, it seemed there was no end to it, I ventured out of my gray, Silicon Valley apartment onto the streets along office parks and strip malls. I was never more surprised than to find magnolias, in bloom, pink and full, in front of a cold, glass building.

The magnolia flower is known as the harbinger of Spring. Spring is the metaphor of new life, growth, possibility. In other words, out of the gray, cold winter of our lives and this world, find hope anywhere you can– so that darkness and coldness and brutality does not engulf you.

 

Art & Beauty: Skyler McGee

McGee_3Skyler McGee: Balancing Nature and Space

I have followed Skyler McGee’s work since she was a student of mine at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Since then, her work has evolved into careful, poetic considerations of nature, space, and color.

Inspired by the natural world, Skyler works in fresh, delicate layers. She plays with combinations of materials– hard and soft, light and heavy, from oil paint to printmaking to watercolor. She emphasizes the artist’s hand or presence- nothing feels machine-made, but rather as if it was somehow uncovered in a forgotten studio from long ago, or excavated from an anthropological dig. She works carefully, slowly, her color sense reflecting the natural elements that inspire her work.

Currently living in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and two little girls, Skyler’s work reflects her daily life as well, as she balances her life as an artist, mom and wife. You can see more of her work at charcoalandsaffron.wordpress.com.

McGee_9

The Creative Place

Image "Creative artists ... are mankind's wakeners to recollection: summoners of our outward mind to conscious contact with ourselves, not as participants in this or that morsel of history, but as spirit, in the consciousness of being. Their task, therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that an actual shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one center of consciousness to another."

Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Volume IV: Creative Mythology

What is art if not to awaken us? To make things seen that we do not see, to bring light onto subjects we would pass by. Art says, "Look. Hear. Feel. Experience." – and then some.

Art creates a place where we are present.

 

Effortless Layers

So much of art work is about layering. It is so easy to over-layer, to build a surface up too much to the point that it ceases to breathe. But in nature, layering happens effortlessly, and the effect is often one of ease and strength. The lesson: don't overwork it. Let it grow how it wants to be.

(photos by Julia Rymer Brucker)

Mangrove branches, Hawaii.

Homage á Ansel Adams, Bear Valley, CA.

Dew, Point Reyes, CA.