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”?

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."

 

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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

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