I’ve been ill and intensely insomnia’d recently – slowed down enough to obligingly revise my to-do lists from twenty things to one – or two if the gods are smiling. In the in-between times, too tired to sleep or read or write or hold a thought long enough to notice what it is …. I’ve been bored. This is no small thing and I do not make light of it. According to my upbringing and my deepest inclinations, boredom is a crime of the most serious nature. A crime AGAINST nature, in fact. It is absence of life and purpose.
And so I feel like I’ve been KO’d. I over-react in a kind of panic by revving my engines when I can find & start them – HUGE waste of precious gasoline. In those moments, roaring like an worn out F350, I lock myself into an intense but oh-too-brief road-race contemplation of mortality, choice, autonomy, risk, personal truth… and joy, both humbly small and thunderingly huge. I know full well this is a form of madness.
In the midst of this I ask myself, ‘What do you think?
(Like I’m in sanctuary, on White Cloud Island.)
(Seeking relief, which it is.)
I’ll call these the Colour Pages.
This blog has always been about process – the articulation and the sharing of it, the practise and the primacy of it. I’ve felt always that finished paintings are but a by-product of what happens on the road from concept to completion. This in no way diminishes the importance of paintings as living, resonant things. In my experience the finished (by)product will always ‘sing’ if the practise that leads to it has integrity. In order for process to have integrity however, I feel that it must be the most challenging, transformational part of art-making. Not for the faint of heart, if you’re serious and have respect for what you do.
I’ve noticed that my idea of what a ‘professional’ product is has changed – especially over these past two years. My ear for intonation and tone has as well, musically, which is the same muscle. Turns out it’s a constant refinement of perception.
Yellow, then. Hmmm.
Why do I associate yellow with a seeking of Knowledge?
Lemon, pineapple seem obvious but that’s not what I taste. Why does it instead taste like cumin?
Why does it feel like yellow is not a colour, but a light? Like the feeling of sunlight in April after a long winter.
Cold yellow feels toxic; I avoid it’s use. (Curious that this yellow is often called ‘lemon’. Huh. The manufactured colour is not the same as my experience of lemon, unless you can call a colour ‘sour’.) Cadmium yellow is a colour I avoid using as well – it feels opaque, obliterating, like heavy, cheap cheesey food – doesn’t work well with others, or my belly. Naples, Windsor, Barium, Turner’s, Chrome… I’ve used all of these but they resist light and do not glow.
A little internet digging (here) offers some history of artists’ eternal inquiry into yellow pigment for use in painting…
Prepared from the gallstone of an ox and gives a reasonably dark yellow. Nicholas Hilliard found it useful for shading with miniature work. John Payne in the 18th century found that dishonest colourmen were selling an inferior substitute. He suggested in his book on miniature-painting that artists should approach slaughter-houses and that the men there should be on the watch for gallstones. In 1801 it was one of the top four most expensive colours, Ackerman’s showing a charge of five shillings a cake.
A native yellow gum from Thailand. A bright transparent golden yellow for glazing or water-colour, it is not a true pigment. It has been in use since medieval times. J Smith in The Art of Painting in Oyl, published in 1701, describes a method for preparing the colour, which usually comes in rough cylinders about 2.5 in (6 cm) in diameter. ‘For a Yellow Gumboge is the best, it is sold at Druggist in Lumps, and the way to make it fit for use, is to make a little hole with a knife in the lump, and put into the hole some water, stir it well with a pencil till the water be either a faint or a deeper Yellow, as your occasion requires, then pour it into a Gally-Pot, and temper up more, till you have enough for your purpose.’ (Pencil here would mean a small, soft, hair brush.)
A fugitive pigment made from Eosine that was in vogue during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Van Gogh used it in versions of his Sunflowers. Now obsolete.
A lead yellow pigment likely to have been Naples Yellow. The Florentine painter Cennino Cennini mentions that Giallorino is associated with volcanoes but artificially made. This coincides with Naples yellow, which in Antiquity was collected as natural deposits from Mount Vesuvius, but by Cennini’s time had been synthesised. Another possibility is that the name refers to Lead-Tin Yellow (see below)….
… if you’d like to know more, go to the link here.
So technical and so familiar a thing for me, this historical context for colour.
For the purposes of this blog it’s infinitely infuriating that I can’t show you how HOT with yellow this painting actually is, right in front of me in my studio. This is not entirely because of my relatively poor equipment or knowledge of digital colour, either. I think the translation is not possible – original painting to internet or print. This both saddens and gladdens me, as a painter.
You’ll just have to believe and imagine a yellow so alive it burns your retina and blots out all other colour. A threshold yellow, beckoning, compelling, and also repelling. Nickel Azo yellow, with washes of ‘Indian’ yellow (good grief, what does That mean?), Mars Yellow, Hansa yellow medium and light….
More to come.
I’m happy to welcome April sun again, heartened by it as I am every year.
Here’s a tag thought: perhaps boredom is in fact a place where structure can be set aside so that other, more fluid and enduring, changing things can enter?
Colour pages will continue – like my digital version of Klee’s notebooks, which I long to read in english. From my familiar painter’s island, these will be a freeform romp through thoughts around the business of and tools for making visual art: colour, line, form, subject, song, frequency, culture and cultural democracy, transformation.
Chime in, by all means – the process is best if collaborative. Together we are an ecosystem and nothing happens in isolation.