Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lesson in Colors

The color wheel from Johannes Itten (1888-1967), a color theorist who taught at the Bauhaus from 1919 till 1923 on color contrasts and the psychological effect of colors, introduces Color Acting at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, FL. But it is Joseph Albers, best known for his optical experiments which culminated with his series Homage to the Square who overshadows the exhibition, even providing its title taken from one of his quotes. He demonstrated that color is "the most relative medium in art" and that regardless of the scientific theories of colors, they are influenced by one another and are also perceived subjectively by each viewer.
Albers keeps inspiring younger artists and this is illustrated by the works from Jessica Labatte (b. 1981), like Cross Processed Green to Blue and Blue to Green, 2012 or Canadian Jessica Eaton (b. 1977).
Richard Anuszkiewicz, an Op Art artist, creates volumes and dynamic paintings with colors and lines. Meanwhile, in the works from Pierre Mabille, Yaacov Agam, Hans Hinterreiter or Robyn Denny, shape becomes an accessory to color, the subject. The Russian born artist Bolotowsky, who became one of the founders of the American Abstract Artists Group in New York City is represented in the exhibition as well as Frank Stella with Jasper's Dilemna, 1973,  a composition in black and white side by side with its colored copy, drawing the viewer's attention, next to a small lithograph from Alexander Calder, characteristic of the artist's use of primary colors.
The display in the first part of the exhibition, a gathering of small technical works about color is followed in the second room by bigger pieces and introduces color field painting with Attala, 1958, from Fredric Karoly, an American artist born in Hungary. Its ethereal, transparent hues contrast with the fauvist, violent colors of Flower I, 1981, from Joan Mitchell, the well-known abstract expressionist painter. Some artists use color like a whiff of perfume or a tune to stimulate memories like Enrico Donati, American born in Italy, who found a green "never seen before" during a visit at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and gives us a rendition in  Angkor Wat, 1963. The exhibition goes on with works from less known artists over time, remembered for their contribution to art history: Stanton McDonald-Wright, one of the first American abstract painter who founded Synchromism, a movement relating respectively colors and sounds to paintings and music, Stanley William Hayter, a well-known print maker in Paris who worked with Picasso, Kandinsky and taught Rothko and Pollock after his move to New York City at the onset of WWII. The list goes on with each artist represented by a characteristic work, and a detailed biography with quotes related to their interest and research in colors: Gene Davis, a member of the Washington School Color, Perle Fine, Ludwig Sanders, Leon Berkowitz, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg. At the occasion of this small didactic exhibition, the visitor will  rediscover artists, sometimes forgotten, who left their mark in the American abstract movement and the study of colors.

The search for color is ongoing, from the time of Aristotle to Goethe with his Theory of Colours and Newton who introduced the notion of wavelengths also invented the color wheel. But there is more to color than techniques, wavelengths, theories and  the artists, researchers in colors cannot dismiss its subjectivity and the whole quote from Albers goes:" Painting is color acting. The act is to change character and behavior, mood and tempo."

In conclusion, another quote from Albers: " If one says "red" and there are 50 people listening, it can be 50 different reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all reds will be very different."

photographs by the author:

"Volumes", Richard Anuszkiewicz, 1972
"Attala", Fredric Karoly, 1968
"Black Watch", Gene Davis, 1974
"Homage to the Square", Josef Albers

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