12 September 2022

colours are perception and the greys between them are broken bridges

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

While driving home from the beach a few weeks back I was watching the deepening dusk turn from violet to Prussian blue, and in those passing moments, the simple and an obvious truth came to me: 

"that the more one paints, the more one sees".

Too simple, and almost a matter of fact, but like a large freckle on one's nose, and after decades of work, one could too easily overlook this fact. From there I reasoned that surely it would be the same for all other crafts, vocations or jobs and what-have-you. 

But just as certainly, it would only concern a commitment for which one would be willing to offer up one's whole life, for this is a choice of great personal investment. And it is reserved only for a vocation which also returns that investment 1000 fold with a clearer understanding of one's own life but possibly an empty bank account too. So curiously, it is not a viable way of life for an investment banker for instance. Mais Non! This only works for artists, artisans, scientists, athletes, writers, musicians, etc, etc,,, creative people for whom money is always a secondary goal. Money is great and essential, but it's still the horse before the cart.

One can spend a lifetime pursuing an answer (or question) that might give meaning to one's life. For most, it is to make a family and raise children, nurturing them well enough to face a difficult and oftentimes cold and unforgiving life. But for a creator, or any another other kind of obsessive oddball, isn't there also another kind of Holy Graal to strive for? It's both a question and answer, and it's something that one hopes might fix one's own flawed life by filling in a gap or those cracks. But maybe too, it's the thing that brings a sense of completion. 

Along these lines, here is a selection of a few images which reveal for me the somewhat disparate means by which one can see and paint the motif. How is a picture painted? It depends on the sky on any given day but also most importantly, it's what one sees in the sky and what one takes from it, rendering it through a visual alchemy.  

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 15 July 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 September 2020 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

One can bring to a session a mind full of memories and images, or none. But what one does bring is embodied in so much of what one has been seeing and painting for so many years. Painting as a life's work is a cumulative endeavour, and if one isn't getting better at looking and seeing, then one should take up needlepoint, or just look for a new optometrist. 

I know a few wonderful painters whose work, sadly to note, went backwards in their lifetime by retreating from the great originality they had once exhibited. André Derain comes to mind, and he is an artist who went from these paintings below (done in 1906, and 1907, respectively) to the third picture done in Provence. 

AKG Museum in Buffalo, N.Y, 1906

The Guggenheim in Bilbao, 1907, Cassis (The Cap Canaille, pink on the left) 

(full disclosure, I love both of these paintings) These are two innovative pictures built up from within from extraordinary colour harmonies. The drawings in each, though different in conception, are unified and somewhat straight forward. Compare these with this insipid painting below, done in 1930, after he moved to Provence from the Côte d'Azur.

Collection of the Museum of Chicago, 1930 

Though this may be indeed a kind of painting to which many amateurs aspire, it is a step backwards from the exuberant invention of Derain's earlier work when he was considered one of the original Fauvists alongside Henri Matisse. Unlike Matisse who did go forward, propelling French Painting into une idée Moderne by breaking down perspective (one step further than Cézanne) and by expanding the explosion of colour (after Van Gogh), to inviting the New York school of Expressionism to flourish in America several years later, for better and worse.  

Seeing colour is a cumulative endeavour, an acquired taste, as it were. Where I see a peachy yellow cloud, many civilians (non-painters) might see what they think is 'just grey',  a misnomer and already, therein is the problem, for grey in this way doesn't exist at all. Grey is the relative result of any complimentary colours mixed together. And even worse, it's also but a 'perception' created by the eye. Colours are so interconnected in Nature that purity cannot exist because all colours are 'broken'. They are inherently a variation of pear grey, peach grey, plum grey or grape grey. And these colours mutate continually (especially at dusk) as they deepen into the colder tones of night as the colour wheel spins more rapidly. 

So theoretically, a working painter should develop an increasingly richer clarity around the nuances of colour as he/she works out on a motif in Nature because the more one paints, the more one sees.


  1. Thanks Chris, interesting analysis and information. Signed, a big fan of Matisse.