I've been reading David Batchelor's Chromophobia and it confirmed a lot of things I've been thinking about in terms of colour and painting.
The fact that, as artists, our relationship to colour and colour theory has changed since the advent of commercial-grade paints (ie. enamel house paint) in the 1950s and 60s. Artists began to pick their hues based on the colour swatch charts instead of using the Newtonian colour wheel. Colour as readymade; ready to go; straight out of the can. No longer do you have to mix your own paints. The cross-polination of commercial art and fine art in the 50s and 60s (ie. Ab Ex, Rauscheberg, Johns, Pop Art, Minimalism) has enabled the colour chart to usurp the colour wheel as a part of a painter's practice mainly because it is convenient and provides a seemingly objective view of colour values. There are certainly a lot of benefits having a colour chart to pick your hues (fast, no fuss, no muss, plenty of choice) but what is being lost from not grappling with the colour wheel?
I see something interesting in the work habits of my classmates. They do not mix their hues when they paint (at least not on the palette) and use their colours straight out of the tube or can (acrylic and enamel house paints seem to be the mediums of choice). This reflects a naivety of colour sensibility, I think. Undoubtedly, as time goes on, my contemporaries will develop a more refined sense of colour, but I feel like they aren't equipped to explore and dig and experiment. Perhaps what is being lost in not studying the colour wheel (or analog colour) is a freedom to create your own hues. Freedom is lost in the paradox of choice.
As Amy Sillman says, "There was no colour theory . . . just plenty of productive misunderstandings." What she goes on to say in her talk at the Whitney a few years ago, is that each painter uses colour to suit their own sensibilities. So therefore, it is difficult to pin down a definitive theory of contemporary colour.
So what does this mean for me? I've been exploring the idea of corrosive beauty in colour. The plastic dyed hues of the cellophane that I use for a ground acts as an interesting arena to explore how petrochemical and traditional hues interact. I certainly haven't come to any conclusions as of yet, but I do seem to be using a lot of pinks, magentas, greens, and mint hues. And of course black and white hues. The pink and green refer to colour eye test charts and quite possibly a nod to Philip Guston's palette, but is also dictated by the hues chosen by the cellophane manufacturer.
But what is beautiful about corrosive colour? Colour that hits your eyes in an aggressive way. Colour that shrieks. But a shriek can be elegant. Discomfort can be pleasing. Think of the Firebird Suite by Stravinsky. Discordant harmonies. Like old punk rock. Corrosive colour represents the anxiety and fear that our everyday life, our way of living is destroying our world. Pollution, climate change, social injustices fuelled by Western capitalist systems (including colour manufacturing), loss of self, the rat race. It represents the awkward relationship of analog and digital systems, the gangly and unsightly hybrid offspring. Doom, perhaps. Doom-lite, maybe.
And what does this look like?