Thursday, August 5, 2010

Color matters

A couple of days ago I had a delightful conversation with my friend John about color. Of all the aspects of art that turn me on (and there are many) color reigns high. Knowing how to manipulate color is like having the keys to the kingdom. John’s words about how I use color in my work are still marinating upstairs, and I will write about the results when I start cooking the ideas.

The day after this conversation I visited the Portland Museum of Art as I drove through Oregon. It is a modest museum with a few sweet gems and a lovely sculpture garden. They allow photography only outside, but I didn’t know that when I took the shots above. The postcard department was good for paintings and disappointing for sculpture, ever the bridesmaid in most collections. One of these days I swear I’m gonna write a letter… but I digress.

As I wandered the collections, I began to be tuned into the colors of the rooms. The museum had a recent facelift, and in the process colors were introduced to the walls. The series of galleries above were respectively ruby red, sage green, and cornflower blue. The red gallery housed the pre-renaissance religious works, beautifully accenting the red robes and rosy baby Jesus cheeks. The green gallery was mostly landscapes of sweeping greens and earth tones. The blue gallery was full of the likes of frilly Fragonard works, all pastel ruffles and pastoral scenes with puffy clouds in summer skies. In each case, the choice of wall color made the paintings shine a little brighter. And note that the signage was colored to blend back into the wall (that small red rectangle next to the Murillo above) so as not to distract. Subtle, but lovely.

A few years back, the Getty had a special exhibition of Rembrandt’s late religious portraits. They were hung on deep burgundy walls, a truly inspired and very memorable installation. These paintings became grander, more luscious, their colors even deeper and richer than they ever could have been in a traditional white box gallery. The color gave the installation so much and yet took nothing away.

Back in Portland, there was another installation of colorful walls. The graphic novelist R. Crumb has illustrated the book of Genesis, and each page of the book was neatly framed onto bright red, blue, and purple walls. The colors were strong and clear, a bold choice on which to highlight the pristine white/black of the illustrations. As I perused, I wondered who chose them, wondered why these particular shades, why there was no green or red. As I rounded the corner to the permanent collection, there was a small work by Josef Albers, one of his many and notable Homage to the Square works that explore the relationships of colors, titled “Late Reminder 1957.” I can’t find an image of it anywhere to share with you, but I’ll tell you this… it was the same red, blue, and purple as the walls. Riddle solved.