“You change the colour of something and everything
changes (especially if you’re a painter).”
Marlene Dumas 1994
When I was asked to write a short piece about how the
use of colour is important to the artists in this
exhibition, I found that there was far more common
ground than I expected. Each of the group supplied me
with a short statement about how they use colour and
why it is important.
Colour works in many ways in life and our
environment, and within the visual arts can be a vital
means of communicating meaning. Common factors in
the use and importance of colour which emerge from
the individual statements from the seven artists in this
exhibition are memory, emotion, feelings, mood,
expression and evocation as well as the formal
functions of colour.
Winning Ways 1, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 100 cm
Many of these aspects are mentioned by Fran Donovan
in her brief personal statement: “For me the
expressive sensual power of colour is the vehicle
through which I convey my joy of the landscape.
Colour, form and marks create an emotion-based
memory of the landscape, rather than a topographical
representation, describing, through marks and pigment,
areas of radiant shimmering colour within the canvas.”
For Donovan, the painterly language of colour is
all-important. She is using colour, and the way it acts
upon the viewer, in the way a composer may use sound,
not as literal description, but a force with which to
evoke an inner and emotional response in the audience.
Martyn Brewster, talking about his abstract paintings
and original screenprints uses similar language: “I use
colour in abstract work for its expressive potential.
Colour has the ability to evoke emotions, create
sensations, suggest feelings. The beauty and power of
Winter Garden 2, Acrylic & Collage on Canvas, 90 x 110 cm
colour is central to the images I make in my paintings
and prints, and is an intrinsic part of the subject matter.”
Although there are differences in the imagery in the
work of Brewster and Donovan, they both see colour
as an essential and dynamic element of their creative
Nestled, Oil on Canvas, 60 x 70 cm
The realm of emotions is picked up again by Ursula
Leach when she states: “Colour is used in a way that
is non-literal. Placing colours one against the other is
intended to evoke a parallel to the atmosphere of the
subject however different the colour is from reality.
The colours used may be manipulated intensely to
elicit an emotional response.” However, in Leach’s
mind, the formal aspects of colour are significant, the
way colours react to each other, and the purposeful
and deliberate manipulation of colour to ‘elicit an
emotional response’ whilst returning to the area
discussed in Donovan’s and Brewster’s statements,
moves into the field of conscious control of colour by
the artist (the formal use of colour) when Leach says,
“Placing colours one against the other is intended to
evoke a parallel . . .”.
Peter Symons, whose output traverses drawing, painting
and moving image, sees the way colour can illuminate
memory as pivotal to his practice: “Colour can provoke
experiential memory. The subject or objects can
initiate recollection whilst the colours open up
possibilities for the viewer to form their personal
interpretation and every memory is different.” This
begins to touch upon the subjective interpretation of
colour and the psychological implications of colour.
Keyhaven Jetty 2, Mixed Media & Japanese Paper on Paper,
50 x 50 cm
I think all the artists in this exhibition would recognize
the importance of the way colour can convey a sense
of mood, a feeling. Colour can be ‘open’ and expansive
or ‘closed’ and claustrophobic. It can evoke a sense of
power or support an impression of fragility or
vulnerability. It can be a dynamic or a passive element
acting along with other formal components (graphic,
painterly, compositional or structural) to create a
scenario contained within the boundaries of the work.
Bonnie Brown deals with some of these dualities in her
statement; “Light, its effects and qualities of transience,
fragility and hope, inform the work. This is translated
into colour and tone reflecting these qualities. Through
a process of layering up colour with glazes and stains,
the surface is enriched both through a saturation and a
de-saturation of colour to achieve the sense of
presence and non-presence, the fleeting and ever
changing response to the two states of being, both real
and the shadow world of memory”.
The language of colour can be seen as a type of code.
Colour, like marks, gestures, scale, can be an analogue
for aspects of personal and observed human experience
and behaviour. For example, saturated, pure colour
against muted, pale hues sets up a relationship.
The extension of, or surface area of colour can be as
significant as the quality of colour in terms of creating
a tension or balance between forms or colour areas.
Recognising the interdependence of the formal and
expressive functions of colour, Brian Bishop develops
a body of work which functions equally successfully in
two or three dimensions; “This work is formed from an
informal alphabet of opposites. Crossing and utilizing
both 2D and 3D elements, the work aims to impose
ideas into mediums through colour, growing from a
sculptural background through a long historical
investigation and practice. This use of colour is
significant in the exploration and understanding of the
spatial depth of how form and colour work together.”
Here we can see how colour is used as one of the
formal elements of art and is taking on a structural
significance in Bishop’s work.
Colour activates an additional layer of meaning or
visual information which may be decoded by the
viewer. For many artists, a personal and subjective code
is developed in an intuitive manner, but a code that is
decipherable by the viewer in a similarly intuitive way.
Night Shore, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 50 cm
Niz - Nah, Acrylic on Canvas, 80 x 80 cm
In my own work, I explore the way colour can
contribute to a visual language that works as a
metaphor for personal experience of, and observation of
personal dispositions, relationships and behaviour.
“Colour is a personal symbolic code. That is not to say
that there is a direct correlation between a colour and
another thing or notion, rather that colour is used to
evoke a reaction or resonance in the viewer. This may
happen sub-consciously and in combination with other
visual cues in order to convey meaning.”
Symbiosis, Oil on Canvas, 116 x 127 cm
In conclusion, I end with a list of nouns which also
emerge from the thinking of this group of artists:
parallel, equivalent, allegory, metaphor, analogy. These
sum up the way colour is employed in this exhibition.
It is freed from its purely descriptive function and its
role expanded into new realms of expression. Colour is
operating as a vital creative element in its own right.
Here we encounter colour supporting meaning and
operating as a structural force; it is instrumental in
conveying meaning and intelligence in these artworks.
The artists in this exhibition have been engaged in
research and practical exploration of colour over a
substantial period of time. Early in their specialist
education, artists learn about the theory of colour and
how it operates and communicates. When looking at
an artwork, often the viewer is not consciously thinking
about the theory, the principles of how colour works,
but, if used effectively, colour will operate upon the
viewer and elicit a given reaction. I hope the
exhibition conveys the excitement and power of colour
as an expressive force that drives these artists’
commitment to continually develop new chromatic
ideas and applications across a range of media.
Brian Brian Bishop Bishop
Martyn Martyn Brewster Brewster
Bonnie Bonnie Brown Brown
Fran Fran Donovan Donovan
Michelle Michelle Griffiths Griffiths
Ursula Ursula Leach Leach
Peter Peter Symons Symons