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“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.

Fran Donovan

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

Martyn Brewster

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


Ursula Leach

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.

Peter Symons

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.

Bonnie Brown

Night Shore, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 50 cm

Brian Bishop

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.”

Michelle Griffiths

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.

Michelle Griffiths

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

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