Friday, 26 October 2012

Colour and landscape

Taking students out into the autumn landscape with a kit consisting of lots of different coloured collage material and a variety of paint.

One of the issues that often came up was how to deal with perceptual responses to landscape. The problem was that looking tended to be composed of what Cezanne would have called his petit sensations. The scanning of reality was all very well and drawings and images built up as in the ‘rain drawings’ post, tended to rely on structures standing in space rather than mass. The problem with landscape was that this was also something that had mass, not just any mass, but millions and millions of tons of it. Colour in particular was problematic, most of the responses to perceptual analysis relying on Impressionist influenced exercises, such as when working in coloured oil pastel, trying to keep a single directional stroke going throughout the image, thus unifying the surface and not separating out individual objects. This was a great way of getting students to ‘see’ that light was a unifying factor, but the images were not weighty, they sort of floated in light.
This session was an attempt to work in nature, deal with colour and perception, but this time to also respond to the weight and mass issues.

Students had been asked to collect colour and keep it in separate bags. Yellow, orange, red, violet, blue and green bags of both paper and other materials had been collected for collage, some of which had by now been used in other problems set, but there was plenty left. They had also been asked to find old pots of paint and again categorise them under the same headings.
We headed off with drawing boards, A1 sheets of cartridge paper and bags of collage, bin bags, glue, pallets and oil paint. The two different places we went to were either the old disused quarry at Newley or Meanwood Ridge. Newley was a bus-ride away, the ridge about half an hour’s walk, so it was a bit of a trek.

Once there, the first stage was to use the collage materials to establish broad areas of colour responding to the general shape of the valley or the rock face of the quarry, as well as local colour. As the collage developed it had the added advantage of starting to break up the hard rectangle of the paper and lose the edges. It was in effect making the paper into an object. Once covered, adjustments were made again with collage and then before a dinner break any odd paints, emulsions etc. would be used to further build up the surface, again trying to respond as best as possible to local colour.
After a visit to the pub for dinner, (the images were left on site with bits of stone on them to stop them blowing away), the afternoon was spent mixing oils and working with palette knives over the top of the now hopefully dry surface.
Slabs of colour would be mixed and applied, the direction of each slab echoing the structure of the landscape, small areas of underlying colour helping to establish colour edges, as well as texture. Earlier experiences were referred to, such as the colour mixing and finding shapes referred to earlier, (Discords at 8 o’clock) but this time paint application direction was being used to find the colour shape of the landscape, with size constancy and colour saturation to establish foreground and distance. Gradually issues such as atmospheric perspective had to be responded to, (it was autumn) and colour had to be pushed optically forwards and backwards as each mix was established and located. The was no attempt to re-trim the paper shape back towards a sharp edged rectangle, it just got heavier and more lumpish as each layer was built up. Again as before, paint could be scraped off when it got too muddy, but the underlying collage colours chosen helped maintain vibrancy and colour depth, in particular the thin edges of colours peeping through and around painted oil forms, helped achieve optical flicker and movement across the colour slabs.
At the end of the session work was pinned onto drawing boards and the whole lot put into the bin-bags. This was not an ideal way of bringing them back, but a short session back in the studio was enough to re-establish the surfaces that had been harmed during the journey back.
The final results were solid and weighty and once looked at back in the studio did have a certain presence and visual weight as well as actual weight. 

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