May 06, 2009

What Is A Colorist?

2009 - PIEDMONT - 48 x 64 - mixed media on canvas

So there I was... finishing up my FB status with the disclaimer: "I am NOT a colorist!" How surprising and encouraging to hear from several respected artist friends, including the artist/author/color expert Nita Leland, adamantly disagreeing with me. "You are too a colorist. Or have you given up loving red?" she sez...

Ah, the illusions we paint, the hidden struggles under those layers of unfortunate selections and assumptions. A real colorist can go straight to a properly selected and mixed hue, knowing it will juxtapose comfortably or excitedly with the whole. Perhaps what I consider to be my weak suit led indirectly to my exploration of abstraction... even with realist watercolor I painted in thin layers of glaze until everything merged appropriately. My abstract texture relies on many color trials (underpainting, it's professionally called) and if I get it right early on, I'm in big trouble because I need to keep on painting... probably missed a better option!

So, what about all that red paint? It's become my signature color in some circles, almost to the point of saturation! Is it a true love of the color? A lopsided proportion of sales of red paintings? A crutch?

Crutch! The ugly word from teachers of yore... must avoid crutches at all costs! A frequent and easy choice that eliminates real thought or imagination would probably qualify as a crutch. Am I considered a colorist because I use a lot of red? Umm... this does not fit my definition even with a broader palette. Seems to me a colorist would know and manipulate color with more ease... seems... or is a colorist one who is never satisfied with the color arrangement and always searching? Ha! Yeah, that would be me!


CMC said...

My opinion......a good colorist is a painter who knows how to use their matter, lots of color or to achieve what you want to achieve in your work at that given moment.
Long ago, someone mentioned my friend/artist/painter/teacher Jerry Seagle being a fantastic colorist. I scratched my head since his work is not exactly what I call "colorful" in the intensity meaning. But he does know how to use color.

kathy casey said...

I get comments all the time about my use of color. What does that mean? If we are painters, we all use color. If we make beautiful (or ugly but interesting)art work - then we all must "know how to use color". Was Robert Ryman a colorist? He was obsessed with WHITE! Which is in fact: a color. I always scratch my head with this term. Even "mud" is a color to me. By the way - your red is not your crutch! It's just a color that works for you. I have come to terms with the fact that Aqua is just going to find it's way into nearly everything I do. Even if my Gallerist thinks it's "out of fashion". It's just part of my language....Red, it seems, is part of yours!

Karen Jacobs said...

Color remains a mystery to me. I agree with comments by both Cheryl and Kathy and gratefully accept those on FB that insisted that I am, in fact, a colorist. Best to leave it at that, but (can't) the fact that we use color doesn't make us experts... and the fact that some get away with little color (Ryman) shows finesse. I have tried to paint 'Ryman' style... it's much easier to dip into the paint pots!

Hey! That makes two of us favoring aqua! It goes so well with orangey red!