I’m happy to be exhibiting this month at Riverfest in Narrowsburg, NY, with my friend Jim Kingston. Jim and I have belonged to the same figure painting group for the last 5 years and he has been a welcomed part of my artistic support network out in the Catskills.
As a student Jim Kingston studied the Brandywine style of Illustration under Norman Baer, a disciple of Howard Pyle. He spent his life in the world of humorous illustration, commercial artist and as a leader in transforming art-production into the digital age. Working in watercolor for most of his life he has transitioned to oil painting over the past 5 years. For more information on Jim Kingston visit his web site http://jimkingston.com
Judith Reeve grew up along the Delaware River, not far from Chadds Ford. At the age of nine, she met Andrew Wyeth. This meeting, in hindsight, was a pivotal moment allowing her to recognize the possibility of painting being a vital life-long pursuit. For more information visit Judith Reeve at http://attentiveequations.com
Come spend the day along the Delaware River and visit us and the many other talented artists exhibiting their works.
Summertime is a great season to get out and paint the landscape on site. But one of the challenges about the summer landscape, when you reside on the east coast, is the predominance of the color green. There is no avoiding it. During other seasons the dominant color can approach a neutral which allows for a change in key for each composition. Winter snow and its whiteness is a good example.
So if every summer landscape must have green in it the question becomes, how can I add variety to my images in the Key of green. When I refer to a Key, I am referring to an analogy in color. What is an analogy? An analogy occurs when one focuses the colors on their palette in a certain area of the color spectrum. An example of an analogy in the Key of Yellow would be to border the color Yellow with those colors that bracket Yellow on the palette. So my palette would be laid out as OY-Y-YG or O-OY-Y-YG-G. So if these are the dominant colors of my composition how do I balance an analogy like this so that the eye can find relief? The most common way would be to add the complement, which in this case would be Violet.
Robert Henri reflected on these types of analogies by painting many compositions in a certain Key as above. But one aspect that he added was a more subtle variety and range to the complement side that still allowed for the Key to dominate but also find a balance of colors harmonious with the Key. The examples I will use will reflect on Green as the dominate Key. The Key of Green looks like this:
Henri took this analogy and added a range of more neutralized colors to act as a foil to the higher intensity of the Key that dominates the analogy. Henri created mixtures between the dominant analogy and the complement. Here is an example of an analogy in the Key of Green:
The more neutralized colors are RObi, Rhue, VRbi. These colors are the mixes achieved by mixing an analogous color with the complement. Note that the Rhue must maintain its redness and is not completely neutralized. Another way to mix Rhue is with P+O. This gives one a clearer idea of its quality as a subdued red and less as a brown neutral. In this analogy, I found the VRbi the perfect color (a gray violet) to bridge the edge of green tree foliage against its’ background and also as a neutralizer on the ground plane. Rhue also came in handy for packed earth in the foreground of a field. These semi-neutralized colors reinforced the red complement without being too overt.
Here are some other analogies I have been using in the Key of GB or the Key of YG:
Note that in most cases, I used 3 colors set against the complement. But it is also possible to use 5 colors set against the complement. In these cases it is important to only mix the 3 core colors of the analogy because by mixing more than that you will lose the character of the analogy. The palette will begin to contain the missing colors that make a Key a strong statement. If I were to take the Key of Green and extend it beyond the GB to B, I could not take the blue and mix it with the red because I would then have purple and this would take it out of Key. Hence on the other side, I would end up with orange. Keeping purple and orange off the palette gives the Key of Green its character. But also note that these colors or near colors do appear as neutralized tones. When these colors are added to the composition one can feel the underlying energy they provide as a foil to the more intense colors of the dominant key.
In 1915, Henri and his artist friends met in Charles Winter’s studio to experiment with color. Attending were H.G. Maratta, John Sloan, George Bellows, Randall Davey and, of course, Henri and Winter. This group would meet periodically when a member artist felt that they had come upon an insight into color, theoretical or practical, or the set palette (which each was experimenting with individually). It must be noted also, that Maratta’s knowledge was sought after by the group who desired to practically apply his theories.
This day, they came to discuss pigments and their inherent intensity in their pure state. Henri, along with the others, produced a chart giving each pigment, in its pure state, a place along a scale of intensity between 3 and 13. 13 being the highest intensity and 3 being the lowest intensity with two scales below that range 1 (Hues that approach a neutral) and S (which combines a Hue with a Color to achieve what Henri notes at the bottom of the page: “The mixtures indicated for the 1 and S lines were those which seemed the most practical”).
Henri notes in his journal that, “the fixing of the higher intensity of each color was difficult. It was rather surprising that YG should be thought of as the most intense. There evidently was some confounding of value with intensity. Evidence of this may be found in the great step between P and YG. This P while very dark proved itself to be a very powerful (intense) pigment when mixed with white.” (Notebook: Artists’ Pigments I, folder 19, Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
Here is a brief indication of the chart which has been reproduced in William Innes Homer’s book, “Henri and His Circle”, page 188:
11 G GB OY Y G
9 R RO O
7 B BP PR Below each color the intensity descends to S
3 B hue P hue
1 All the Hues for each color
S Hue+complementary color for each color
The original chart is easier to see the relationships (I cannot reproduce it here without permission from Yale). So please refer to Homer, page 188. Henri, subsequently, went on to produce many charts for different paintings, creating a scale of intensity for that particular image or series of images. So in one image Y may be the most intense and in another O or GB. So although the chart above indicates a pigments intensity right from the tube, it is not the only scale on which to create a palette.
What is interesting about this new approach is that the notes for a palette are chosen on a diagonal (one never uses the entire palette in an image). This diagonal form maintains that when there is a change in color, there is also a change in intensity. Therefore, each color occupies a specific intensity. Henri states, “For instance, take Y- to move from Y to OY will not be a horizontal move- as OY (9),Y (9) but with Y (9) and OY (7). If the next step is to O that O could be moved to (9) or of course move further down- or up( if possible) in the scale of intensities.” (Notebook: Artists’ Pigments, folder 19). So if Y is at (9) intensity, the next colors along the spectrum on either side are not at a (9) scale of intensity, but are of a higher (11) or lower (7) scale of intensity.
This idea can easily be interwoven into Maratta’s approach. Maratta being in Winter’s studio as part of the experimentation is telling. Maratta may have had the most insight into how intensity can dominate. Chords in the Maratta system inherently create a hierarchy of intensity. The dominant color of the chord stays near its full intensity within an image while simultaneously, floating amidst a series of colors that are less intense (bi colors and hues). This is what gives chords their feeling of luminosity.
This chart becomes for Henri a point of experimentation over the next couple of years. Henri moves away from strict chord relationships (Maratta) to one where a hierarchy of intensity within the composition of a painting begins to preoccupy him. One can observe this in the paintings themselves from this period. They become largely about pushing color intensity to the point where spacial depth becomes shallower through large areas of the background being occupied by intense colors applied in a flat manner. An example of this is another version of “Lilly Cow”. Henri takes this course to its inevitable end where form borders on abstraction. Henri, who loved the beauty of form, backs away from this precipice.
These years of experimentation with color intensity informs Henri’s work until his last years. Although, he abandons color intensity at its extreme end, he maintains the hierarchy of intensity as set by Maratta through his system of musical chords. By 1916, Henri has integrated his new understanding of color intensity into Maratta’s chord system. But now Henri has become a master of color in all of its aspects while simultaneously maintaining his love of form. Henri always returns to his central pursuit- the constant search for true expression of soul in his portraits which he referred to as “My People”. Color intensity has now amplified that expression.