The Quest for Color

November 19, 2014

In different periods of my life I've been drawn strongly to lavenders and purples, while at other moments just as strongly repelled. The color I'm drawn to cannot be too pink or mauve, too gray, or too milky-it has to have color clarity, to where the red and the blue are almost distinguishable, but not quite. But lavender, in particular, holds for me special properties of vibrant quietude, stillness in cool, clean light that offers poignant respite from other, bolder and more saturated colors. I can picture the color, but I cannot always replicate it.

I was reminded of lavender's particular power just over a year ago, when I came across it used in an abstract painting. The acrylic painting was hanging on the wall of a covered porch, and in the autumn light a singular lavender patch just glowed from the center of the canvas. The main body of the painting, by Joy Richardson, was quite vibrant and saturated with long splashes of color that sang loudly and smeared into each other in cobalt blue, carmine red, creamy yellow and burnt umber. Among all this dense, bold color, the lavender pool provided a powerful counterpoint of fresh coolness and, for me, a stillness that reverberated. Its stillness moves me still.

I dwell on this lavender experience, because for the past year it has set me on a course of seeking through my painting. I've been picturing the "perfect" lavender in my mind even while painting in far different colors, and my search for a usable purple (whether pre-made or mixed) has led me to be far more discerning in other colors that I mix and use. And my painting practice has changed as a result-I've become more strongly gestural, setting down bold tracks of color in one go and/or setting down colors next to each other and letting them blend/mix/pull at each other directly on the paper. Though I'm still concerned with portraying spatial depth, light, shade and shadow in my landscapes and subjects, I'm allowing my choices to be pulled as much by the joy of the color itself as by its readability within the scene. And, this love of lavender teases me with these subjects-I often want to include it but am not always sure how or where its pure, quiet vibrancy would fit into the landscape. But it keeps me asking the question, with every new painting I take on.