“My colleagues admonish me, ‘paint with colors!’ Isn’t gray a color, too? If I see everything in gray, if within that gray I see all the colors that impress me and that I would like to convey, why should I use another color?” – Alberto Giacometti
When experiencing art, color tends to be the first detail to grab our attention. Selective Color was brought together as an exploration of how using minimal color in reductive art can have a dramatic impact. This exhibition highlights prints by 15 artists from five different countries and their use, consciously or not, of a limited palette.
Attention to color is not just a contemporary notion, but has been examined notably since the early 20th century. An Expressionist group, die Brucke, formed in 1905 was interested in expressing emotion through vivid color, giving less importance to the line. Through color, these artists presented not a photographic representation of the subject, but their own interaction with and feelings for it. Approximately thirty years later came the Abstract Expressionists with a new take on color and how to use it. Ad Reinhardt, a prime example of an artist building a new view of color, often painted canvases that at first glance appear to be a single hue. Upon further inspection, they are in fact composed of many shades of nearly the same color; his black squares many viewers believe to be composed of no color at all.
During the same time as Abstract Expressionism came another movement, that of the Color Field artists. Barnett Newman, a color field painter, came under fire when the National Gallery of Canada bought one of his works in 1989 for 1.8 million dollars. A nearly monochromatic piece of blue and red, it was mocked for its simplicity and extravagant cost to the point where it was slashed with a knife by an angry viewer. This work can be regarded as a forerunner to the virtually monochromatic works in this exhibition. Without innovations like Voice of Fire, the path to selective color many never have been explored.
Very much like these past movements, the works by the fifteen artists represented in this exhibition do not copy the tones and hues of the natural world, requiring them to rely on their own creativity to reinterpret the world using elements such as texture, line quality, and composition to pull their work together to create a statement. Selective color is a term commonly associated with photography, but can be successfully translated into a variety of different media. It is the act of graying out an image leaving only one color remaining.
The works in this exhibition do just that, in varying degrees of application. Limiting compositions to a few essential colors can prove difficult for many artists. They can no longer use color as their primary expressive tool. Yet, narrowing down a palette does have its advantages. It can define space and dimension, emphasize certain elements to create an impact, express an emotion, or be used simply as a contrast. When working with a restricted set of colors, artists tend toward the primaries – red, yellow, blue – pure pigments that in turn produce intense color variations. The simplicity inherent in the primary colors is often reflected in the piece itself. The prints in this exhibition, ranging from figural to near complete abstraction, show how limited color can affect any type of work.