Color Spectrum Essay
For this assignment, I chose The Bay, done in 1963 by American painter Helen Frankenthaler. It is acrylic paint on canvas and roughly about seven feet high and seven feet wide. Although there are no real shapes within this composition, the paint creates some forms. The canvas was not primed, so the paint soaks and stains the surface, giving a sense of texture. Although there are only a few colors on the canvas, there is a great deal of different shades and mixtures of color.
There is a definite horizontal plane at the base of the painting and mixed in throughout the rest of the painting are horizontal planes and verticality. While no definitive lines are present, there is a sense of line and mass throughout. This work promotes an overwhelming sense of emotion and nature; it conveys a message of almost raw, “back-to-basics” feeling about the form of nature and its almost primal senses. Each part of the above description help to prove this idea, starting with texture. The texture of the painting looks smooth and undulating, some colors seem to swirl and mix together.
The way the paint is laid on causes some colors to overlap others, clearly some portions of paint were mixed together while still wet and others poured on portions that were already dry; giving that overlapping and textured layered look. This seems to reflect the easy flow of a breeze in the wind or a gentle stream of water, and how each of these parts of nature mingles and mixes together. The colors, though few, provide a great sense of shape and depth. Covering the bottom portion of the painting is a band of dark taupe color, possibly representing sand or rock.
The dominant color is blue in varying shades, ranging from light periwinkle at the top of the painting, a navy blue mixed into sky and royal blues, to a violet-blue towards the bottom. With a muted alfalfa color surrounding most of the lower half of the canvas and a small splotch of rusty orange-red overlapping part of the blues, the colors here are strong in representing nature and the idea of an actual bay. While the base of the painting provides a horizontal plane to balance the whole canvas, the rest of the image has intermixed forms of verticality and diagonal planes.
This creates the idea that this piece should only be viewed with the streak of sand at the bottom, as any other way it may appear lopsided or unbalanced. Shape and mass play an overpowering role, as all the blue paint forming a large mass first catches the eye. Even farther, though there are no defined lines of any sort in The Bay, the eye is first attracted to the upper portion of the blue with its vivid royal blue, down to the green and sand, and then back to the rest of the blue and empty canvas in an almost circle.
It appears a paintbrush may have been flung and jerked across the surface, creating short and choppy blunt strokes of paint in some areas of the canvas. In others, such as the blue area, it seems almost as if Frankenthaler just poured paint directly on the canvas, allowing it to soak and mix freely, much like nature often mixes and soaks together. Over all, this piece strongly expresses a sense of the simplicity of nature and how it interacts amongst itself and inspires art. The color scheme reflects the title itself as well as the actual formation of a body of water surrounded.
The use of various planes help balance the painting and give the idea of how it is to be viewed. The soaking of paint into the canvas, and the overlapping layers provide texture and a sense of how nature flows together smoothly. The main idea behind this painting is that of nature and how it is powerful in bringing out emotions and primal senses. Formal Analysis: Research Paper (Potential) For this assignment, I chose Spectral Rhythms, done in the 1970s by American painter Charles McGee, born in 1924. It is acrylic paint on canvas and probably about eight feet high and five and a half feet wide.
This piece uses the whole color spectrum in various segments. The color scheme is significantly strong as it uses every shade of primary and secondary colors in the spectrum. There is a significant amount of shape and mass within this piece, as well as line. The canvas is divided and has horizontal and vertical planes within each hemisphere. There is a sense of everything in perfect harmony and balance; it conveys a message of various combinations creating balance and how color, and color spectrum, can provide harmony.
As mentioned above, the color spectrum is widely used here, not only in the shapes in the foreground but also reflected in the background. In the front, the use of oval and rounded shapes in the top half of the painting carry different portions of the spectrum, from blue all the way to yellow in pastel like shades. The background provides very dulled, muted shades of the aforementioned pastel spectrum colors. A small overlap in two of the figures creates a third mixed color found in further inspection of the color spectrum but often overlooked at first.
Line plays into this piece as they are all crisp and clean, dividing the canvas roughly in half and providing a balance between the whole color spectrum shown at the bottom and reflected through round note-like shapes in the top half of the painting; this helps encourage the harmony and balance mentioned earlier. While there is a relative flatness to the piece, there is mass within the shapes and the background and this all ties together nicely with the use of the colors. There is a balance between the top and bottom halves of the piece. Where there is a horizontal plane in the bottom, it is balanced by vertical planes in the top half.
Line is used to divide the canvas equally and give balance to both forms of the color spectrum. Color gives the painting its name with use of the whole spectrum and dividing it up into music-like notes, to provide a sense of harmony and flow. The lack of depth actually helps the painting seem completely equal and even throughout. Also, the use of shapes to portray small sections of the spectrum shown at the bottom gives it a unifying effect. With all these elements combined, Spectral Rhythm defines the idea of balance and harmony as reflected through the color spectrum and how the artist portrays it here.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 3 June 2017
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