Monday, November 23, 2009

Color Theory

A month or so ago I had the opportunity to go to a home out in Madison where there was a reception/showing for California artist Camille Przewodek.  Camille was leading a workshop in town on plein air painting that week.  I recently read that Camille's approach to painting came from her experience at The Cape Cod School of Art where she studied with Henry Hensche.  Charles Hawthorne, who studied under William Merritt Chase, began the school in the late 1800s with a close tie to the American Impressionists.  Hensche was a student of Hawthorne's, and he took over the school when Hawthorne died.  This man's instruction must have been incredibly inspiring because there is an impressive number of artists continuing to follow his approach to painting, particularly in Mississippi.  Sammy Britt, long time Delta State art professor, studied with Hensche as well and really carried the torch influencing hundreds of artists through the years.  Others around the state following to different degrees the color theories taught at Cape Cod are Richard Kelso, Bob Pennebaker, Gerald DeLoach, and George Thurmond.  

It's not easy to clearly define the color theory taught from the Cape Cod School.  It has roots in impressionism, but really stresses the use of color to turn form rather than values.  Masses of colors are laid down as "light keys" to quickly see the relationships of colors at that particular time of that particular day.  Sammy Britt stated to me a few years ago that "Hensche was providing us with a new language, not simply a style or technique.  It is a visual language of light keys where you focus on the changing color on an object not the changing value.  One must choose to paint tonally or in light keys."  Here is where things get a little difficult.  It is very tempting to try to take some of the ideas from this mind set and mix them with some tonal painting.  This can create years of confusion to a painter.  

In my early days of painting I studied with Bob Pennebaker a little, and took a workshop with Sammy giving me some ground in a colorist approach.  Later, in my graduate studies everything was hard core tonal.  I think that I am just now beginning to see how my own approach can pull from both sides, but as Sammy said, this probably means that I am not painting in light keys.  The influence is undeniable though.  

At the Camille Przewodek show I had the pleasure of meeting local artist Ginny Futvoye.  She was taking the workshop while also working on a body of work for a show at Nunnery's Gallery in Fondren.   The show is hanging right now, and I was really curious about how this workshop would influence her work in midstream of a show.  Her work has a real decorative appeal to them.  They tend to be warm in tone and of a nice size that gives them a confident kind of presence.  The "Cows Grazing" painting stood out to me in composition and color approach, and sure enough, according to Ginny, that painting was the first one completed after the workshop.  The show does not feel incongruent though.  Ginny told me that there was some difficulty at first in applying her new found knowledge, but didn't feel that it was that far off from where she already was.  

Here's a selection from the show...

Square Books 1

Alpine Sunset

Cows Grazing

Sunset Zinnias

Lauterbrunnen Valley

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