Friday, December 18, 2009

Give me more colour please!

The ceiling in a protected room in the Siena's Duomo,
in Italy -- painted at the height of the Renaissance

It turns out that every time you think you understand
everything, there is always more to know. One of the
only odd conversations I had in Florence was with
an artist who wanted to tell me that my colours were too
bright, and that I should tone them down. This it turned
out was based on a hypothetical European ideal, which
favours a more subtle colour range, based on the paintings
of the old masters, particularly the soft colours of the
frescoes found in the Tuscany region. Except for one thing. The
dull browns that used to be Michelangelo, have been cleaned
to reveal surprisingly bright colours and that's not all.

On our last day we took a tour of three Tuscan cities. In
the overwhelmingly magnificent Duomo cathedral in Siena, we were
privileged to be allowed into a room that was closed off for
many years. The surprise in there was the colour -- not the
subtle hues we think of as typical of that era's frescoes, but
pure, bright colour almost pure pigment, heavily adorned
with gold, and our guide told us that this is what all of the
art of the Renaissance would have looked like before people
breathed on it. We were ushered in and out quickly because
just our breath could affect the temperature in the room,
and "dull" the brilliant original colour. So I will continue for
the most part to paint in the vibrant colours that are a fine
old tradition in Europe.

Every time you look at a large 600 year old painting in a
14th or 15th century church and think that it's dark, you
just have to consider what happens to your kitchen floors
if you don't clean them for a week or two (yes I'm thinking
of mine when I say that). Now imagine that they hadn't been
touched for 600 years. Yes! Cleaned up, every single one of
those paintings would reveal unimaginable
brilliance and luminosity.

Luckily art historians and restorers in Florence understand this,
and are constantly restoring and cleaning everything that they
possibly can. So it's entirely possible that when we revere their
magnificent rich, moody, browns, and cloudy hues, what we're
actually often admiring is centuries of dirt.

Have a cleaning-up-and-getting-colourful day.


Astra said...

Maybe the artist(who made the comment)was afraid of vibrant colour-with its power and strength and didn't know how to use it at it's full glory.He had the problem not you.Keep with the colours and the power.

eldon warren said...

I know you didn't consider throwing the guy out the window like I would have but I'm glad you aren't listening to this art "expert". The color you use has become synonymous with Barbara Muir and that is why we feel as strongly about the work as we do the person who created it. Tone it down my foot!! Where is this guy?!! :)

Barbara Muir said...

Hey Astra,

After a deep psychological gulp, I did not take the comment to heart. It was not a guy by the way. And in fact I think by the end of the talk we were in synch, but the Siena cathedral made me remember the comment and reflect on how the world views art.

I can't tell you how much I wish I could walk out my door and see it again right now. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but of course we're in the same camp.

Love your work.


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Eldon,

You are a complete sweetheart. No it wasn't a guy, and it would have been considered very bad form to do any throwing. No I just took a breath and moved on. I don't intend to change my colour, although I am thinking of different colours all the time now -- inspired by Florence. There was a lot of talk about whether or not I modulate my colours. I do of course, but only to make them richer in most cases. I 100% thank you more than I can ever express for your support. I must say you are wonderful. What I really meant to say, and probably said it wrong, is that the talk set off a small parade of thoughts in my head, culminating in seeing the beautiful room in Siena. Things are very different in my part of the art park. We are just painting. Sure there's theory, but it's way in the background, what I am doing is throwing around every ounce of joy I can muster. I think for people who believe you have to talk about the serious aspects of life in your art, like war, poverty and hunger -- this may seem frivolous. I think that's a valid thought, but for me, joy is the most serious goal -- and often it takes two or three tries to get to joy -- to find the up side in a situation. That is my serious message. Be happy. That's it.

You are the best. I hope you are entirely well. Love the portraits. Have a Merry Christmas.

Take care,


Gwen Bell said...

Oh no! Your vivid palette is so gorgeous and such a signature of your style.

Thanks for all of your Italian posts. They were so interesting and the photos were great. It's going to be nice to have you back home and painting! I've missed seeing your gorgeous work!

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Gwen,

You are sweet. I've missed having access to the internet so I could see my friends' work. I love your work.

I don't know how much painting I'll get done in the next week, but I'll start in earnest as soon as the Christmas wrapping is cleaned up. Meanwhile I think I'll just keep talking about Florence. It was a huge event in my life.


Nicki said...

Hi Barbara,

Welcome home!

I am glad you were able to take a deep breath and not allow this criticism to affect you in a negative way. The colours and style in which you paint is entirely unique. I believe you have accomplished what many artists strive for and that is to have a recognizable style. I would be able to walk into a room full of various artists work and spot yours and know it was Barbara Muir who painted it. And that is 100% due to your vivid, vibrant colours that radiate joy and life and love.

Some of our first interactions with each other were of you offering insight and kindness when I blogged about criticism I had received, so I know that you know it really is not important what others say and often there can be jealousy lurking behind these comments.

I am so happy for you that you experienced Florence. I was there almost 20 years ago (ack!)and after seeing your photos would love to go back. It was one of my favorite cities in Europe.

All the best of the season to you,

Nicki XO

cohen labelle said...

I love your colour, I love your paintings, I love your philosophy and I love YOU!
Welcome back!!!! Btw guess what, we share similar goals:
you want to be happy, in spite of.... and I want to be not so miserable, in spite of....
love you
xoxoxoxox Marcia

Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at:
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!