Color, paint and objects – an exploration of space
What is color doing through paint? And who says that paint application is painting and working with objects is sculpture?
“painting is taken away the boundaries of an object” – Katharina Grosse (Art21, 2015)
Those questions seem to have a tradition in art history, earlier on more related to color, afterwards relating to painting versus drawing, and since Modernism the question whether painting is an object or not. With the rise of photography, painting was seeking a new identity beyond representing an external reality, what was not anyhow not really the case in e.g. medieval manuscript paintings.
And whether my observational sketch of the unfolded object-box is still figurative and objects as part focused or whether the paint applied is blurring the boundaries (Fig. 1) might be a question to the beholder.
At stake was the objecthood of art versus non-art, a continuous quest to understand art at large. We live in a world with things, as Bruno Latour once expressed it with ‘Humans are not any longer between themselves’, challenging the distinction between subject and object. A painting or a sculpture as an object is described by Michael Fried through the expression of objecthood in his essay Art and Objecthood (1967) as a situation of a human experience of an artwork that places the spectator into the role of a subject. Interesting for me now, after having read Fried’s essay during UVC in context of Modernism, to revisit his writing in context of paint and color. Recently, I encountered the term ‘objecthood’ again in the work of Olafur Eliasson when he expressed his intention to place the viewer into objecthood by stepping into the space and encounter the experience as the work.
Color and paint
I looked earlier on at artists exploring materiality of paint, especially under the constraint of gravity and movement, e.g. Ian Davenport and his materialized puddle paintings or color waterfalls (see my reflection during POP1). Or the Swiss less known artist Elsbeth Böniger (see my post during POP1) who changed the way she applied paint by moving the support, not the paint, and using the materiality of paint in her creations. Another approach to use gravity for paint application and the fluidity of water are Jessica Warboys with her ‘Sea paintings’ and Barbara Nicholls with her ‘Sedimentary Flow’ series of watercolor sedimenting in plenty of water. Both artists reflecting on natural processes.
One artist who is rather disconnected or independent from natural and even outside influences is Katharina Grosse, who makes large scale abstract, gestural spatial color works. Her more recent works are related to large installations of suspended fabric that she spray-painted after installation, e.g. The Horse Trotted Another Couple Of Metres, Then It Stopped, 2018. A work that I felt reminded of when visiting an show of Sam Gilliam and his attempts to overcome the stretched canvas limitations and moved partly into the viewer’s space. Now looking back at my work done for part one, it resonates so much with my assignment work in process (Fig. 2)
In her conversation with Jonathan Watkins (Myers, 2011: 161), Grosse describes her making as thinking and embracing the moves that come. She works and moves in spaces with spray paint and the required protective gear that makes her on the one hand disconnected with the intimacy of painting. On the other hand it makes her making more as ‘looking at pictures’. For her, color need to be thin in order to make impact. Versus her earlier approaches to work with thick paint and its materiality to achieve volume. Volume or substance derives for her from the architectural objects as supporting structure, e.g. walls or corners.
There seems to be a distinction between paint and color. Although, paint is often associated with color and vice versa. Godfrey described the work of Phyllida Barlow as a way how with ‘paint, color could become physical’.
However, Grosse could be seen perhaps more as a color artist or colorist rather than a paint artist, painter. Her material of choice is spray paint to create luminous spatial explorations and visualizations of ideas, as she expressed how
“painting is a way to make visible and understandable for the ideas and thoughts, it is thinking and acting the same time’ – Katharina Grosse (Art21, 2015)
One could say that her presence is expressed in the moment. And for her painting has the advantage versus reading of having a ‘synchronicity that is not linear’.
I am asking myself whether using a spray versus a brush is really more direct? Though the brush can be seen as a curse, more direct for me is still working with the body, fingers and touching the materiality and substance. But perhaps the ephemeral nature of light as well as color is ‘untouchable’ – our eyes and our mind are discerning as a process what and how we see. Also one could see Grosse’ way of painting supporting a Western ocularcentrism that Martin Jay explored I’ve and criticized in his book ‘Downcast Eyes’. But this might be just an appearance.
Color and light
Looking at color without paint and unrestricted of painting as an object, is what we experience all day around us in daylight: the blue sky the green gras, the colorful flowers, the grey concrete buldings, or even at night with artificial lights:the traffic light, the neon advertisements, the headlights. I remember in the past when we crossed the border Netherlands – Belgium, the border as such not visible in the Benelux, but Belgian cars had strong yellow headlights, quite different to Dutch cars’ headlights. Light as source for color, powered by the sun. Or as Jessica Stockholder stated that color is ‘ephemeral and embodied’ (Chartwell Collection, 2014).
In art, color and light relate to James Turelland his light installations, as well as some works of Olafur Eliasson. Both are working also in public spaces and use color and light as a spatial phenomena that brings the spectator into an active role of participation and experiencing. The sun plays an important role in Eliasson’s work, e.g ‘The Weather Project’ (2003) , and even created a mobile sun Little Sun (2012) as a project to support solar energy, quite a commodity object. And other artists worked with artificial light as color in the form of neon tubes, e.g Dan Flavin or Bruce Nauman
Experience of Color
Color is experience in the form of paint for interior walls to feel more comfortable at home, or as a symbol for meaning and emotions, e.g. in analytical art therapy practices, or in color therapy for healing purposes similar to wall paint. Bruce Nauman played with this color connotations in his neon work One Hundred Live and Die (1984) or White Anger, Red Danger, Yellow Peril, Black Death (1985). Katharina Groosse is using color a different way and without symbolic meaning. For her the use of bright colors is what she perceives underneath a surface and the the way she sees the world (Arken, 2009). What reminds me of the scratch pictures done in primary school made with wax crayons, overpainted with black, and scrapped through to make the color underneath visible. Other times she works ‘over-explicit with raw color’, i.e. juxtaposing sprayed color with pigments on the ground.
This resonates well with how I not only work with color in my art therapy practice, but also how I consider colors in painting. A color in itself not charged with meaning, but being relevant in relationship with other colors, shapes and associated objects. Often language is getting into the way of color, biased by cultural conventions or subjective beliefs. All in all, that may be a reason why white as a color is considered as the multiplicity of colors. And after various experiences with ‘white’ paper, I sense that there is no ‘pure’ white (though photographers may say white is 255), all do have some hue or another. And human perception if white is delusive as well, e.g the ‘watercolor illusion’ test shows.
“painting is the ability to manifest your existence in moments in space and because of non materialized existence of thought” – Katharina Grosse (Arken, 2009)
To work with color is to make information visible, and to raise awareness of the invisible and the space between, those are Grosse’s conceptions of how she works, without making claims as in graffiti works (Arken, 2009). A conception that resonates and made me aware of how possibly I approached my work during London Study Day in April 2018, as an experience in space and as a visualisation of space – the installation reflecting on the space in between (Fig. 3)
Color and objects
Objects are painted, color is applied to the surface, that’s how we experience objects around us. Throug my learnings with painting so far, I find that color could be split into hue, saturation and tonal value (color theory), with the latter often the most discriminative element, especially when identifying distant forms, e.g people, and / or at twilight. Color in the sense of hue has for me more a sense of depth and multiplicity. Following various discussions on the OCA forum by photography students, I do find it insightful how they look at color versus black&white, the latter having more of a nostalgic appeal, colored pictures as more contemporary and life-full, less graphical. As starting with drawing on my degree pathway started monochromic, looking at marks and texture. Painting is therefore truly not only about paint but also about color as a different dimension of experience and expression.
Michael Fried argues in his essay from a Modernist perspective aligned with Clément Greenberg when he defends painting against a ‘literalist’ (Fried’s term for Minimalist position of Donald Judd or Robert Morris placing an object in space as an object of experience by a subject and making the space in-between an integral part of work. Therefore, painting objects would be non-art, furniture in space. For Fried painting was about inner relationships of a parts of a whole, it the whole in relationship to a subject.
The dilemma started with the paradigm of Modernist painting or sculpture as independent disciplines, and painting to be only converted with the flatness of the picture, but not as an object defined by a flat canvas. Sculpture got the issue of that when painted it enforces the underlying structures as a part. What was opposed by Minimal Sculptures by Judd or Morris.
Fried quotes Greenberg who wrote 1961 (p.161)
“to render substance entirely optical, and form, whether pictorial, sculptural, or architectural, as an integral part of ambient space – this brings anti-illusionism full circle. Instead of illusion of things, we are now offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless, and exists only optically like a mirage.”
This was exemplified at that time by Anthony Caro and his uniform painted multiparts sculptures. In a sense that each part is important for the whole, but the whole is more than the combination of its parts. A notion that was further articulated by Deleuze and the conception of assemblages.I find Jessica Stockholder realized the ‘modalities’ in a different way (see below).
It seems, color through the medium of paint wanted to escape the flat constrains of a frame (literally and metaphorically). Color as constrained to surface, a surface that enforces the perception of the underlying thing as an object (aka objecthood). Early one Jules Olitski tried with Bunga 45, 1967 or Whip Out, 1968 to overcome object appearance through variations of painted surfaces. However, I felt that paint was applied to object, not to an assembly of objects and even space as can be seen in the work of Richard Tuttle or Jessica Stockholder.
Phyllida Barlow makes large scale sculptural works, that could are intentionally theatrical, as if she would challenge and offset Fried’s critique of ‘literalist’ objects. In an interview given in the context of her installation for the British Pavillon at Venice Biennal, 2017 she ‘hoped for a theatrical encounter, with the audience as performers’. The installation of a balcony inside the work and space enforces the ‘play within a play’. Her works do question whether the objects, the sculpture do dominate space or vice versa. Also as if she would criticises Fried her objects are hollow and to be looked inside. An aspect Fried dismissed as ‘blatantly anthropomorphic ‘. Her work ‘Folly’ is interestingly painted in mute colors quite different to Grosse or Stockholder who prefer to paint with saturated and often primary colors. Although other works of Barlow are also painted brighter. I find in her works the paint is a supporting agent, scale and shape as the dominant force of the visual encounter.
Jessica Stockholder expands color into space, similar to Katharina Grosse, but mediated through objects, not through surfaces (although objects to have surfaces) . It seems as if Greenberg’s words of 1961 became substance in space now. Her dysfunctional object works, seemingly arbitrary arrangement of objects painted across boundaries (as Katharina Grosse stated it) intriguing. At times her works remind me as mix of Richard Tuttle, Betty Woodman and John Armleder.
In an interview (Chartwell Collection, 2014) she describes how she considers material qualities similar to qualities of color. Color as a material experience in space, or as she states
“color as a skin on a surface or as permeating the whole thing” – Jessica Stockholder
SImilar to Grosse, one important aspect for her is the awareness of presence, and painting be a ‘ fresher way of being present’. For her one main reason to make art is to getting new thoughts not having before. Overcoming learned patterns, painting as thinking process of not-knowing before starting doing it. It resonates not only with Katharina Grosse’s approach but also with my raising awareness over the span of this course, that preconceived idea and concepts to be executed are a dead end. resulting in ‘nice’ pictures, but not to a new understanding how how I related to the action I am doing and the result I am creating. A process based activity with the artist being the arranger, to conductor of things happening.
Stockholder is intrigued by how we resemble each other at the appearance in sameness, but are also different inside – or speaking in painting terms: different materiality.
The color that is a true surface phenomena although physically also deeper layers do impacts reflected light. At a distance, the surface of an object reflects light into our eyes and we discern it as an object. We describe object by discontinuities, edges and mediated by learned patterns. Stockholder’s work is informed by that . The question she addresses is how to disconnect color and object perception, applying continuities of paint across various objects making the whole as a pictorial assemblage that exceeds the perception of its parts. In that sense a work of relationships and perception , quite in a Modernist tradition of embracing the flatness of painting, ie the surface adherence of paint and avoiding the objecthood of its parts.
Painting across and painting out – something I tried to work out during previous exercise (Fig. 4)
Objects to paint out
” We have so much illusion but we don’t have touch and we don’t have taste and we don’t have smell” – Sarah Sze (Art21, 2016)
More conceptually situated, she responds to today’s visual culture of image distribution ‘similar to debris’. What resonates for me is her material approach by ‘arranging paint skins, torn paper images, and other materials such as wood, thread, and rocks’. For Sze an exploration of ‘our fragmented relationship to illusionistic images by focusing our attention on each object’s materiality’ by creating ‘images that can be anywhere at anytime’. Space coming together like a floating frame, not knowing where a work begins and where it ends. Sze describes the way we see the world, in fragments. Quite different to Katharina Grosse who perceives the world through underlying colors. I like her questions e.g. ‘how does paint behave in space? how does it feel, how does it dry , how does it hear?’ And how we can approach material as not representing something else. How can we obtain awareness of images, of visual information, through edges, materiality and spatial interaction? Something that is certainly missing in a virtual world of flatscreen imagery. Where the edges are not part of an image, but of the here-world screen, where images can’t be touched, but just to screen surface. All trials to link the touch with certain noises (e,g. the click of smartphone camera) are just another kind of illusion and delusion. Looking at some fragmented images of her installation made me smile, as it looks exactly like the pile of cut-outs from my previous works (Fig. 5)
Paint – color – objects – and images
Time to reflect how I approached painting since I started with OCA. During POP1, I painted pictures on a flat support, learning and sharpening my observation and color mixing skills. The pictures were either representational (e.g. My Presence, 2016 ) or abstract, concerned with an inner pictorial logic and with my mental images (e.g. InsideOut-De(I)llusion, 2016). I did consider my paintings as movable objects, to be able to ship to my tutor or for assessment. In this current course, I painted not for the sake of creating pictures, more to express body movements, or processes of action. Performative paintings that eventually resulted in pictorial images, at times the ephemeral moments were captured through lens based moving images of the action taking place (e.g. Folding and Unfolding, 2018 and Fig. 2), that brought me into contact with folds and questioning fabric and paper related partly to Sam Gilliam. Or through animated time-based images (e..g Still-life Arrangement I, 2018). What leads me to the question what painting actually is and whether painting interior walls or arranging colored pieces is painting or craft or decoration. The funny thing with German language: ‘Maler’ ( painter) is the profession for interior wall painting, a painter in the sense of art need to be amended as ‘Kunst-Maler’ (art-painter).
During part two I worked with objects, more or less flat, and my relationship to them, arranging and organising, activating interactions and using painted surfaces as a mean to distinguish, to uniform, to activate. And to disguise or to enforce form perception leveraging the human conditions of making sense of whatever strikes the eyes (see Fig. 4).
Looking at Katharina Grosse, Jessica Stockholder, Phyllida Barlow, and Sarah Sze (coincidence that all are women?) made me aware of how painting in color on surface of objects can be more than the creation of an image, a representation of something. Paint is material, and color can be experienced as material as well. Color is space experience, and objects are spatial things we experience. Objects can be anything, a chair, a printed photograph, a picture, or a fragment of something. Objects are materialised in a real world (not considering idealist positions of objects as ideas). I experimented with materiality in my sketchbook as a way of thinking through visuals (Fig. 6)
Sarah Sze informed me further about fragmentation as conceptual aspect of visual culture, an aspect I explored in part one (e.g. What is Left Behind, 2018 or ‘The Puzzle of Gesture‘, 2018). In that same exploration I revisited aspects of ground and figure, and how ground can be a figure, painted objects, though resulting as flat pictures, kind of flatland work with intermediated breathing of expanded space.
All in all I can relate to Katharina Grosse and Jessica Stockholder when they approach painting as an encounter with the visual, and at times also non-visual world. An aspect of tactility and proximity that is also reflected in Sarah Sze’s installations. And that I found a more intimate relationship while working on my second Object-Collage What is Below and Beyond (Fig. 7)
What is left now?
A question whether painting need paint and whether painting need color. Or put in a different way, if I work across, around and through surfaces with colored things, readymade color e.g. tape as I’ve seen in some works of Barlow, is this a sculpture or a painting or an installation?
Or is it important that I take paint in my ‘hand’ to apply to? I feel a bit lost in transition.
But I am also excited to work more spatial, not to paint on objects but to paint with them and through them. Perhaps, it comes back to a fetishism and object ontology. But I still believe that there are always two layers working in parallel when looking at a work: the work in itself as a object or assemblage and the deferred sense that one subjectively makes and connote with the work in a given situation.
- all works are made by me during the span of this course. (c)StefanJSchaffeld, 2017-18
- ARKEN Museum of Modern Art (2009) Katharina Grosse,[online], At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJkSs5EQ7nk(Accessed on 29 Aug 2018).
- Art21 (2015) Katharina Grosse: Painting with Color | ART21 “Exclusive”,[online], At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBfPMGS7XPo(Accessed on 29 Aig 2018).
- Art21 (2016) How We See the World – Sarah Sze,[online], At: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/sarah-sze-how-we-see-the-world-short/(Accessed on 30 Aug 2018).
- Chartwell Collection (2014) Jessica Stockholder in A world undone – Works from the Chartwell Collection, [online], At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbppPhosVo8 (Accessed on 29 Aug 2018).
- Fried, M. (1998) ‘Art and Objecthood’, in:Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, 2015 ed.,pp. 148-172.
- Myers, T. R. (2011) Painting, Documents of Contemporary Art. Edited by Blazwick, I. London: Whitechapel Gallery and the MIT Press.