color

El Velorio

I'm excited to participate this year in El Velorio, a Day of the Dead themed art exhibition and event held November 8, 2014 at Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90031 (Lincoln Heights). Check out the artwork in the exhibit here.

This family-friendly event will have face painting, music, food, and plenty of art to enjoy. Get your tickets soon, as this popular event will sell out quickly.

"El Mariachi Muerto," 24" x 48" © Eric Merrell

"El Mariachi Muerto," 24" x 48" © Eric Merrell

The inspiration for “El Mariachi Muerto,” my large ofrenda or altarpiece which will be exhibited at El Velorio, came from the many visits to Dia de Los Muertos on Olvera Street with my wife and her family over the years. My father-in-law has built an altar on the plaza a number of times, and I was inspired to create my own after witnessing the vivid colors surrounding the event. The colors of the food, costumes, and decorations gave me an opportunity to build and paint my own altar. I wanted to convey the richness that surrounds this annual celebration of family present and past.

For purchasing inquiries contact El Velorio Curator Erika Hirugami.

El Velorio 2014
El Velorio 2014

Seeing Color in the Desert - International Artist Magazine

My article Seeing Color in the Desert (originally posted on CaliforniaDesertArt.com) has been reprinted in the August/September 2014 issue of International Artist magazine. It originally started with notes from my sketchbook about what I was observing while out painting, and what to do about certain problems that color posed or provided a solution to.

Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational

I'm making frames and double-checking all of my tubes of paint, getting geared up to head out to Colorado next month for the Crested Butte Plein Air Invitational in Crested Butte, Colorado. I'll be painting on location in Colorado for about two weeks prior to the exhibition opening, which will be July 11-13. If you plan to be in the area please stop by and say hi!

I'll also be teaching a 1-day painting workshop on July 3 in conjunction with the Crested Butte Center for the Arts - check it out!

On Seeing Color in the Desert

By Eric Merrell

(Originally published on CaliforniaDesertArt.com)

I really began to develop some of the color ideas during my Joshua Tree residency in 2009. In the desert in summer, especially in JT, there are strong shadows early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but for 5-6 hours when the sun is overhead there is hardly a shadow for miles.

Caravan of the Moon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Caravan of the Moon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

After struggling with it for awhile, I realized that when the shadows disappeared I lost artistically the ability to use value contrast (lights and darks) in a painting, but I still had color contrast. During the middle of the day (as in moonlight), we can still perceive distance, the masses and forms of boulders and trees, and the world continues to exist in three dimensions without the help of shadows (value), so I began to see that color was the way to try to convey that sense of light. One begins to mix all sorts of interesting colors to try and solve the problem. Painting is really problem solving.

These color ideas apply to any situation and any location. But the particular brightness of the desert, where everything exists in such a high-key situation – sand, mountains, sky, brush – it provides a wonderful problem for exploring the richness of color. Just as a white tablecloth reflects the ‘truest’ colors of outdoor light (when we look at something ‘white’, we are seeing the full spectrum of visible light), the desert reflects a great deal of light back to our eyes, back into shadows.

Students in my workshops often comment to me that they see color afterwards that they didn’t see before the workshop. When we study our visual world and what we see in terms of color and paint it is like exercising a muscle: the more often you use it, the stronger it becomes. In the scheme of art history, it also makes sense that our use of color continues to become more and more sophisticated.

Color is a way we interpret our perceptions – truthfully, painting is another language, and not at all related to photography (which is itself another genuine art form). I think it is a language that almost everyone in the world understands, with its ability to bridge cultural barriers, because we all live in a color-filled, three-dimensional world, but most people are not very fluent in it (for many reasons).

In her fascinating book Color, Victoria Finlay remarks that the section of wavelengths that we can see, visible light, includes about ten million variations of color. So the more colors I have on my palette, the more variations I can mix, and the more subtle my vision can become. As well as being descriptive, I can also use those colors to provide an emotional element.

Finlay’s book is about the history and cultures surrounding actual paint pigments. The part I like most, though, is the idea that objects don’t have a static ‘color’ – they’re constantly changing throughout the different light of the day and over time. An orange carrot in the dark isn’t orange.

Molten Universe (View of the Salton Sea), 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

Molten Universe (View of the Salton Sea), 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

As Finlay writes: “The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something ‘being’ a color but of it ‘doing’ a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe – in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the ‘red’ tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance – absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.”

I’ve been compiling some thoughts as a way for me to better understand color myself, because it’s so multi-faceted. Cezanne was spot-on with his observation that “Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one’s sensations.” Here are a few notes:

  • Painting involves all the senses, not just sight. Sound plays a big role: One of my favorite parts of painting in the desert is crunching through the sand to my location. Also, when painting at night where our visual perceptions are reduced, audio increases and even small noises are very noticeable, like a lizard scooting by.
  • There is no such thing as “local color.”
  • Society today is so heavily bombarded by photography, film and other mechanical forms of art that we accept it as unbiased truth and don’t look any further or deeper (an individual camera lens doesn’t ‘see’ the same way our eyes do, in stereo, and a photograph can be incredibly biased. Painting in many forms has become a sub-category of photography, aimed at technical prowess, not in its own realm.
  • ‘Color’ is a man-made invention, as is the concept of value. These terms are helpful to us in understanding what we’re seeing, but it becomes very hard to get away from names (i.e., a tree is brown and green, the sky is blue, rocks are gray) – what color is a ‘green’ tree in moonlight?
  • Artists rely too heavily on science to ‘explain’ what they’re seeing instead of developing an eye for color. Art shouldn’t need an explanation. It’s interesting to know, but the scientific reason for why mountains appear bluer as they recede into the distance isn’t necessary to artists. The relationships between the colors however is very important – because, in other words, artists shouldn’t be painting a solely objective scientific vision of the world but should include their own subjective vision with all of the variables that entails.
  • Have confidence in your opinion.
  • We don’t have many historically-based examples of artists using rich color because stronger pigments weren’t available until fairly recently, so artists like Rembrandt had to rely much more on value. Aside from the recent history of Impressionism, when stronger color is used it tends to move away from perceived light in the natural world towards Expressionism or Fauvism, where color is ‘liberated’ from its role (i.e. when AndréDerain paints a bridge, he might paint it bright Cadmium Yellow.) If Rembrandt were alive today, I’m pretty sure he would take advantage of as many contemporary colors as he could, but his earthy palette was a result of the time he lived in.
  • When someone looks at a painting with color, they tend to single out one spot of color – especially if they can name it, say a blue shadow – and look for that individual color in the landscape. Color doesn’t exist in a vacuum like that – that spot of blue is very purposefully placed next to whatever colors surround it, just like in the landscape.

Merrell Looks at Color in his Own Paintings

A couple of these paintings are very dependent on color contrasts – The Heat Lingers at Dusk was done after sunset.

The Heat Lingers at Dusk, 12" x 18", © Eric Merrell

The Heat Lingers at Dusk, 12" x 18", © Eric Merrell

The rocky hill is silhouetted strongly against the sky in terms of value, but the greens of the Joshua Trees were visible in front of that and help create more atmosphere. There is space and depth between the Joshua Trees nearest us and the further hill. We can see the color shifts, but we really can’t see any defining features of the spiky Joshua Trees. Also, the hill is still 3-dimensional, so I needed subtle color shifts to convey the idea that the hill recedes away from us as we look up towards its peaks, angling in space.

The Face in the Sand was a challenge – I could see SO many colors shifts in the shadow, but in the painting those colors have to exist in the shadow realm for it to work.

The Face in the Sand, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

The Face in the Sand, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

It’s counter-intuitive to think that yellow can be a shadow, and ‘dark,’ because we think of yellow as a light ‘warm’ color. All that matters are getting the relationships correct. I try to ask myself what the light is doing, and find some of the color solutions that way. If the yellows were to get too light in value, they would begin to read as part of the sunlit sand on the ground.

Snow Creek Canyon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Snow Creek Canyon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Snow Creek Canyon was done on a somewhat overcast morning, but this also needed to show a shift as we visually climb the mountain. The warmer salmony colors towards the base shift towards violets and greens as it gains elevation, shifting and turning away from us.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, a nocturne, also relies heavily on color contrast. The first impact is value-based with the brightly lit boulders in the foreground alongside a dark shadow, but then our eyes wander up and back into the canyon.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, 20" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, 20" x 24", © Eric Merrell

It gets softer and softer, but our eyes can still perceive these little shifts, and value is unable to help us in that arena where it becomes incredibly soft. I’m trying to convey this softness by shifting and playing the colors off of each other while staying in the same value. The sky here is made up of bluish- and reddish-violets, violet-greens, and colors that go beyond naming, but are all relative to the other colors of the painting. Many people including artists think I’m a little nuts for painting in the dark, but if you stand in the moonlight for awhile, your eyes will adjust and you’ll see all sorts of things.

The other pieces have some value contrast in them, but I’ll often use those areas as anchors in a painting to explore other color contrasts. The central Joshua Tree in Echoes and Silence is grounded by its shadow, but I wanted to use that to get to the hill behind it, the bright orange-ochre with shifts towards red and violet, against the sky. It really looked like that, and could have been done without the tree, but that value contrast kept it from getting too abstract in this instance.

Echoes and Silence, 14" x 14", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Echoes and Silence, 14" x 14", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. –Aldo Leopold

I like this quote by Aldo Leopold, which to me is encouraging us to dig deeper artistically. Sunsets, flowers, late afternoon sunlight are all beautiful subjects for painting, but there’s more. Artists have more tools today than artists working 50 or 100 years ago. I think we can go beyond what our artistic forefathers did, in terms of color, composition, and impact. We need to expand our color beyond the predictable and into those areas “as yet uncaptured by language.”

Eric Merrell is a Signature Artist Member of the California Art Club, and a historian for the club. For more on his work see:http://www.ericmerrell.com

Parched Air, 16" x 16", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Parched Air, 16" x 16", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Painting Workshop in the Anza-Borrego Desert

I've just returned from a week of painting and teaching in California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This was the second 3-day workshop I've taught there, and was excited to return. I love this part of the desert, and this trip afforded me a little more time to explore and paint a few new locations. I also painted a few more nocturnes on location, something that has to be experienced. Even with less than a quarter moon, color temperatures and shapes are apparent, and there is also starlight to see by. NOTE: If you missed this trip, I'll be teaching another 3-day workshop in Joshua Tree next month, April 19-21, 2013.

Each day began with the importance of using your sketchbook - finding what your piece will be about, drawing thumbnail sketches and writing about them. I'm not interested in copying the landscape, but rather finding what it is that excites me about the location. I see painting as a way to dig a little deeper, to try a little harder.

I began with a demo in the morning and did another after lunch. I want everyone in the workshop to come away with a structure or process that they can use to interpret the landscape when they're working on their own. We talked about color, value, shapes, materials, umbrellas, and many other items of concern to artists working outdoors.

We started early each morning while it was still cool, painting until 1 pm or so, and then took a 2-hour lunch and siesta. After the rest, we'd get back out on location for the afternoon. For most folks who haven't painted on location before, one thing they don't realize is how physically and mentally demanding it is. This trip also sprouted a new tradition of starting the afternoon session with ice cream. At the end of a full day of painting, we'd gather for a good dinner at a local restaurant to relax and discuss painting.

I selected three different locations around the park that provided three different types of landscape, with a variety of underbrush, cacti, and change in elevation.

On the last day we created a little shade and held a critique to talk about the work everyone had produced. I'm always glad when I see such a sharp improvement over a short period of time, and there was a notable jump in seeing and painting color in each student's work over the three days. Though we were pretty tired when we departed at the end of the workshop, I think everyone seemed pleased with their efforts and had a sketchbook full of new ideas to put into practice in their own future work.

If you're interested in learning to see and paint color on location, I'll be teaching another 3-day workshop in Joshua Tree next month, April 19-21, 2013. Sign up here: http://ericmerrell.com/workshops.html

Painting Workshops

I'm currently teaching ongoing Saturday morning workshops, usually in the San Gabriel Valley area (with some excursions to other areas nearby). You're welcome to join us from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Each four hour session is $100. Let me know when you can paint with us and I'll get you the location where we'll be that weekend.

As seen in my February 2011 eNewsletter. To make sure you receive the eNewsletter with the latest info, send me an email.

Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice

A new book on color by Al Gury was just published by Watson-Guptill this last year. Al was one of my most influential teachers when I was studying back in Philadephia; he is currently the chair of the painting department at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts there. Titled "Color for Painters: A Guide to Traditions and Practice," this is a very thorough book that should prove helpful for students and those artists just beginning their voyage into color exploration as well as interesting and thought-provoking for many who have been painting for years. (Here is another book that Al wrote a few years ago, this one on alla prima painting.)

This book covers a great range of topics including the history of color usage in art, how artists organize and conceptualize their color, and a whole lot more. I wouldn't be surprised at all is this became a staple in art classrooms.

There Is No Gray in Nature

An idea I hear tossed around fairly often about color is that while the morning and evening are great times to paint, during the middle of the day color "flattens out" or "dies." I would like to suggest something entirely different: the color does not go gray, it merely changes. The middle of the day has beautiful color just like any other time of the day, though it may be more subtle  than a sunset. Same with an overcast day (see Dan Pinkham's painting below). We can still see the relationships (and hence forms) in nature nonetheless, and since we as humans experience the world in full color (there is no such thing as a gray or neutral in nature's color spectrum, only in your paint tubes and color theory classes) I think it is a greater struggle to attempt to find these subtleties of color. Every plane change is a color change.

The issue I have with using terms like "gray," "brown," "neutral," "washed out," etc. is that it starts to get the brain thinking along those lines. Akin to shooting yourself in the foot before starting a race, you need your brain to make a painting - it makes it even harder to find, say, a quiet violet tone (like the top plane of the wrist in Bongart's painting above) if you're thinking of grays. Also, I think this is perpetuated by color being taught too literally, trying to "match" one's paint colors to that of the landscape or your model (see Delacroix quote below).

Here are a few other ideas about color:

- Every color note that is gray, muddy or chalky is a missed opportunity, and - Every missed opportunity detracts or weakens the overall color of a painting (think of an orchestra or band playing - what if the trumpet or guitar player hit just one sour note!); - When you put the final spots of color onto a piece, it should all come together and create the sensation of light.

The general conception of color seems to imply a high saturation or intensity; i.e., when I say "red," you automatically think of an incredibly bright red, like a sports car. But "red" could also mean a pale violet, made to feel like red by placing it next to a colder color. Look at that warmth in the shadow above in Hensche's still life (and how different it is from the red flower). Painting with color doesn't mean intensity at all - it means painting good relationships. Sorolla used a yellowish-orange to paint that little girl's back - but it relates to all the other colors and reads like sunlight. I think color painting in particular highlights how deficient language can be with describing our experiences. Another note about the images here, check out all the color used to convey "white" - they really aren't white at all, but every color under the sun.

Here are a couple of quotes that may help with the idea too:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” - Aldo Leopold

“Art begins where nature leaves off.” - Oscar Wilde

“Nature serves the artist as a dictionary only, and ‘Realism’ should be defined as the antithesis of art.” - Eugene Delacroix

Upcoming Workshops and Paint-Outs

thewindowsglow_s The Windows Glow, 18" x 24", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

VAGlogo

On Sunday, October 25, I'll be painting with the Valley Artists Guild at Topanga Canyon State Park from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. The Valley Artists Guild was founded in 1948 by the sculptor Henry Van Wolf (1898–1982). If you're in the area please stop by and join us. Check out their October Newsletter.

LAAFA

The new Fall schedule begins soon at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA). If you've been wanting to sign up for the landscape class, this is your chance. It runs for 8 consecutive Saturdays beginning this weekend on October 3 from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Visit their website or call 818/708-9232. More class info here.

These classes will show you how to paint what you see, not what you think you see. Learn how to interpret nature in terms of paint, using light and color to create form. Become more proficient at mixing and painting color relationships, design/composition, simplifying, gain from painting on location, as well as creating a painting that has something to say. Make an investment in your art – gain confidence and knowledge that will inspire all areas of your creativity. All levels of experience are welcome.

Paintings from Joshua Tree

See more paintings and photos from the trip on Facebook. Roaring_Rock_s

The Roar of Time, 14" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Joshua_Nocturne_s

Joshua Nocturne, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

Near_Desert_Hot_Springs_s

Near Desert Hot Springs, Afternoon, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Fallen_s

Fallen Joshua Tree, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Storms_s

After the Storms, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Keys_View_s

Out Over the Desert, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Fires_s

Fire Victims, 11" x 14", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Hidden_Valley02_s

Hidden Valley, 10" x 8", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell

Lack_of_Shade_s

Lack of Shade, Midday, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Ending on a High Note in the Desert

Less_Traveled_s The Road Less Traveled, Joshua Tree, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Eric_DHS-s

As the end of the residency approaches, I'm trying to get in everything I wanted to work on. July was windy and then really hot, but August has been beautiful. Mostly in the 90's during the day and in the 70's at night. Just awesome. I wonder if this bodes badly for September? I've worked on broadening my approaches, trying some new things, exploring new places. I think I have some 70-odd paintings. (I haven't been able to shoot very many of them yet, but will at some point for a future post.)

Some of the best memories: out looking for a spot to paint the full moonlight, I stopped along the road in Lost Horse Valley. As I stood there in the moonlight, I started to notice a shape or two flitting about in the half-darkness: bats. Then I noticed a few more. After my eyes adjusted, although only a handful were ever visible at any given moment, you could sense the hundreds of bats flying all around you, sometimes only a foot away. I don't know if something with the moon brought out more bugs, or that they naturally congregate there, or something else. But it was so quiet, the only sound was of the approaching bats' clicking, echolocating, like the sounds of a few marbles bouncing quickly onto a tile floor.

My easel and umbrellas were quite battered by the winds, and knocked over a few times. One evening, though, in the lower Colorado desert, I set up to work about 20 feet to the side of a large wash. After painting a bit, I heard a noise like a car approaching in the distance. As it grew closer, the sound distinctly became the rushing wind, barreling down the mountains - straight through the wash. From my vantage, I could see the smoketrees and creosote in the wash straining under the onslaught; but the only thing that reached me was a nice cool breeze. As this tended to happen every so often, I grew accustomed to it and congratulated myself for being clever enough to avoid painting in the wash, my original intention. As I heard another gust approaching, I must have reached over to grab a tube of paint, or brush, or something - I don't recall what - but as soon as the wind hit the wash this time, it made a quick turn and blasted into the easel from the one weak spot. Though it was tied down, the easel was still thrown a few feet, and the palette skidded face-down across the sand, leaving streaks of yellow and orange on the desert floor. I decided to call it a day, and laughed while I cleaned everything up. Not much of the paint was salvageable.

Palette_s

Southern_Desert_Horned_Lizard_s

I can't wait to return home now and sort through everything from the residency. Already have many ideas from the sketches and notes.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Wassily Kandinsky, Bavarian Mountains,

So you've read everything out there on painting you can find, from The Art Spirit to Hawthorne on Painting. What else is left? Doesn't anyone have anything to add? Well, yes. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) - whose work began in the representational realm and later metamorphosed into abstraction - found plenty of unique ideas to work with in the pursuit of color, these being assembled in his often-overlooked book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (originally published in 1911; click links to read the books online). 

Kandinsky's ideas apply to probably almost any type of art, since it concerns color on a psychological level. He talks sensitively and in depth about the relation of painting to music, how colors "move" and what we might associate them with, and how we see and react to certain pigments. Giving a nod to the a picture is worth a thousand words cliché, he explains "It is clear that all I have said of these simple colours is very...general, and so also are those feelings (joy, grief, etc.) which have been quoted as parallels of the colours." He lists two "weapons" at the disposal of the artist: form and color. But, "the artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning." 

An excerpt on the effects of color: "To let the eye stray over a palette, splashed with many colours, produces a dual result. In the first place one receives a PURELY PHYSICAL IMPRESSION, one of pleasure and contentment at the varied and beautiful colours. The eye is either warmed or else soothed and cooled. But these physical sensations can only be of short duration. They are merely superficial and leave no lasting impression, for the soul is unaffected. But although the effect of the colours is forgotten when the eye is turned away, the superficial impression of varied colour may be the starting point of a whole chain of related sensations...As the man develops, the circle of these experiences caused by different beings and objects, grows ever wider. They acquire an inner meaning and eventually a spiritual harmony. It is the same with colour, which makes only a momentary and superficial impression on a soul but slightly developed in sensitiveness. But even this superficial impression varies in quality. The eye is strongly attracted by light, clear colours, and still more strongly attracted by those colours which are warm as well as clear; vermilion has the charm of flame, which has always attracted human beings. Keen lemon-yellow hurts the eye in time as a prolonged and shrill trumpet-note the ear, and the gazer turns away to seek relief in blue or green."

"But to a more sensitive soul the effect of colours is deeper and intensely moving. And so we come to the second main result of looking at colours: THEIR PSYCHIC EFFECT. They produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of importance.(1)"

Wassily Kandinksy, Black Accompaniment, 1927

Rather than sampling the book overmuch, though there are a lot of great passages, I'll let you read it. A few of Kandinsky's associations and relations to music:

-  The cold sensation of ice upon the finger – once removed, is quickly forgotten. The same happens with color, once you look at something else, the sensation changes;

-  One type of warm red is exciting, but a different shade of red can trigger pain or disgust;

-  "Everyone knows that yellow, orange and red suggest ideas of ‘joy and plenty’." – Delacroix

-  Painting must consider the deep relations among the arts, and especially between music and painting. – Goethe

-  Sharp colors are well-suited to sharp forms (yellow triangle); soft deep colors to round form (blue circle);

-  Warmth is towards yellow, coolness is towards blue. Yellow is typically terrestrial/earthly/aggressive, blue is celestial/spiritual/calming. Green is a restful place between yellow and blue. Yellow moves bodily towards the spectator [i.e., John Carlson's quote that "Yellow is on the tip of your nose,"] while blue moves away from the spectator;

-   White has a joy and spotless purity; black contains grief and death; gray is silent and motionless, being composed of those two inactive hues, black and white (the restfulness of gray having none of the potential activity of green). Gray made with an optical mixture of red and green, though, is a spiritual blend of passivity and glowing warmth;

-  Gray = immobility and rest. Delacroix sought to express rest by a mixture of green and red (of. Signac, sup. cit.);

-  Red – unbounded warmth, determined intensity, glows in itself maturely;

-  Yellow has an irresponsible appeal; it reaches out to the spectator more than red;

-  Light warm red (similar to medium yellow): strength, vigor, determination, triumph, the sound of trumpets. Light cool red – notes of a violin;

-   No color has so extensive a scale of varieties than red does;

-  Orange is like a man convinced of his own powers/a churchbell/contralto voice/or the largo of an old violin;

-  Violet is a cooled red in the physical and spiritual sense; Morbid, extinct quality; Worn by old women; In China it is the garb of mourning; The sound of an English horn or a bassoon;

-  Red has movement within itself = potential of motion, immovability;

-  Light blue – flute; Dark blue – cello; Even darker blue – double bass; Darkest blue of all – organ;

-  Absolute green – placid middle notes of a violin;

-  When blue sinks almost to black it echoes a grief that is hardly human.

If nothing else, Kandinsky's writing shows us new ways of thinking about color, and more arrows in our quiver, so to speak, especially since, per Kandinsky, "the artist has a triple responsibility: (1) He must repay the talent which he has; (2) His deeds, feelings, and thoughts, as those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere which is either pure or poisonous; (3) These deeds and thoughts are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise influence on the spiritual atmosphere."

 

“It is evident therefore that color harmony must rest ultimately on purposive playing upon the human soul; this is one of the guiding principles of internal necessity.” -Kandinsky

"Trust your feelings entirely about colour, and then, even if you arrive at no infallible colour theory, you will at least have the credit of having your own colour sense." - John F. Carlson (1875-1947)

------------

1. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Nature is Noisy If We Could Only Hear It

uplifted-spirit_s Uplifted Spirit, Malibu, 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

The newest installation of Celebrating the Golden State: Recent Artwork by Contemporary Members of the California Art Club just opened at the Old Mill in San Marino, California last Thursday. These exhibitions at the CAC Gallery are fun because they're unthemed, you get to see what each artist prefers to paint if left to his or her own devices. Check out the link above for images of the artwork. The two paintings shown here are in the exhibition. Just when I was finishing up the landscape above and packing up my gear, I head a loud noise approaching. As I glanced up, a large hawk swooped around the cliff behind me and flew overhead about only 25 feet off the ground. The hawk appeared to be carrying a large hose or something in it's claws, but as it got closer I realized the hawk's luggage was actually a large rattlesnake. Instinctively I tried to move out of the way (of the hawk or the snake, I don't know which, best to avoid both!) but the hawk continued its flight over to the edge of the shadowed cliff seen in the painting, the angle just above the turn in the road. Apparently it wasn't interested in dropping a rattlesnake onto my palette, instead bringing the catch back to the nest for dinner. (At least the hawk waited until I was finished painting to break the silence; I can't say the same for the the plethora of weekend warriors who were charging up and down Mulholland all afternoon, creating a racket for my sole enjoyment. Motorcycles are just as horrible as golf courses and leaf blowers. The noisiness of nature is poetic next to our urban din.)

The colors of the cliff in shadow were the substance of this piece, the exciting warm and cool seen there. The patterns of light and shadow on the distant hills were important to the design of the piece, too - I always begin my paintings fairly two-dimensionally, considering the impact of the abstract design and how it supports the intent of the piece. This abstract content is what subconsciously attracts viewers who connect with it. When you're walking through a museum, for example, you usually walk past dozens of artwork before you stop at one that interests you. This attraction is usually quick and unstudied; the work has connected with you on a subconscious or gut level. After that initial attraction, you may become more aware of "things" in the painting, but the interest began with the abstract design and color harmonies. 

bluevase_s

January Light, 7 1/4" x 7 1/4", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrel

I will also have a few pieces in the California Art Club's booth at the upcoming Art International: A Fine Art Fair, March 13-15 at the Pasadena Center, Pasadena, California. The Special Opening Night Preview on March 12 will benefit the Centennial Celebration of the CAC, and the whole weekend will showcase lots of galleries and some great paintings. Last year I remember seeing beautiful portraits by Theodore N. Lukits (1897-1992) and Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966), as well as many great historic California landscapes.

East Coast Ideals/West Coast Concepts*

ramona_s Ramona and I have just returned from a great trip out to Boston and Cape Cod, our first time to Massachusetts. The Cape is a really fascinating place with a long history of art, still going strong today. California could learn a few things about aesthetics from the area.

We flew out for the openings of Painting New England Together at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA and Paintapalooza at Addison Art Gallery in Orleans, MA. (Lots of photos are online on Facebook.) I've got to give a big California Thank You to everyone out there for making our stay so hospitable - Paul and Pharr Schulenburg, Peter and Kathleen Kalill, Jeff Bonasia, and Helen Addison along with Domonic Boreffi over at Addison Art Gallery for their huge effort in making this all happen. It was really wonderful meeting everyone at the receptions.

hawthornestudio_s1

We spent some time up in Provincetown (P-Town) and saw the studios of Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872 - 1930) and Henry Hensche (1899 - 1992). We got to check out the small but nice collection at the Provincetown Art Association & Museum, and visited the historic Beachcomber's Club too, of which a number of the guys in our exhibition are members of. [Two artists who were members of both the Beachcombers Club as well as the California Art Club: Richard Edward Miller (1875-1943) and Christian von Schneidau (1893-1976).] I made a good effort to seek out work by Hawthorne and Hensche while we were there - they're hard enough to come by on the east coast, and virtually nowhere to be seen out in California. That search led me to Vose Galleries in Boston, which has been a leading gallery in that area for six generations(!). We met Carey Vose, and she and the staff were kind enough to pull out some amazing paintings by Hawthorne, Paul Dougherty (1877-1947), and Childe Hassam (1859-1935) that they had. You definitely need to stop at Vose if you're going to Boston; it's really much more like a museum than a gallery.

 

detail of "Still Life" by Hawthorne

vose_s

 Looking forward to our next trip back east! Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel - Paintapalooza: P-town.

 

*I borrowed this title from a 1997 exhibition that focused on the artistic lineages of the Boston School and the California Impressionists.

Beware of Fish Scapulas, etc.

salton-sea_s Spaceship Landing, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

I recently took a trip out to the Salton Sea to explore and paint with my friends Andrew Dickson and Samantha. Man, what a gorgeous place - but so inhospitable. Not the people, though; we met some very nice folks, including Leonard Knight who built Salvation Mountain. We checked out some of the small "towns" like Bombay Beach and Niland, really more like clusterings of houses and trailers, though Niland does have a Chinese restaurant. Quite a few abandoned places that have seen a lot of weather.

The Salton Sea is a very austere place, with no real amenities around. I wanted to paint something that spoke of the simple beauty and the harsh life that residents of the area endure and become a part of. 

The beaches are mostly made of old coral and fish bones, at least from what I saw there was hardly any sand, and the water doesn't look very inviting. Not the kind of beach you'd want to frolic at on the weekend (though it was a hugely popular destination in the 1950's.) We did hear a rumor that there may be a new attempt to fix up the sea, but the odds seem to be against that type of endeavor...