Friday, February 27, 2009

Colors as Metaphors for the Landscape

One of my friends, John McConnell who is an architect and a wonderful landscape painter painted the walls of his office an Mediterranean orange that was based on a color that I believe is prevalent in Italy. I thought the color was so beautiful that I tried to duplicate it in my hallway but it wasn't quite the same. Too dark. I think it is because I have never been to the Mediterranean before and that I am rooted in the dark palette of New England. But I have seen the orange sliffs of the south of Taiwan and the orange hills of Arizona and they were really breathtaking with their vivid blue skies that so much resembled each other though these two places were half way around the world from each other.

I think that some of my favorite painters like Diebenkorn and O'Keefe, whose work straddle that of being abstract and representational, are people who are very much in tuned with their environment. Georgia O'Keefe loved the colors of her New Mexico Ghost town and Richard Diebenkorn carefully documented the pastel colors of his California landscape.

I painted for one year when I was between jobs and taking care of my then three-year-old son, Nathaniel. I am not a landscape painter. When I paint, I simply go with the flow to see where the canvas, the paint and the paintbrush takes me. I don't know if my paintings will turn out to
be abstract or representational and half the time there are six paintings underneath the final picture. To my surprise, most of the paintings ended up in shades of red, oranges, and greens which to me are the colors of New England: the red brick, the orange-brown cherry wood and the hunter green window frames and the grass green landscapes. Most of the time, the paintings did not start out in those tones. I have completed maybe one landscape painting in browns and oranges and I have yet to carry my easel outdoors. I always thought that I was more of a psychological painter. Above, is one of my first paintings of a peach.

Above that, courtesy of Michael Kim Architecture, is an example of a kitchen which uses color in a very disciplined manner. This house I believe is located near a body of water. The symbols of this are the upside-down rowboat shape of the wood ceiling and the seagreen glass tile of the backsplash. The gridded white space formed between the ceiling and the cherry cabinets give the kitchen an Asian feel. Michael of course is Korean-American. The colors are that of New England.

My friend and her husband are in the process of refacing and refinishing their kitchen wrote to me that they were leaning towards a black/green granite countertop and a light cherry cabinets.
I was initially perplexed because she seem to like the unassuming feel of a classic modernist white kitchen and said that her favorite sensibility for a kitchen was a warm, sunny, and open. When she finally told me that, though she was predisposed to certain color schemes, that she felt that a Mediterranean color scheme (She and her husband have travelled to France many times) may not fit in with the New England traditions, I understood. I knew of course that nothing was yet set in stone and I knew that there was excitement and some nervousness about wanting everything to be perfect in one's home and I applauded her openness and flexibility for that is the way I would approach my own kitchen. One has to have the samples in one's own home to touch and feel and hold up to the light to be able to understand what is intuitive right for the space. And I looked forward to seeing which side of her many personalities would eventually show up in the final scheme of things or would all of them show up as in Michael's kitchen (which was actually designed for a client). And I curbed my desire to send her even more web photos of kitchens.

I used to work for Jeremiah Eck, a famous New England architect and his favorite materials for a kitchen were light cherry cabinets and a dark green granite countertop.

My son Nathaniel is now thirteen and although he produced three paintings in daycare that I gloriously framed and hung, he went dry for ten years. I used to gazed enviously at my friends' kids' artwork that they hung on their brick walls or their refrigerators. Then this year for two straight semesters, his art teacher wrote on his report card glowingly, "Nathaniel's artwork is inspirational to his class. He is producing some wonderful watercolors." I can't wait to see them, pick them up and frame them for my walls are bare. More curiously, I wanted to find out what his color pallette is because, shockingly, Nathaniel is orange/green color-blind. How does an orange/green color-blind kid in New England paint. I used to plan to take him to visit St. Martin's, an island in the Caribbean which was previously occupied by the Dutch and which is famous for its pastel colored pointy-roofed buildings. I pondered moving us to San Francisco. I thought with regret that he could never have a career in the visual arts with his handicap. Or maybe the landscape influences us in unconcious ways that we beingmere mortals can never be aware.

I am taking a painting class next month. I wanted to explore a lighter palette of colors than what I had previously used about nine years ago. But I wonder how much truth can there be in trying to general color palettes that you are not bombarded with day after day, trying to generate light conditions that say sunny, warm and open when the light in New England is in fact, dark and gray. How do you discover a true blue of the South an the West here in Northeast?

I will leave you with that and go ponder my dilemma.

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