OK, here is the headline - I am a Colourist!
There was a time in my salaried career when I had to speak about ‘unconscious competence’ - when someone doesn’t think about what they are doing, they just do it, and do it satisfactorily. (the point being that moving it into the conscious mind can improve it.) ……. Now it seems that label fits my painting.
I had been painting for about five years when a fellow-artist popped in to see a little
exhibition of mine.
“Oh, Alastair,” he exclaimed “I didn’t know you were a colourist….”
OK, so I had heard the term, especially in relation to the ‘Scottish Colourists’, but
only as a vague background notion.
Put simply, a colourist is an artist whose work has use of colour as the most significant
feature. The distinctive element which helps to mark out their work.
Looking around the 20-odd paintings I had on display that day, I realised that the observation was
spot on – I use colour a lot. The paintings were a mixed bunch, large and small, several landscapes but some with people or things, oils and watercolours.
While it would be neat to argue that as the largest part of my art education was in
Edinburgh and was delivered by some pretty stern teachers who had themselves
been rigorously trained in the classical skills of drawing and painting, and I spent hours wandering through the galleries and museums gazing on the paintings on those walls that maybe this ‘Scottish Colourist’ tradition somehow permeated my being – that this is what I believe a painting should look like
….. I don’t put that up as a viable theory.
Here is my own take - think about handwriting.
Everybody has their own unique hand – even siblings taught in the same schools
by the same teachers have completely different writing. There is a whole field called Graphology where an expert can look at a person’s handwriting and tell them things about themselves that are not otherwise visible (I know, it happened to me!).
The same must be true of the core essence of an artist’s style – their individuality comes through somehow, even if that artist has benefitted from rigorous training (which I have not.)
When I was able to go back to painting, I knew I wanted to work on landscape and was of course aware of the work of the giant of Welsh landscape painting, Kyffin Williams, but his work is much too dark and moody for me - all that black and brwon - masterful capture of north-west Wales and very evocative (and clearly very successful) - but not me.
So, if my handwriting story is valid, my cheerful positive outlook on life in general comes through in bright colour.
Of course I can, and do, think about and change the colours on my palette to suit a particular painting to support whatever is the story I want that one to tell, but, as my friend spotted - line up several and the common feature confirms that label - I am a colourist!
Back to ‘unconscious’ competence - this realistaion, the move to consciousness, is just like switching on the light in a dark room - I can now see, and this means I can adjust.
The flamboyant exuberance of my instinctive palette is, I realise, not always a good thing.
The challenge is to use it wisely.
The two images of the same painting here illustrate that - my instinctive brightly coloured initial work has been toned down - to be more realistic, frankly …. which goes to another topic - is the Artist ever the best judge of what works or not??