March 2020

The End of Painting

, art director at Animat Habitat.

Enter scene two. Soviet state, 1920. Open with two of the most prolific artists at the time — partners in business and in marriage Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova.

The End of Painting

The art of Rodchenko and the art of Stepanova is for the most part of a constructivist movement, which was fueled by the revolutionary period in Russia in, and after, 1917. Constructivist artists moved to embrace technology and to promote art as a commodity in the service of society—as propaganda. In the wake of a revolution, artists had taken a pragmatic approach that applied art to encourage the construction of a socialist society.

This movement originated as a philosophy of design by Vladimir Tatlin, who wanted to construct art with new types of crafted materials—to emphasize the character of those materials that composed a piece of art and furthermore that the piece itself was art and not simply a frame with a window to another world. Rodchenko, especially, had been inclined toward the work of Tatlin. In an exhibition titled 5x5=25 set in Moscow in 1921, Rodchenko exhibited a triptych of monochromatic canvases painted red, yellow, blue, which he famously described, “reduced painting to its logical conclusion.” It was his declaration: The End of Painting, which stated that there was no reason to continue to explore the medium. [1]

“Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, Pure Blue Color” (1921) Aleksandr Rodchenko

This particularly pure visual statement has been an archetype for later generations of abstract artists, minimalists in particular. The statement was foremost transformational for Rodchenko who then no longer painted, instead concentrated on graphic art alongside Stepanova, becoming two of a class of constructivist artists who paved new ways to approach the medium—to design with purpose: to construct society.

Basic colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no representation.
— Aleksandr Rodchenko

1 MoMA. Exhibitions, 1998: Aleksandr Rodchenko. Website Link.

The Beginning of Painting

Red–yellow–blue is the primary color model that many will have learned at an early age in art education. In theory, the art color wheel has a harmonious logic. In practice, the purples will blend a bit dark.

Consider blending colored crayons, or pencils, or pastels or gouaches and so on. A pure red and a pure yellow will blend into a range of oranges. A pure yellow and a pure blue will blend into a range of greens. A pure blue and a pure red will blend into a range of dark, neutral purples and violets. Oil colors will blend just the same. The reason is that these mediums have all been set with the same pigments. This color study has used only the three primary pigments, with white. This is an exercise of the range of a traditional primary color palette, painted with Pébéo oil colors on a 9 by 7 inch canvas board.

Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Pthalo Blue, with Titanium White © 2020 Dane Aleksander

“Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Pthalo Blue, with Titanium White” (2020) Dane Aleksander

The question of a palette, for a painter, signifies access to color.

A palette most often is limited to three primary colors, plus a light tone and a dark tone. Sometimes some intense secondary colors are included to extend the range of a palette. Sometimes some other colors – classical earth tones in particular – are added as a matter of convenience. A limited palette to a painter helps to manage color mixing (as well as manage the cost of pigment). The cost of all the pigments can be prohibitive, and the idea is that almost any color can be mixed with a combination of red, yellow, blue, and white. The big idea here is to look for an alternative, comparable or more complete primary color model before the beginning of painting—when the studio will have spent buckets on buckets of red, yellow and blue oil colors.

So we took a look around, starting with a look back at oil colors in art history.

Classical colors, Impressionist colors, Modern colors © Gamblin

Classical painters of the nineteenth century were limited to a palette with limited intensity of color, and instead relied mostly on contrast in values—mostly light and dark earth tones with mostly red highlights. Impressionist painters of the twentieth century had access to a complete spectrum of colors made from the minerals that were a by-product of the industrial revolution. Rodchenko was not an Impressionist painter, and was explicitly not a painter at all after 1921, however his three colors are of this Impressionist era. These mineral colors will gray down to make natural tints when mixed with white. Modern painters now have access to extremely high key colors made from modern materials, which have pushed pigment intensity of color to almost all extremes of the color wheel. These modern colors will make bright tints when mixed with white and will make natural tints when mixed with gray. [2]

Modern painters still have access to many of the mineral colors and classical earth tones, and so – altogether with a modern palette – will have access to any color and color palette from art history. [3]

Old Masters palette, Impressionist palette, Basic High Key palette © Gamblin

We circle back to the color wheel—to where red–yellow–blue break down in practice: in-between red and blue. This primary color model is not broken in theory, instead the blend of red and blue – in-between red and violet light, in particular – is an inflection point of dissonance where the optical spectrum of wavelengths of light occurs on a linear scale and does not naturally cycle back around from violet to red.

Consider a rainbow: red–orange–yellow–green–blue–indigo–violet. This is the extent of the spectrum of light that is visible to the human eye. We can make sense of the fact that infrared and ultraviolet light fall on either side of that visible spectrum, and that the spectrum of light extends from there. The point is: the spectrum of light does not cycle back around.

The longest wavelengths in our visible spectrum of light are red, the shortest are violet, then the rest is in-between. The transition of violet to red on the color wheel is acutally a mixture of red and blue components. This mixture is a purple blend not associated with a monochromatic wavelength of light. This purple blend is an extra-spectral color associated with perception. This extra-spectral color is perceived when there is an equal concentration of long red-ish wavelengths and short blue-ish wavelengths, with an absence of the mid-range yellow-ish wavelengths.

The extra-spectral color at the midpoint of red and blue in the additive red–green–blue (RGB) color system, used to create all the colors on electronic displays, is Magenta. [4]

Red–blue, RGB color wheel

Magenta is also notably one of the colors of ink used in a color printer—in the subtractive cyan–magenta–yellow (CMY) color system, where the color is again found at the midpoint of red and blue. Magenta is one of the three primary colors used to create all the colors in color printing. The point is: the color printer does not use red, yellow and blue.

The CMY color system makes available both a red and blue, whereas the red–yellow–blue color model cannot mix to make a Magenta. While modern red dyes and blue–green inks will still extend the secondary colors in a CMY color system, a cyan–magenta–yellow palette manages access to a more complete spectrum of colors. As we look to appropriate the CMY color system as a primary model for oil color mixing at Animat Habitat, we include a dark earth tone, a mix of white or gray, and select secondary high key colors to ease color mixing and to extend this basic palette with the three primary colors: cyan, Magenta, yellow.

Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Quinacridone Magenta
Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Cadmium Lemon
Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Cobalt Teal

Quinacridone Magenta sample, Cadmium Lemon sample, Cobalt Teal sample © Gamblin

The cyan is Cobalt Teal. The yellow is Cadmium Lemon. Cobalt and Cadmium are mineral-based colors. The Magenta is Quinacridone Magenta. Quinacridone is an organic dye within a family of violet–red colors.

The studio palette with these three primary colors are complimented with a black: Burnt Umber in combination with either Ultramarine Blue or Pthalo Green, based on the painting. Ultramarine and Umber are classical colors, and these two mix to make a beautiful blue–brown black. Pthalo is a modern blue–green ink, Quinacridone is a modern violet–red dye, and the color opposites mix to make a rich red–green black. The white is mostly Titanium White, another mineral-based color. Any more earth tones and secondary colors – in addition to Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Pthalo Green – are added to ease access to select colors based on each painting.

The Cobalt Teal, Cadmium Lemon, Quinacridone Magenta and other oil colors on the studio palette are Gamblin Artist Oil Colors. Gamblin – founded in 1980 by Robert Gamblin – is a relatively modern color-making company, based in Portland, Oregon, United States of America. The company shares a clear appreciation for the history of color in oil painting as well as takes a contemporary approach to color-making so as to fit the needs of the modern-day oil painter. This balance of classic colors with a modern palette in many ways reflects a conservationist as well as computer art direction at Animat Habitat.

Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Quinacridone Magenta
Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Cadmium Lemon
Gamblin Artist Oil Color – Cobalt Teal

“The Beginning of Painting” (2020) Dane Aleksander

This piece is painted on three separate 10 by 10 inch wood panels, specifically Apollon Gotrick Birch Wood Panels. Apollon – founded in the 1960s by Dimitri Apokatanidis – is an art canvas manufacturing company that began as a picture framing store, based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The panels are made in Canada, made of three millimetre Russian birch wood, and these three in particular have made up the canvas for a triptych, titled: “The beginning of painting.” This piece marks the beginning of painting at Animat Habitat in the lead up to scene two: White Tiger.

2 Gamblin. Mineral, modern colors. Website Link.

3 Gamblin. Conservation colors. Website Link.

4 Wikipedia: Magenta. Website Link.



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