On determinism and expression in painting

first posted on this site November 2000, updated 1 May 2001

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Some readers may raise the objection that such a colour-modulation imposes an unnecessary deterministic constraint upon the freedom of expression. There certainly is an extra thing to consider here within the act of painting, and if you view this as a constraint, so be it, but there are pluses that, in my view, outweigh the minuses (or at the very least, cancel the minuses out) [The same reasoning could be applied to Seurat's paintings and decry them as 'tight' and formalistic, yet his work represented a fundamentally new way of representing form, colour and light, and one which marvellously foreshadowed the digital age, the 'bit-map' and the 'pixel'. In my view these latter points justify his methodical approach: he was pioneering the wide-open field of visual communication, languages, and the nature of human perception amongst other things]If you think for a moment about virtually any type or form of painting (including abstract expressionism, perhaps amongst the most expressive of all movements in the history of art) there is always something the artist is concerning himself or herself with, and it is this 'something' which is affecting or influencing the course of the painting: the way the paint is applied, where on the canvas it is applied etc. These sometimes intangible thoughts and feelings then are not exactly 'determining' but certainly affecting the artist's choices: paint is put here and not there, in this way and not that way, etc. Sometimes more 'articulate' thoughts come to the fore and affect the flow of painting.In this colour-modulation work, there is an "articulate thought" (colour rationale) which I have allowed to influence the course of the painting (the choice and position of colours). But, this 'articulate idea' is itself 'modulated', in that I decide the degree to which I concur or deviate from the regularity of this colour-rationale. The coarseness or fineness of resolution, the consistency of application, the subtle rhythms (twists and turns of the brush), ...these are the avenues for me to satisfy my expressive desire whilst fulfilling my obligation to the energy-principle I have voluntarily espoused for the duration of the painting. My reward is that light begins to emerge from the symphony of colours.

Modulating the modulation
In works like Central Station, Sydney, the same colour mapping applies but the middle part of the colour spectrum has been 'subdued' to earth-colour equivalents. [Of course, there are many ways any system or schema such as this can be modified to suit the artist's impulse and need yet without sacrificing the 'grammatical' integrity of the underlying principles at work.]w roberts

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