I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way -things I had no words for. Georgia O’Keeffe
Photo ©Alyson Champ
I know that music is often spoken of as the language of the emotions, but what of colour? Colour psychology, which is a relatively new discipline with roots in ancient eastern medicine, tells us that colour has a profound effect on mood: the power to calm or to stimulate. Colours in the red/orange family are thought to be active and exciting colours. The blues and greens of the spectrum are soothing and passive. Factual neurological evidence aside, here in the West, we do certainly have strong, long-held associations of colours with particular concepts. For example, the colour red is associated with courage and sacrifice, but also love, passion, and appetite. Red is a favourite colour for restaurant interiors for that very reason. A bright sunny yellow is frequently called the colour of the intellect; green the colour of youth, nature, and life; purple the colour of nobility and wisdom; black the colour of mourning; white symbolizes the pristine and virginal; and when we hear someone singing the blues, we know exactly what that means, don’t we?
I’m writing about the impact and meaning of colour because I find myself at something of a turning point in my artwork. Having been an oil painter for more than twenty years, I am increasingly drawn to collage making as my primary means of artistic expression. Obviously this has necessitated some changes in my materials, most notably my switch from oil to acrylic paint.
As a painter, I never learned to love acrylics because they seemed to lack the richness and luminosity of oils. Acrylic colours always looked “plastic” and gaudy to my eye, like a cheap imitation of the real thing. But collage making has caused me to revise that opinion. Oil paint just doesn’t work for the type of collages that I want to make. I experimented with watercolour but didn’t like that either. Finally, I started fooling around with some tubes of acrylics, and guess what? It was a perfect fit.
Apart from the convenience of water solubility and the fact that you can apply acrylic directly to paper without any primer, I find that the quality of saturated, intense colour, which was the original reason that I hated acrylic paint as a painter, is the virtue I have most come to love in it as a collage artist. And the variety of colours available! It boggles the mind. I have become hooked on phthalocyanine blue and quinacridone violets. What the heck are they? Have a look below.
Purple Iris – 20×24 painted paper collage mounted on canvas
This is the latest in my Iris collage series. For this one I moved away from strong colour contrasts of the previous flower collages, and have opted for a more analogous blue/violet palette, with the exception of the small punctuations of yellow and orange. I wanted the flower to have the appearance of emerging from its background and to make the picture so lush and rich in colour that viewer could just sink into it. Here’s a detail:
Purple Iris detail ©Alyson Champ
So, what’s the verdict? Soothing, calming, peaceful? I think so. I hope you are getting a little bit of what I felt as I watched the blue pigment soak into the white paper which was just, “…oh my….”.