Itâs time for me to talk about color here in the kintĂ© space for the first time. No, really, this is the first time this self-described Black man is talking about color. Frickinâ eight years ago, I wrote a little ditty called âAdinkra Greenâ for what I called (before I became aware of the term âBlogâ) my âdesign diary.â But that was not talking about how colors relate to each other (color theory).
I am very grateful to have the likes of June Edmonds to speak to me at length about color theory. She established a firm foundation by stating that she uses the 12 colors of what is called (in European education) âThe 12 step Color Wheelâ or Farbkreis exclusively. This family of 12 colors descends from the three primary (primal) colors: red, yellow and blueâand, for me, count the number of hours in a day.
Now for those of you who have read âBehind the Scenes with David Mandessi Diopâ you know that I know how to get books out of the library. I am sure you are impressed. It turns out that my library wandering brought out two books about color: The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts by M. E. Chevreul and The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color by Johannes Itten.
June already has an Itten book and it was not long before I knew that Johannes Itten came from the Bauhausâand hung out with such Blaue Reiter gang members as Wassily Kandinsky. It goes without saying that the Itten course in color theory has very clean lines. When forced to make it terribly terse, it is the introduction of the twelve colors (which includes a reminder of how the complimentary colors are scientifically derived), followed by the seven contrasts. Thatâs it (speaking brutally). And it is important that we are reminded that the complimentary colors are from nature itselfâand not out of the aesthetic of some flesh man.
The towering predecessor of Itten is M. E. Chevreul. It is important to regard Chevreul as a ârealâ scientistâbecause he was. He basically formed the theoretical framework that the entire impressionist movement stood on. So when you see those dot-matrix-pixel paint daubs of Seurat, think of the theory guiding his brush as coming from Chevreul (even though Seurat is regarded as a Neo-impressionist).
The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts has a lengthy introduction and a modern âcommentary trackâ throughout, explaining what the hell this French guy was talking about. The introduction just gushes over this guy. From page 35: âAmong the books on color theory, Chevreulâs classic stood virtually alone until the age of Neo-Impressionism when writers like Helmhotz, Blanc, Rood, Sutter, and Henry undertook complex and elaborate dissertations. These newer theorists, however, did not publish until 1867 and after, when Chevreul was in his eighties. Thus Chevreulâs masterpiece was the one and only important text and gospel on color during the Impressionist period.â
June Edmonds might be telling me that not all visual artists have an explicit, theoretical relationship with color but she also might be telling me that they should. I think I may need to keep listening. I could be listening to the loud voice within me that says all poets should care deeply where the words they use come fromâbut it is clear that many, many âfamousâ poets of my generation are very proudly ignorant of etymology. So this loud ostracizing voice may bias me toward echoing that all visual artists should have a color theoryâI am not looking for all artists to have the same color theory.
What June left me with is the name Alma Woodsey Thomas. I am told that she had a passionate affair with color that was characterized by its deeply intellectual tint. The Smithsonian adds more drama: âDuring the 1960s Alma Thomas emerged as an exuberant colorist, abstracting shapes and patterns from the trees and flowers around her. Her new palette and techniqueâconsiderably lighter and looser than in her earlier representational works and dark abstractionsâreflected her long study of color theory and the watercolor medium.â
To help me learn about color, Iâve started keeping a few notes from the books Iâve pathetically skimmed over so farâso far I have twoâcount âemâtwo notes from the Chevreul book: one note with the quote I used here and one note about his terminology.