December 11, 2012

On My Bookshelf: Color Notes

I have a small bookshelf in my work space, containing catalogs I've bought in recent years, books that offer me helpful ideas for my work. I was inspired to write this post by the artist and blogger Lisa Pressman, who has a feature on her blog entitled "What's on your bookshelf?". When I began to think about this selection of my much larger art book library, I realized that I needed some of them near when I began making abstract textiles––artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Tuttle, and Blinky Palermo gave me compositional ideas––and that now I open them most often for fresh ideas about color. 

'Abid, The Inscription of Jamshid, Mughal court, 1605-6 (detail)

The violets and golds and blue, the gray and green, of this Indian miniature are so beautifully harmonious...

Bagta, Kunvar Anop Singh Hawking, ca. 1777 (detail)

while the colors of this painting are more strident and saturated, but gorgeous still. A deep red against a sienna, the warm green against gold and blue, all are surprising and tell me "you can use this". I photographed these images from the catalog of last year's brilliant exhibition at the Met "Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India 1100-1900", which I wrote about here. I titled the blog post "Wondrous Color", and the color of these paintings continues to thrill me.

Harunobu, Visiting a Shrine in Night Rain, late 1760s (detail)

The color of woodblock prints of Japan are very different from those of Indian paintings, having more subtle hues, with drama from strong blacks. I love the oranges, one leaning toward red, as they interact with the soft color of the kimono. The image is a lesson in how color works alongside chromatic grays.  

Utamaro, The Engaging Type, ca. 1792-93 (detail)

And here the grayish red and grayish green are in perfect balance; what a wonderful color idea for a print or textile or drawing. These Japanese prints are in the catalog for a show that was at Asia Society, (I wrote about it here) "Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680-1860".

Sonia Delaunay, Design 1044, textile designs, fabric samples; France 1930

Jumping ahead to the 20th century, there is Sonia Delaunay, whose fabric designs are endlessly inventive. Looking at the color ranges for the same design, we can see how shifts of hue change the mood of a piece. My Delaunay catalog is from the Cooper Hewitt exhibition "Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay".

Malevich, Suprematism (Self-Portrait in Two Dimensions), 1915

Kazimir Malevich has taught me so much, about shape and form and structure and simplicity, about what is essential. Although his color choices seem pared down, there is still a richness to the deep blue and black, the deep earthy red alongside the dark yellow. My Malevich catalog is Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism. 

Robert Mangold, Three-color X within X, 1981

Many of Robert Mangold's paintings are a single color, beautiful to contemplate with their simple drawn forms; when he makes a multi-colored work, the color interaction, whether strident or subtle, as in this work with grayed colors, is interesting to think about. I have a magazine photo of some Mangold prints hanging on my wall to remind me of the variety of color choices. My Mangold book is simply titled Robert Mangold.

Richard Tuttle, Waferboard 3, 1996

Richard Tuttle is an art hero of mine; I love his aesthetic of the almost-not-there art made out of everyday materials. His modesty is enlarging. (I've written about his work here, here on his clay multiples, here as an inspiration for prints.) I often open the Tuttle catalog I have from the big retrospective at the Whitney, The Art of Richard Tuttle, looking for new color thoughts. With this piece I love the grayed blue alongside the yellow; the bit of unpainted waferboard adds a warmer tone, as the yellow is a coolish one.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #70, 1974  (detail)

My most recent book purchase––aside from the Albers catalog of the works on paper show, which I recently wrote about here, and which will be a mainstay of my books on color––is Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series. There are many wonderful thoughts about space, light, and color in these abstract paintings, with lots of interesting grays to explore. I am grateful to all these artist friends and mentors; they feel almost like friends, giving me an idea here, a helping hand there; I'm happy to have their work on my bookshelf. I imagine you too have books at hand that help in your work and in your life.

**I'll be away for a few days; see you next week.


  1. A wonderful post, thanks - enjoy your holiday!

  2. Yes, fascinating post...especially in how it reveals your concerns, your work. Hope you have a restful holiday.

  3. Dear Altoon, I never wrote a comment to your posts since a year or so that I don't miss one of them. Your blog, with two or three others, has decided me a few weeks ago to launch my very own art blog and I aim to reach a high standard as yours. I really like very much the sensitive and quiet way you consider your art topics, and probably all things in life. It's a while since I want to write to you, but I comment this particular post because af a coincidence: you talk about Sonia Delaunay's fabric design at the exact moment when I post on my blog about an exhibition here in Belgium of ... Sonia Delaunay's fabric designs! See it here:
    It's written in French but the google translate button should give help.
    And by the way, I apologise for my bad English. Thank you Altoon!

  4. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Guy. I'm so glad you like this blog. I enjoyed seeing the images you showed on your blog of Delaunay's work, and others such as the Australian aboriginal art. And I loved your work too, and look forward to seeing more of it. (and your English is fine, much better than my French would be.) Merci!

  5. All beautiful and inspirational, Altoon.