Art Energy: By Bobby Graham
Wonderful energy surrounds art. One teaches about the other.
My art is the art of color relationships creating harmony.
Visual harmony is non-temporal. Temporal art requires a span of time to communicate. Music, dance, theatre and literature are temporal. The artist leads you to a climax or crescendo by creating temporal patterns of interest, that is, a span of time is required for the work to unfold. The visual arts are painting, design, architecture and sculpture. Each is appreciated visually without a span of time. Sculpture and architecture can be viewed from different points but each view is instantaneous or non-temporal.
I believe the impact of painting can be underestimated by left brained or verbally oriented people. One great painting in a museum can bring me to my knees but I see people looking at each painting as they might a pair of shoes, one after the other. A few thoughts on what might comprise a great painting should make this art more accessible.
Composition is an orchestration of the visual elements, i.e., the abstract elements. They are shape, line, color, texture, and the break-up of light and dark (form). The point is to make the piece as interesting as possible negating the viewer’s desire to leave it or go to the next painting in the room. Some element, a line or shape, will lead the viewer into the piece from one side (usually the left in the Western world) or the top, and something will stop the viewer from leaving the other side. A strong vertical or dark or other visual device can usually be found on the opposite side of the lead-in.
Repetition of shapes will create rhythms that bring the viewer to a focal point in an advantagous place in the painting. The Greeks developed a mathematical ideal called the Golden Section for focal point placement. It is approximately three-fifths from the top or bottom and three-fifths from either side. The artist wishing to use this principle has four places within the rectangle to choose from for the focal point. Cinematographers use it constantly in filming. In great films each still is a great abstract composition.
The distribution of light and dark should be inspected by the viewer early in the appreciation of a painting. It will help you see the heart of the painting. The overall design is appreciated. It is here we see the difference between Roccoco, Romanticism and Classicism. The beauty of the negative shapes (the shape cut out of the background by a form) can be appreciated . The appreciation of patterns and textures adds the tactile and olfactory senses to the mix.
In the past, color, although an element, was a kind of add on to the beautiful orchestration of the other abstract elements.
This is a pretty cursory look at art but it shows a structure that has evolved in the West for hundreds of years.
Then Impressionism shook up everything. My teacher, Henry Hensche of Provincetown MA., was an Impressionist. He had been painting for ten years when Monet died. Henry’s teacher was Hawthorne who studied with William Merritt Chase. I met Henry in 1970 and he passed away in 1991. He taught me to see color relationships. This forever altered the way I saw everything and it also gave me a practical metaphor for realization of the true self. In order to describe verbally what I try to do when I paint I have to describe the miracle of color relationships.
My teacher verified everything he taught me by demonstration and example. He painted still lifes in sunlight and used colors that I could not see. At first. The colors he used did create the effect of sunlight on the canvas.
I trusted him and tried his methods. I found the problem I was having seeing the colors he painted in nature had to do with the way I looked. I was seeing what I believed to be there. My visual perception was enslaved.
At this same time I met a Sikh, through my wife, who worked as a clerk in a “head shop”. Those were “colorful” times. I had been doing zazen for several years. We talked of God and he showed me what he called God. He concentrated a few seconds and brought a shiver up his spine, his eyes rolled back and he shook himself. I could not see how that could be God but something had passed between us.
Through my studies with Hensche I learned the technique of seeing relationships. In theory it isn’t hard or complicated. Human beings have the power to particularize. If I ask you to tell me what color something is you will tell me in most cases what the “local color” is. An apple is red. The chair is green. Some people will notice two colors, the light and shadow. People have the ability to look at something and exclude everything else. When a student looks at a color in a still life to try to mix it in pigments s/he will particularize that one color and make it independent of everything else. See it by itself. Separate it.
What the Impressionists discovered was that to paint an impression of a scene one had to see it all at once. What happened when Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, et al. did that was that canvases became drenched with light like no one had ever seen.
This is seeing relationships of colors. Take all the reds in your vision and see them simultaneously and they all become clearer. It is apparent which is brighter and which is oranger or rosier. Colors that are difficult to see, like shadows, can be seen as colors when they are compared with each other. You just have to make the effort.
The real shock comes when “simultaneous contrast” is observed. What looks green turns out to be violet. Colors become their opposites. The color opposites are red-green, purple-yellow, and orange-blue.
The law of simultaneous contrast states “a bright color placed upon a neutral color will make the neutral appear to be the opposite of the bright color.” A red placed on a gray will make the gray appear greenish. A yellow placed on the same gray will make it appear purplish. There is no absolute color. There are only relationships of colors. The advantageous result of this of course is that what was before grey is now a color. Color is added to your life by simply trying to see it. It is always there but in the beginning you have to be shown by the teacher and put forth the effort.
After some time and effort my vision locked in and now I see relationships only. I don’t know if I could see one color at a time anymore as I don’t care to try. With visual overview color harmonies come unbidden. Sometimes when I am blessed with His love the harmonies become melodies and symphonies.
I came to a use of Kundalini sakti through another entrance I suppose than most. When I painted people especially I would tap into an intense love. The energy that passed between myself and and a sitter allowed me to see them as an energy that just deposited itself on the board. At some point a little bit of them comes through and there is the person in the painting. Many times I witnessed myself pick up colors and draw without making any decisions.
I realize there are lots of different ways to express art in painting. Mine is just one. I have been privileged to live a life in art. I have painted and gotten to know many thousands of people. All ages, professions, dispositions, and types from all over the world. I worked on and off for thirty years as a street artist in New Orleans, Provincetown, Atlanta, and lots of other places. I also do large format formal portraits and murals.
I have taught what I have been discussing here at the National Arts Club in New York and other places and my techniques are included in two books on art instruction. I have won “Best of Show” awards at three of the five large multi-media art exhibitions held each year in New York City including the “American Artist Professional League Grand International”. I became Master Pastellist in 1990 at the Pastel Society of America with the same painting that won the highest award at the Realism Competition in Parkersburg, WV.
Recently while reading posts on Harsha Satsangh I made the connection that the energy that had accompanied my art for all these years was called Kundalini. I guess that sounds a little dense but I was so used to that wonderful energy I guess I took it for granted.
Painting is loving.
(Click here to see a gallery of the author’s paintings)