Page2




Events & Reports
Transcript of the 2nd Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
Page 2
RICHARD GREGORY
I will just speak for about five minutes and I would like to start with my personal logo, which is this. Actually I keep this in my office on my papers. I think the question mark should be the logo of the scientist and the artist. I think we’re linked, actually, by the hook of the question mark.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Undoubtedly.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Good, excellent. Now I’d like to make just one or two remarks about perception itself, that’s not specifically colour but partly colour, John Locke realised that there are no colours in the external world at all. There are wavelengths of light, as we now know, which stimulate the eye and brain and colour is generated in the brain, actually in a specific region, really in what is called the four which has recently been established about ten years ago, that a particular region of the brain has cells in it which generate the sensations of colour. Though only generated in certain animals – humans, primates, not in other mammals (they don’t have colour vision or only very, very rudimentary), birds do, fish do. It’s been reinvented in evolution about six times, with different kinds of colour vision.
On the whole, what colour vision seems to be for, and one has to think of perception as biologically developed through evolution for survival – and, obviously, we survive more happily and cheerfully because we have artists who produce pictures which is great – but that wasn’t, obviously, the original significance of colour vision. I’m quite happy that you have superseded the original need for mere survival with your wonderful pictures! Originally, in primates, it was almost certainly evolved for eating, for knowing whether food was edible or not. And if you do the experiment of taking black and white pictures of food, it’s really jolly difficult to know whether an apple is edible or not. Colour is very important. Colour is not good for recognising shapes, forms or movement and if you have pictures with only colour and no brightness differences, one really sees remarkably little.
The other main point that I think I’d like to make about perception which follows from that, is that it is very much projection from the brain into the world. In other words, you get light obviously coming from the world into the eyes, but psychologically we project a great deal of what seems to be simply out there by the brain projecting psychologically into the world of objects and the world of objects as described by physics is really jolly different from the appearances that the brain projects into it.
If I could have the lights on for a moment, and if you would like to look at something nice and coloured, such as our Chair lady, and then do the following experiment – which you’ve done millions of times, but possibly not seen as significant. If you look at her and think how nice she looks and shut your eyes and imagine her. Now I’d like you to compare the imagination with – open your eyes again – what she looks like with your eyes open. Now I don’t know about you and don’t know about a brilliant artist like Howard, but for the rest of us humanity, the memory is much, much fainter than when you’ve got real-time signals coming in from the eyes into the brain, which we call technically afferent signals.
LISA JARDINE
Wonderful. Now if can we move you forward a little so that you just turn toward Howard. You can forget about everybody else now because I’m just going to try to get the two of you started.

Now I want us to come back to that memory point but I don’t actually want to start there. Or rather what I really wanted as I was listening to that and I kept wanting to sort of whisper in your ear – but that would have been rude – does any of what Richard has been talking about matter to the artist who is, like you, preoccupied with colour?

HOWARD HODGKIN
It’s far from being the only thing that I’m preoccupied with. I am interested in what you say about colour being affected by memory because for an artist using colour you have really the entire, or any European artist has, the entire history of Western painting in the back of his head while he is painting his pictures and while he is making use of colour. And I don’t quite understand why colour is only real now or maybe I misunderstood you.

RICHARD GREGORY
Well, I’m suggesting that one has to think of perception really for survival. Basically, that when you’re crossing the road, it really matters if the lights are red or green, that’s what matters for survival. So, the past is needed in memory to give significance to the present moment; but what is actually happening at this moment determines whether you’re going to live or not every time you cross the road. So that, what you’re saying about colour is absolutely right, but the immediacy of the present moment is essential simply to survive into the future.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Of course I completely accept that but I don’t entirely understand why colour is meant to produce a dimmer effect when it’s not a traffic light.
RICHARD GREGORY
Ahh, well my suggestion is that we’re being confused between the past and the present. That the present consciousness is really to separate it from memory.
HOWARD HODGKIN
So that a painter painting a picture which depends on the use of colour which is really a language and I think a real one that can be described, not that I’m capable of doing that. It has grown up through a communal memory from certainly the last 600 years is not nearly as vivid or real as the piece of paint that is put on now.

RICHARD GREGORY
What I’d like to suggest is that when you paint your painting, you’re really evoking your past, your memories, into the present – because the eye has now got signals at the moment while you’re looking at the painting, but they’re indicating the past experience, so you are making the past live again.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I completely accept that but there is a kind of grammar, the use of colour, and long again in rather fatuous quotation I said that blue in certain circumstances recedes now just as it did in the fifteenth century and this is the part that I don’t understand from what you’re saying that the validity of the relationship of colours to each other is to a large number of people when they look at works of art, I don’t mean mine I don’t mean works of art that are made now what about works of art that were made a long time ago.
LISA JARDINE
So could I interject here. That is an interesting move beyond what you were saying, that there is the impact of the colour now and the memory of the fainter colour of the memories, of the colour before. Howard is suggesting that there is a shared history. So it isn’t exactly your own experiences – a historic, cultural experience of certain colours having certain significances and that we build those. Is that correct?
HOWARD HODGKIN
Yes – that is exactly what I mean. I would love to paint pictures which were like traffic lights. I would love to have that effect on the spectator. That they thought that this was life or death. But I don’t think it does work quite like that.
RICHARD GREGORY
No, well I don’t think it should. I mean a traffic light is important because your actual survival depends on getting that right. When you are invoking memories with a picture, one has the luxury and the liberty of floating around in your mind through time, through your own past. And indeed through the history of art so that when you look at the symbolism surely of paintings in the National Gallery, you are looking at the symbolisms previous artists have used, and all that is enriching your idea looking at the picture. It is much richer than I have said. I was trying to give a sort of basic point.
HOWARD HODGKIN
No, I understand that. I just don’t quite understand how you would in terms of what you know, and which I only feel instinctively about colour, about its function. It seems to me that there is an enormous gap opened up by what you have said. Between, what to me, is virtually a language, like a written one, of the use of colour over the past centuries and this sudden and I think wonderful, and much to be hoped for physical impact, that you have described. I think that there is some other sort of half way house because the identities of colours as you suggest, red stop – green go, exists in terms of pictorial construction, pictorial space, in the way that still even now enormous numbers of people respond to. The shape that the colour are, the proportions or fill, however you would like to put it, and their relative scale, their relative quantity, between one colour and another is, I think a common language understood by enormous number of human beings without actually being so far described.
RICHARD GREGORY
Yes. I have looked up the science of this and, its really terrible. There really is very little scientific work on colour preferences which makes much sense. There are cross-cultural studies with some commonality between different cultures. There are certainly fashions in colour. It looks as if when scientists have done an experiment on getting people to ask what colours do you like in order – blue, green, yellow for example – it depends on the fashion at the time. You do the same experiment ten years later and you get a different ordering which seems to be related, actually, to fashion. So there is certainly a cultural component here, but there is also of course a biological significance, that red obviously represents blood, it represents fire. Green represents grass, peace, quite this kind of thing. Now is it the biological significance of colour that dominates in painting, or is it the cultural plus the history of art and the way it has been used?
HOWARD HODGKIN
I am not qualified to say whether it is biological but I would certainly think that the history of art, which is not, as you yourself were saying, been, as far as colour is concerned, particularly tabulated or described but, and I am certainly no historian on colour, but it does go beyond fashion.

Continued 2 3 4 5 6

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>