Page 3




Events & Reports
Transcript of the 2nd Dennis Rosen Memorial Lecture
Page 3
LISA JARDINE
So let me introduce one. We could take blue. Since you use blue. We could take blue which is introduced into sacred paintings with Lapis Lazuli which comes from the East in the 13th/14th Century and is ground up. It is the most expensive pigment and is therefore used for the virgin Mary’s frock and becomes and is specified in contracts as the most expensive pigment and only a certain amount is allowed for a painting. Now as I understand Howard, the fact that we find an intense blue moving, even if we haven’t been to the paintings in the National Gallery, must have something to do with that which is somehow more than fashion, isn’t it?
HOWARD HODGKIN
Yes, much more. I think these things are far more continuous than that would suggest. Red, for example, has been the colour of hell fire for a very long time and not only in our culture. It is also sense as well. It is also vulgar for that reason as well. Red is very vulgar, even now. Unless it is used with great care. Sunsets are still thought to be very often beyond the bounds of good taste.
RICHARD GREGORY
I didn’t mean it was only cultural. I think it is probably a cultural factor. This is why it is such a complicated subject.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I agree completely.
RICHARD GREGORY
Do you think that if one is an art student one can do the experiment very easily. If one knows about the history of painting, does an art student who has been through an art college and learnt the history from Ernst Gombrich, or somebody like that, do they approach pictures differently than the rest of us?
HOWARD HODGKIN
No, I don’t think so really and I don’t think that Ernst Gombrich was very good at colour. I’m very glad you asked that because artists probably don’t have nearly enough contact with their audience, but I am always amazed how much people can disentangle without having been to art school. Perhaps they are better off in a curious way as they can disentangle pictorial space. They can see patterns of human emotion which are expressed in a pictorial space which is probably mostly constructed of shape and colour. So the sensibility of uneducated, and I don’t mean this in any prerogative sense at all but simply that uneducated people looking at colour is, provided they can somehow get in touch with it, very powerful, very precise and very discriminating. I mean that in the sense of being precise. It is a very precise instrument and I am not at all convinced that going through an art college and reading about the history of art and seeing a lot of colour transparencies of pictures over the years helps us along very much. Once people are aware of colour in nature and accept, unqualified by what you said right at the beginning that colour doesn’t exist, because to me of course that would make life very difficult. The generality of people looking at green grass see yes green grass.

I knew long ago a wonderful teacher of teachers, somebody who trained teachers for primary and nursery schools, and one of her cleverest ways of teaching children about colour was to immediately say well this is… would you say the colour of ink or the sky at night or perhaps the slightly different colour of a plum. Is that brown the colour of camp coffee? Or is it your shoes, and they would go on like this being asked such questions and people would then observe colour with considerable exactness. Certainly, as the same woman used to say, imagine you are choosing something to wear. Even with very small children that seemed to get through.

LISA JARDINE
What I am hearing here is that we are getting precision from Howard. I love this sense that colour is precise. But what Richard gave us in the introduction was that, as it were, colour like other perceptions is an illusion and, I would somehow like us to take that forward. I would like to know what your sense is, as you listen to Howard, as to what it means to be precise with colour.
RICHARD GREGORY
I think I would like to raise the importance of context. Colour in one context is okay and in another it is not. Can you really divorce it from context? What happens in painting? Do you think of a colour as a colour that you want to use, or just within that context: is it the colour to use, or what?
HOWARD HODGKIN
All colours exist only in context, as far as I’m concerned. There is no absolute. You don’t actually see red unless one is very angry or very sexually aroused, and those are both contexts.
RICHARD GREGORY
Would you allow me to put a couple of your pictures on the screen, or not?
HOWARD HODGKIN
I think they would be irrelevant but do if you like.
[Two pictures are shown to the audience]
RICHARD GREGORY
He says the names are very important – that is bleeding – blood. They are certainly incredibly evocative colours. Bamboo. I like Bamboo very much. The use of painting over the frame is very interesting. He said once that he paints over the frame so that somebody doesn’t steal the frame and use it for another picture!
LISA JARDINE
I think we should stop now. If somebody was reading my words, I would cringe.
HOWARD HODGKIN
I’m not cringing, I just think they confuse the issue.
LISA JARDINE
But I do think it is helpful as there will be some people here who don’t recall, or perhaps a lot of scientists won’t recall, your paintings.
HOWARD HODGKIN
Well I think that is all to the good. I am here to talk about other…. I’m not here to talk about my own pictures.
LISA JARDINE
So, as it were, we have the practice of the application of colour. We have the practice of accounting for the way that we engage with colour. And we have most of us in the room who do neither of those things. Who are, as it were, the more or less unskilled encounterers of [art].

HOWARD HODGKIN
I disagree completely. When I was young and a teacher, I remember trying to explain what I am repeating myself, that everybody has a sense of colour. The very phrase I find unnecessary, most of the time. Everyone has a sense of colour. I used to say that if you sat on bus and looked at everybody else there, sat on the tube looked at people sitting opposite you and looked at what they were wearing. I was often amazed how even the most ill favoured people knew very well what they looked like and that the peculiar lack of colour in their hair or their too much colour in their skin was answered by a piece of clothing they were wearing.

So it is all context. It often breaks down in human life generally, when people stop doing it, they think it’s unnecessary.

LISA JARDINE
Can we take that thought on further. When colour is laid on in context, one of the things Richard has mentioned is that, another colour alongside it will alter the context. So the process…
RICHARD GREGORY
Or what the object is, or is seen as. The context is more general than that. It’s not just colour context. It’s the context of the whole picture.
HOWARD HODGKIN
It will also alter the nature of the colour. There must be, and you will know about it and I don’t, learned treatises on what happens to colours when they are adjacent to each other.
RICHARD GREGORY
Yes, there are a lot of studies on that, certainly.
HOWARD HODGKIN
But the only ones I ever came across as a student, I had a teacher who was very keen on Chevreuil’s colour theory of the simultaneous law of …you probably remember the title, I don’t, which Seurat was supposed to be very affected by which meant that a green dot then the copy of the book that we had to look at, which was in fact pre-Seurat date mid-19th century, around the green dot you could of course see a little haze of pink. It was only after a bit that you realised that the carefully hand-coloured haze of pink to make the theory true, had been added. But there is something in it.

Obviously in physical terms you say those don’t exist but I think that for painters of all different kinds in all different periods we have had to believe that colour really does exist. When we look at someone with blue eyes their eyes really are blue and that blue relates to the period of the virgin’s robes. It relates to the colour of the sky and all sorts of associations are triggered. I think that comes from a much more – where I was disagreeing with you maybe I didn’t understand you entirely – general experience of life than reading Ernst Gombrich’s history of art. I think it is to do with how people perceive the world. To me a work of art of any sort, whether it’s a printed paper coffee cup or a painting, they are all a part of this same perception of the world. Well are they?

RICHARD GREGORY
I don’t think you should be worried that the colour itself isn’t in the external world. The thing is that what is in the external world, wavelength of light, generate or evoke colour in our brain. Our eyes and brain are not all the same. I was speaking to somebody today who has quite marked colour blindness and for him all colour looks different because his eyes are different. It’s one of the points that John Locke picked up, that it can’t simply be out there in the world because it’s different for each of us. Now, when you take context into account, if you put one colour next to another, that is quite lawful. In fact, carpet designers use this. They get away with quite a few different colour threads or wools, and get much more colours in the carpet than are actually there. You can generate colours and save money, in carpet making. When you relate it to context, Faraday actually had this blue on his desk. Did the context of his room make you see the objects and the colours in this room differently? That is jolly difficult to study scientifically. I think as the artist, you’ve got the handle on it. You can kind of play with those very complex context interactions much better than we can. Our experiments are too crude to investigate them adequately.
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>