Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Playing With Color

There's a reason I paint— words do not come easily. And words are much more ambiguous than images. I much prefer the stillness of the crows and cicada in the yard today. Never the less, in the next few weeks I'll be writing some simple tips and exercises for beginning watercolor artists. There's an artist in all of us. Finding him/her can be as simple as quieting down and listening. Give yourself five minutes to just sit still and focus on your breath and see what happens.

I'm playing with color again. With this new painting, I'm pushing the local color of the image out of it's conventional boundaries. We're all affected by color and often in ways we're not aware of. Our consumer-driven culture is ablaze with flashing color, much of it unnatural on tv screens and computer monitors, and quite over-stimulating. Is it any wonder we're so stressed out? Warm colors in the red spectrum are known to excite the appetite. (I've painted my kitchen a soothing, appetite-discouraging, blue-gray.) Our perceptions of color are often muddied by emotional response beyond initial perception. For painting though, conjuring an emotional response to your subject matter can bring it to life. Imagine the taste of a color, the sound, the smell, the texture. We each perceive colors in our own unique way and try as we might, we can never truly share that experience with anyone else. We can paint with intention though and in so doing energize our whole life.

During the beginning years of my zen practice, color was a problem for me. Actually, it was one of many problems. I encountered zen at the confluence of several difficult life circumstances— hence the perfect storm. At first glance, the zen center appears to be a colorless place. White walls, black calligraphy, priest robes of black or brown, novice robes of gray. There was even a dress code for student practitioners— gray or other neutral colors only, please. Color was considered a distraction. Okay. Out with the color and in with gray! "I can do this," I thought, while nursing a healthy dose of skepticism. It felt so unnatural to shut out color! When one of the zen students purposely wore brightly colored t-shirts, I began to feel like a color addict greedily drinking in the color and secretly reveling in his rebellion. His shirts were like a siren in the stillness of that environment.

We take color for granted hardly noticing the depth and breadth of energy it exudes until it's excluded from our lives. I admit that after several years of zen practice, I felt great peace and ease in those gray surroundings. When you let go of attachments to color, to the emotional response, you may discover new freedom and spaciousness in your life. Living and acting from the neutrality of gray, the vividness of my whole life is magnified and colorful takes on new meaning.

I did leave my mark on the zen center by the way. I painted one kitchen wall red... But that's another story.

1 comment:

  1. I understand your lust for color -- When I look at art I'm always drawn to the brightest, flashiest pieces.

    I have a friend who does photography. He knows without me saying a word which of his photos I'm going to like the best -- those with the boldest use of color. I particularly like those that are black and white with the exception of one vibrant hue.

    I've never painted with water color before but I might give it a shot now that I have your blog to give me pointers:-)