Assignment 2, stage 1: Preliminary research – colour and the boundary

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 May 2016. This was another unbelievable day. I only come to realize step by step how some people use their so-called intelligence only to deceive and betray. It makes me physically sick. But it cannot be helped, we need to take care not to swallow too much of the poisonous cocktail, speaking in terms of my next project …

At this point I would like to gain as much insight as possible in the processes involved at the boundaries between colours. As a biologist I am very much aware of the crucial role boundaries have in the formation and existence of life and they are precious things maintained by subtle acts of balance across them. I guess that the boundaries between colours may work in similar ways. If the areas to either side fail to communicate (or avoid communication, that is), a painting or drawing may literally never come to life.

21 May 2016. From the previous experiments I know that both simultaneous and successive contrast work, in different ways, to strengthen existent colour differences. To me this appears similar to solutions of different concentrations separated by a membrane. If left to themselves the initially sharp boundary will become diffuse, because molecules will travel through the membrane from the higher to the lower concentration until concentrations are equal. The more unlike two colours, the larger the “concentration gradient” and the more active the communication across it, if I may say so in lay terms. For examples see e.g. Arend et al. (n.d.).
A number of optical effects is discussed by Grais (2017). Of these I need to remember that a dark background usually serves to enhance the perceived differences between colours, which is very likely the reason why working from a coloured ground is preferred by many artists. Apart from that I continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of seemingly similar concepts and technical terms buzzing in my head. As long as I feel I am not standing on solid ground regarding the use of the latter, I will try and keep matters simple and hands-on rather than theoretical. Which is probably, when looking at it, most other artists did and do when trying to make sense of colour relationships:

To start with, I had another look at the work of Josef Albers. Probably I should not say so, but I am not drawn to his squares, no matter how instructive they are. They remind me of the covers of some of the books we used to have at secondary school during the 1970s and 1980s. I remember well that the contents of these books was not made for children and so were those covers. Albers’ squares seem so dry and analytical that I will see whether I can force myself to copy any of them into my sketchbook as I was instructed to by my tutor. There appears to be no communication of the kind I am looking for across the boundaries of his chosen sets of colours. When comparing them to Mark Rothko’s work, I know which I prefer by miles. There is so much to find in his paintings, apart from mere colour relationships, there is tension and space, a feeling of getting drawn into or being repelled by some combinations of colours, so that I cannot help coming back to them. I wish I could put two paintings using the same colours side by side, but copyright restrictions allow only for a tiny public domain selection in both cases. It is mainly from Rothko that I decided to learn, hopefully my tutor will understand. When looking for other sources examining boundaries I also came across the work of hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)). For me they help to bridge the gap between Albers and Rothko, see e.g. the wavelike movement in “The Spectrum I” painted by Kelly in 1953. Moving to viewing what more complex boundaries can do in a painting I found the work of Donald Fox (Fox, n.d.) quite intriguing, and also that of Ian Davenport (Jackisnotdull, 2012), and not least Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous concentric circles (Fig. 1 below). I ask myself why they had not been chosen for the covers of our art books, they are so wonderfully alive. I guess that the overwhelming number of effects to find in Kandinsky’s circles may be hard to teach, but we kill art by wanting to describe it all. I think that we should not tamper with our children’s innate mysterious connection to art. It has been destroyed in so many of us (and me!) that we struggle to regain it for a lifetime.

Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky: “Colour Study with Squares and Concentric Circles”, 1913, watercolours, gouache and crayon on paper. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
When doing some more research on Kandinsky’s work I found his 1927 painting “Molle Rudesse”, which contains some of the “boundary effects” I would like to have present in my next assignment, including some suggestions of how to handle the flattening-out of cocktail equipment (Fig. 2):

Figure 2. Wassily Kandinsky: “Molle Rudesse”, 1927, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
My next steps in the sequence will thus be the following:

  1. Set up a very simple still life consisting of very few items only
  2. Experiment with a chosen pair of complementary colours in preparation for the next exercise in Mark Rothko and Kandinsky fashion according to study guide instructions (p. 69)
  3.  Produce a series of square still life studies as described above and combine on large square canvas
  4.  Repeat the exercise with colours evoking mood, also put on large square canvas
  5. Start preparations for assignment by extending the setup according to intentions


Arend, L., Logan, A. and Havin, G. (n.d.) Simultaneous and Successive Contrast
[online]. Colour Usage Research Lab, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Fox, D. (n.d.) Portfolio of Windows and Doors [online]. Donald Fox, Texas. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Grais, S. (2017) Color Context/Simultaneous Contrast [online]. DePaul University, Chicago. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Jackisnotdull (2012) Colour: The Language of Ian Davenport [online]. Jack is not Dull, 15 May 2012. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1913) Colour Study – Squares with Concentric Circles [watercolour, gouache and crayon on paper] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at:,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1927) Molle rudesse [oil on canvas] [online]. Private collection. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kelly, E. (1953) Spectrum I [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Piet Mondrian: Dutch Painter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]


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