Research point: The Abstract Expressionists and Action Painting (Tachism)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).

8 January 2017. One should never try and guess at the meaning of a word from what you think you know. “Tachism” (French: tachisme) to me appeared obvious, derived from the Greek word for speed, tachos. But not so, the word comes from the French for stain, tache. It is similar to action painting and considered to be more or less synonymous with the Informel, a more intuitive, gesture-centred counter movement to the geometrical analysis of colour and shape as celebrated by e.g. Josef Albers (1888-1976, Germany/USA) and is the 1940/1950s European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism developed in the USA. In contrast to the latter its proponents were somewhat less aggressive and spontaneous in the use of paint (Tate, n.d.(a), Collins, n.d.(a)).
The term “Tachisme” was originally coined much earlier by art critics to describe a number of different approaches to using paint in a “blotchy” way, including Impressionism, while the movement itself developed into one of the largest in Post World War II Europe and comprises works or art “without predefined form or structure”. Mark-making includes everything from any sort of coincidental splotch to calligraphic elements, often directly from the tube (Collins, n.d.(a)). Many contributing artists were either French and/or based in France. Among the most influential artists of the 20th century was Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985, France), co-founder of the Art Brut movement. He is quoted to have said:”Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.” (Collins, n.d.(b)), which to me appears to be at the centre of tachism, i.e. to capture the essence of being in the moment. Most well known Dubuffet became for his rough, provocative graffiti-like paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, e.g. “Grand Maitre of the Outsider” painted in 1947 (Wikiart, n.d.). Gestural painter Hans Hartung (1904-1989, Germany/France, (Tate, n.d. (b))) appears to have interpreted Tachism with a more subtle, delicate and sketchlike brushstroke (Artnet, n.d.; Setareh Gallery, n.d.), and a video showing his gestural approach (Ophanin, 2014). Georges Mathieu (1921-2012, France, (Collins, n.d.(c))) is known for his “spiky, calligraphic style”, which in some way appears related to that of Hartung’s, but its effects (and those of image cultivation, see a video (Warin and Batton, 1965)) greatly increased to quasi Baroque dimensions, in a style described as Lyrical Abstraction. Patrick Heron (1920-1999, UK), on the other hand, was influenced by colour field painting in the style of Mark Rothko and is outstanding in his ingenious use of vivid colour and sensitive compositions including abstract shapes derived from nature (Collins, n.d.(d)).
Franz Kline (1910-1962, USA) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA, (The Art Story, n.d.(b))) were two preeminent representatives of American Abstract Expressionism. The former trained as a graphical artist and illustrator and his abstract graphical black and white images are considered to be action painting in its purest sense ((The Art Story, n.d.(a))). His technique can be watched in a video here (The Museum of Modern Art, 2010): Kline preferred to use cheap brands of house paint, because their non-art qualities, including the low viscosity, bore a great attraction for him. Action painting as a record of the artist’s movements in time and space is of course present also in the work of Jackson Pollock. The sheer complexity makes the history of mark-making however hardly traceable in any one of his giant size drip and splatter paintings (The Art Story, n.d.(b).
Abstract expressionist has been at the centre of interest ever since its first appearance and the list of artists now working in an abstract expressionist or offshoot way is endless (Pinterest, n.d.). A great number of painters working now have developed the original idea further and combined it with or replaced it by the new techniques offered by the modern media.


Artnet (n.d.) Hans Hartung [image collection] [online]. Artnet, Berlin. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(a)) Tachisme [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(b)) Jean Dubuffet [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(c)) Georges Mathieu [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Collins, N. (n.d.(d)) Patrick Heron [online]. Visual Arts Encyclopedia, Cork. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Ophanin, M. (2014) Radio Palettes – Hans Hartung [online]. Mathieu Ophanin. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Pinterest (n.d.) Abstrakter Expressionismus [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Setareh Gallery (n.d.) Hans Hartung. Painting – Gesture – Liberation [image collection] [online]. Setareh Gallery, Düsseldorf. Available at:—hans-hartung-.-malerei—geste—befreiung.html [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Tate (n.d.(a)) Tachisme [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Tate (n.d.(b)) Hans Hartung [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Franz Kline [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Jackson Pollock [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

The Museum of Modern Art (2010) The Painting Techniques of Franz Kline [online]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Warin, F. and Batton, J. (1965) Le “Cas” Mathieu [online]. British Pathé. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Wikiart (n.d.) Jean Dubuffet: Grand Maitre of the Outsider [online]. Wikiart. Available at: [Accessed 8 January 2017]

Assignment 2: Poisonous cocktails

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

22 June 2016. Due to an immense amount of work and dates to be kept outside the OCA I needed to be very careful with the time I have to prepare for Assignment 2. Therefore I am glad that I have done lots of preliminary research and work in my exercises leading up to this assignment. Since my first attempt at a setup showing aggression by movement and choice of colour was not exactly successful I need to change both. So I had a look at Giorgio Morandi and his “communicating vessels” (The Art Story, 2017) and found that the spouts of jugs are incredibly useful in creating the illusion of a talkative atmosphere. I will therefore add at least one of these to my setup.
When looking for “aggressive setups” for still lifes I came once again across the cubists and Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973, Spain) “Mandolin and Guitar” painted in 1924. The aggression comes, besides the bold mark-making, from the positioning of the objects, which form a mask-like face. Picasso painted another still life, which seems to be more or less tumbling out of its frame “The Vase, Bowl and Lemon” (Picasso, 1907). This reminds me of my attempt at doing the same and neither his nor my painting convince me regarding the communicating vessel aspect. The red and yellow bowl does seem to both hide behind the green bottle and appear cheeky by “rolling the lemon out”. The green bottle appears to back off by seemingly hiding a “face” (the brown opening) behind the blue cloth on the left. The red colour of the bowl, although in the same picture plane as the green bottle, seems to push forward, out of the painting. This effect reminds me of Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) studies, where black automatically takes the position apparently furthest “inside” the picture on the lowest possible plane, whereas red comes out to appear to hang in mid-air above the actual plane (see e.g. Artsy, 2017). My original choice of colours was not completely wrong, but in order to be able to manage the multitude of interconnected effects I will have to reduce objects and colours considerably.
24 June 2016. So, changing my setup while remembering to still serve poisonous cocktails, then doing preliminary sketches in pencil and watercolour. Prepare the Rothko-like background, paint on that with a brush with different colours and let the picture develop.
The following photo sequence (Fig. 1-5) shows how far I have got today and irrespective of the possible final quality of the painting I am pleased that I can stick with my planning now, including using the sketchbook for collecting annotated cutouts and computer prints.

Figure 1. Setup through viewfinder

The red OCA tissue paper behind the decanter gives an impression of a forward movement. When comparing this with my first pencil sketch to test the setup, the difference without the added colour is striking. It lack that particular illusion of movement:

Figure 2. Pencil sketch with Rothko-type background tonal values

So, my choice of colours depended on the following idea: If I have a Rothko-type background, a red area should automatically push forward. If I put some of the glasses on that background and choose my colours so as to enhance this effect, I might be able to create the illusion of relative movement when e.g. comparing with a subdued vessel on a black background. In order to test my idea I made a quick watercolour sketch. The red area does indeed push forward and the orange watercolour pencil used to reinforce the decanter increases that impression. The same is true for the smaller bottle on the left. I am not convinced, however, of the strength of the black area, but this may be due to the bottle outlined in blue reaching over the top and bottom end of that area:

Figure 3. Watercolour-watercolour pencil sketch to decide on colours

Next I prepared my background with acrylics on an A2 painting carton, landscape format. It was next to impossible to take a photo that would not show the reflective surface in some way, so the colours are not exact, especially the black looks blue and the red area does not look as strong as it really is:

Figure 4. Rothko-type background on A2 painting carton

The first coloured sketch of my objects went relatively well, but since a lot of thinking is involved here I will have to give it a short break in order to let my idea develop further. I quite like how the red of the background seems to have somehow invaded the decanter and seems to push it towards the viewer. I will need to take care to balance the picture, however, especially the bottle in the black area, whose top needs to be far less strong. I am also not sure yet whether I want the violet-blue between decanter and conical glass changed. At the moment it does help to push the decanter, but it gives it a far to prominent position while holding the green glass back, and I have not found out yet why that may be. Also, I will need to think carefully how strong the glass in the bottom left corner can become without tipping over the balance:

Figure 5. Brush sketch on background

27 June 2016. Today I was informed that I would be transferred to another tutor, since my former tutor had resigned from her post. Since I am not even halfway through Painting 1 yet I hope to be able to adapt quickly to a new tutoring style and that the respective expectations are not too divergent.

I also continued with my painting, trying to carefully think about the above ideas and how to give them weight in dealing with the developing work. So, first of all, I changed the shape of the red area to make it less prominent and by coincidence it started looking like a  brightly lit room behind a dimly lit bar. This change required changes to be made to the lighting of the objects in the foreground. None of that is real and I had to rely on my intuition in placing tonal values. Also, there is now a contradiction in the painting. While red pushes forward, its place here is at the far back. I think that it does work, because the decanter is also filled with it. The funny thing here is that it looks by far better in the photo than in the actual painting (Fig. 6):

Figure 6. Front room added to the bar, requiring many subtle changes to the objects

Then I tried to reduce the reddish glow of the decanter, since it continued to be a far too dominant feature in the setting. Again it looks much better on the photo than on the painting) (Fig. 7):

Figure 7. Decanter subdued, changes to the bottles on the left

Finally I remembered to fill the vessels with the remnants of my poisonous cocktails and this change allowed the balance among the objects to be shifted. By removing much of the glow inside the decanter the glassware appears much more delicate now. The glass on the right has started to look somewhat like the aggressive intruder I wanted it to be. This makes it believable that the blue glass on the bottom left appears to be leaving the scene by the forward action initiated by the intruder. The movement across the canvas is probably not totally convincing yet, but I am happy that I found a way of suggesting such an action at all (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Finished painting

Here are some details (Fig. 9-11):

Figure 9. Detail 1: Bottle top and decanter spout
Figure 10. Reflections on decanter and table-top
Figure 11. Red light shining through glass onto table-top

Considering that most of the contents of this painting is purely from imagination I am quite happy with the outcome. There are several places, which do not look quite right yet, e.g. when looking closely the red wine left in the decanter needs its surface extended to the right. Also my style of painting is still not consistent over the whole surface, although I think I am making some progress in that respect.
The last day for submitting Assignment 2 to my previous tutor is the 30th of June. I decided to stick to that date during the “interregnum”, but I expect to be allocated a new/later date by my new tutor. In that case I might return to the painting once more and see whether I might improve it further.


Artsy (2017) Mark Rothko [online]. Artsy, New York. Available at: [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1907) Vase, Bowl and Lemon [oil on panel] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1924) Mandolin and Guitar [oil and sand on canvas] [online]. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Available at: %5BAccessed 04 Mar 2017]

The Art Story Contributors (2017) Giorgio Morandi Artist Overview and Analysis [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 03 Mar 2017]

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]

Assignment 2: Stage 1 -Preliminary research (colour symbolism)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

14 May 2016. Assignment 2 is still more than six weeks away for me, but there is an idea I would like to pursue in preparation for this assignment. To this end I would like to start now in order to be able to dedicate the exercises to come as preliminary steps towards the final painting.

The story of our fight for our son has been added to by another unbelievable chapter, this time concerning the role, which the public prosecutor assigned to our case appears to play in further hushing up the commited offences. We have turned somewhat numb at the incredible sequence of acts of wilful negligence we have been exposed to in the last nine years, but are determined not to give up. Assignment 2 will be my channel for expressing what I feel and because it is a poisonous cocktail mixed from extreme emotions, this is a wonderful opportunity to indulge in experimenting with the various effects colours have in communication with the human eye. Since we are required to paint another still life, here is some preliminary research regarding the meanings attributed to different colours in the Western world. And talking of cocktails – this could be the first step towards the setup of my still life.

I found an endless number of resources, but there is a limited number of emotions and conditions, and thus colours, I need to deal with in the context of this assignment and decided that staying with one source of information would provide me with reliable cross-connections. The source chosen also deals with colours in painting (Olesen, 2016):

  • red: warm, positive, strong colour, signals “Stop!”, strong emotions, energizing, promotes determination, steals attention, symbol also of war, too much red makes angry, especially dark red (5). This should be my background colour including a black void as in Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) painting “Four Darks in Red” (Rothko, 1958) and own research).
  • black: symbolizes evil, depressing, hidden, unknown, mysterious things, power and control also over information hidden from the outside world, but also elegance and wealth, protection against emotional stress (maybe use this colour to limit the effect of turquoise and red by painting round them), adds contrast and allows other colours to stick out more (4), use on the black void and where needed in the painting, maybe position the mixing tools and glasses on a black shiny surface or cloth, black should not stand alone. I will need to buy a darker type of black, my ivory black is more like a very dark grey.
  • brown: colour of stability for the family, protects from the outside world, I will need to put this in between the red outside frame and the black void as a protective shield, stays in the background, emphasizes other colours (13), use a brown not too dark, only if I want it to communicate depression, if dark it should also help to enhance the cocktail colours
  • silver: colour of truth of old, sophisticated, visible in the dark, which for my purpose is also true in a figurative sense, however “silver-tongued devil” is someone who deceives and cheats, the colour can also bring emotional, mental and physical harmony, distinuguish between bright silver, which suggests openness and dark silver, which is associated with negative emotions (1)
    Cocktail mixing equipment is silvery and I could make a mirror image of the silver-tongued devil in my cocktail mixer, while the different sorts of brightly coloured cocktails mixed have various meanings associated. The experience gained, by concidence, with the two different types of silver sheen in my still life with man-made objects may not have been a coincidence.
  • turquoise: creates harmony, but must not be overused, because of a roller-coaster effect, which may represent our own attempt to initiate positive communication with the injuring parties, combines blue with a little yellow, “radiates peace, calmness and tranquility through the blue colour, balance and growth through the green colour, with an uplifting energy from the colour yellow. Turquoise recharges our spirits during periods of mental stress and fatigue”, improves empathy, but in the extreme narcissistic, weighs pros and cons, I will need the shade of blue-green, since it promotes engagement and symbolizes credibility and reliability (3) – it is also probably no coincidence that I have always liked this colour, it is one of my favourites. Type of cocktail: Caribbean mist, opaque.
  • pink: unconditional love, understanding, sign of hope and success, relieves anger (6) Type of cocktail: Pink Lady, opaque. Will need to stand next to the red of the Rothko frame in some place to see the calming effect and the cancelling out of similar colours, don’t make a dark line round the glass in this case! Use hot pink, but sparingly like turquoise
  • orange: as a complementary to turquoise, warm, positive, stimulates mental activity, provides emotional strength in difficult times, encourages two-way communication, encourages self-respect and respect for others (7) Type of cocktail: Campari orange, because it contains two shades – dark orange, meaning deceit, and golden orange, which should be positive
  • white: protects and encourages, opens up the mind for something new, sense of peace, comport, hope, but too much can create a cold, isolated, empty feeling (9). Use a bit of it as something in or on the pink cocktail to enhange the meaning, but also to stand in opposition to the red and black
  • yellow: the brightest colour visible, increases optimism and communication, makes nervous, associated with envy, influences head rather than heart (10). This only in context with other warm colours, but not on its own, since it is part of turquoise, I may not need it separately (just as blue)
  • blue: calming, strength, wisdom, trust, do the right thing in difficult situations (14), since it is part of turquoise I may not need it separately (just as yellow)
  • colours not to use in this context: gold (2), purple (8), both have meanings opposite to those I want to convey; green (11) – it takes away the aggression of the red and adds too much hope, which is not true; grey (12) – because it does not convey any of the emotions associated with this context

The colours I would like to use after this initial research will be shades of red, brown and deep black to create a background in the style of a Mark Rothko painting (research to follow). On this I will try and paint a symbolic, weird and aggressive-looking cocktail arrangement of turquoise, pink and orange drinks made in a silver shaker and served in glasses of different shapes. The colour white will only be used to mix tonal values and to add highlights, yellow, blue and green will not be part of the painting as separate areas of colour. Off now to some detailed research on the mechanisms at work in Mark Rothko’s paintings.


Olesen, J. (2016) Hidden Meanings of Colour and Art [online]. Jacob Olesen, Copenhagen. Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2016]

Rothko, M. (1958) Four Darks in Red [oil on canvas] [online]. Whitney Museum of American Art,




Artist research: Edward Burra, James Rosenquist and Josef Albers

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing, some content).

28 April 2016. Following feedback on Assignment 1 I was to have a closer look at three artists.

Edward Burra (1905 – 1976) was an English painter with an inclination to comment on the darker sides of the world. My tutor suggested to have a look at the way he uses negative space in painting around objects. She included in her feedback an image of his watercolour painting “Honesty” showing the gorgeous seed pods of the Silver Dollar plant (Lunaria annua) (Burra, 1965-67), where Burra used nothing but several layers of negative space painting on top of each other, creating a beautiful effect. The painting itself looks almost like a print, but the effect of making negative space a major part of a compositional idea is illustrated here in a powerful way. When comparing this to what Burra used to paint as a keen observer and satirical commentator on city street life, I believe that he was very much aware of the effects of negative space on the overall impression of a painting. In “Harlem” (Burra, 1934), the white pavement is an object, but is at the same time the negative space between the two people in the foreground. I feel that in both ways it helps to draw the persons together.

Since in my report for Assignment 1 I had stated that in my research for artistic inspiration on the painting of tulips I had not come up with anything I wanted to include in my own attempt, my tutor asked me to comment on a work created by pop art painter James Rosenquist (*1933, USA), “Tulips” (Rosenquist, 1987) . To be honest, I am not a particular fan of pop art and I could not see a point in producing a light blue, pink and soft green spring image with a diffuser effect only to superimpose on that sharp pointed bundles of golden rays, which cut through the painting from various angles. There was no interpretation available of the content, but failing to decipher the message I had to assume that the aim was to curtail one kind of common beauty with another. This image would have helped me to decide what I did not want in my painting, in a similar way as “Yellow Tulips” (2014) by Alex Katz (*1927, USA). On one associated website (no longer available on on 28 February 2017) there was an explanation, but to me what is described as “wonderfully bright exploration of the nature and the landscape” looks like something – and no apologies – 3rd grade kids do as their group work in their drawing lessons. The problem with such an approach is, however, that for a beginner like me it would be more important to identify what I like in a painting to then try and work with that. I then went to see what else I could find. The big issue with tulips appears to be that they lend themselves to kitsch or naive approaches all too easily. Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean: “Tulips” (Koons, 1995-2004), a world-famous set of sculptures by Jeff Koons (*1955, USA) , “Morning Tulips” (Hempel, 2015) or “Red Tulips” (Pocisk, n.d.). I could go on like this forever. Try and enter, for example, “tulips painting” in your browser and see whether you can get, for the purpose of learning from other artists, any better than I did.

Finally, I was to do some research on Josef Albers (1888-1976), world-famous art educator, in preparation for the investigation of colour in Part 2 of the course. In particular I am to pay attention to “Homage to the Square” (e.g. Albers, 1965) a series started in 1949 and comprising more than a thousand paintings of various materials, media and sizes “exploring chromatic interactions with nested squares”, in particular in trying to answer the question: “Can an artist create the appearance of three dimensions, using only color relations?” (Roggenkamp, 2017) . In one of the paintings, called “With Rays” (Albers, 1959) for example, the grey centre is explained to appear to float above the more colorful background, while the sequence of colours “encourages the viewer’s eye to move outward from the center of the composition”. It may be the photo on the internet, but I did not see the floating of the grey and in my case the eyes moved from the centre outward only to stop at the darker yellow. Then they were drawn to the darker top edges of that square. The largest square, similar in hue to the second one, went quite unnoticed, until I forced my eye to move there. Another example of the series, “Soft Spoken” (Albers, 1969), makes the appearance of three dimensions in a sequence of colours strongly visible. It may be helped by the position of the squares near the bottom of the largest square, which is interpreted by the human mind as an entrance to something. The series is said to be a clinical exploration of colour relationships and then compared to the more emotional approach chosen by Marko Rothko (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). A video explanation of Albers’ work is available by Nelson (2012). Since his findings are of great importance to both producing and viewing art, I will try and come back to Albers’ work during the course on a regular basis.


Albers, J. (1959) With Rays [oil on masonite] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York. Available at: [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Albers, J. (1965) Homage to the Square [acrylics on canvas] [online]. Detroit Institute of Arts. Available at:,_1965.jpg [Accessed 28 April 2016]

Albers, J. (1969) Soft Spoken [oil on masonite] [online]. The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York. Available at: [Accessed 28 April 2016]

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