Colour and Light
On Monday we began by arranging coloured T-shirts in a grid, discussing why one arrangement was more pleasing to us than others, and echoing an exercise Itten gave his painting students. This was by way of a warm-up to the day’s topic.
We then considered Paul Klee’s colour theory. There are a number of related, but different theories connected to different Bauhaus painters. Klee’s seemed among the clearest to understand and we used the T-shirts, this time worn, to mark out the relationships between primary, secondary and complementary colours, as well as tones in between. This was marked out with a 12-point colour wheel on the floor (red, red/orange, orange, orange/yellow, yellow, yellow/green, green, green/blue, blue, dark purple, purple, red/purple).
We also arranged the colours in terms of tone and saturation. These were much more difficult to see clearly and we used black and white digital photographs to help us see tonal differences (this reminded me of an exercise I was given on a painting course I attended last year, where we were invited to paint a lemon in black and white in order to perceive tonal differences).
Following this, we moved into an exploration of Kandinsky’s ideas about the synaesthetic qualities of colour, associating specific movements, shapes, emotional qualities and sounds with the colours and using his starting points for primary colours to consider those he had not described so clearly. We considered sections of Kandinsky’s pre-Bauhaus stage text, The Yellow Sound, which was too complex to address very effectively in the time available, particularly as I needed to spend a little time at the end of the section showing some DVD material of reconstructions of the ‘Mechanical Ballet’ and the ‘Triadic Ballet’ in order to set the task, which was to create either a costume or a set of shapes for manipulation.
I felt that this session tried to cover too much, as though I was merely signing possibilities to the students rather than giving them time to feel the effect of the work and the colours. Robert Pogue Harrison writes of the difference between ‘appearance’ and ‘image’: ‘appearance…intimates, while [image] merely indicates: where the phenomen does not rise up from the penumbral depths there is no appearance as such, but only a static and reified image’ (165). He is writing about gardens, but I felt the truth of this in Monday’s work with colour.
This led to a very different strategy on the Friday.
JP came in at the start of the class and introduced us to the use of coloured lights, leaving us to play with the lighting board for lights attached to the grid above and two freestanding lamps.
I had brought in some texts – poetry by Itten, Schwitters and Kandinsky and we tried reading these texts and using light as an accompaniment. This did not work very well, possibly because we did not have sufficient control of either text or lights and possibly because the temptation was to be too illustrative. The best effect came when the reader also operated the lighting board, allowing random effects to occur. This seemed to open up possibilities. These experiments highlighted the problem text presents in this context, though; I don’t think this is an inherent problem, but its specificity can lead to a too-easy representation of literal content (even with Schwitters, although the Ursonata might avoid this!).
We then looked at the costumes the students had made and lit them to produce different effects of colour and shadow. We spent the rest of the session creating pictures with shapes, costume parts, coloured light, sticks and shadows, loosely inspired by paintings by Kandinsky and Klee.
Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition 2008 University of Chicago Press: Chicago
By Robert Pogue Harrison