14.07.06 — 06.08.06 ‘Colour Research: 1980 — 2006’, Jasper Deane

“I began my research into colour and its relationship to form in response to a feeling of dissatisfaction with what I had been taught about colour at art school. The received orthodoxy consisted of Newton’s colour wheel, or a simplified version of it, that emphasised complimentary colours: adjacent colours on the wheel were considered harmonies, and opposite colours were considered complimentary, although the functionality of these opposites was never explained. A system of colour mixing was also taught, using the Newtonian primary colours (red, yellow and blue) as the starting point for further inter-mixtures that produced the secondary colours (green, orange and purple).

This extremely limited and unsubtle introduction to the subject of colour was never questioned, yet a little knowledge of physics showed me that Newton’s colour wheel described the behaviour of light, whilst the colour mixing chart derived from it described the additive mixture of pigments.

Most young artists are far too interested in expressing themselves without wanting to be disturbed by textbook information. Painters, in particular, quickly recognise the ineffectiveness of formulae in informing their work. Most proceed to abandon any scientific or rational attempts to mix colour in favour of self expression and experiment.

This was the path that I took for many years. However, I developed an interest in tradition and, through persistent study of art from Polygnotos to Juan Gris I began to discern that colour could be used in a systematic and meaningful way that appeared theoretical and not the product of mere ‘self expression’.

Thus began my interest in the relationships between colour and form that I perceived to lie beneath the composition and method of the artists that I admired. I was not satisfied with imitating, in a mimetic way, prior art, but was ultimately trying to find for myself a convincing formal use of colour that had previously eluded me.

To this end, I undertook to research colour theory and instruction in the pre-Newtonian period, and to put my findings into practice. I began reading books about colour theory, looking to artists and philosophers including Heraclitus, Aristotle, Polygnotos, Theophilus and Da Vinci; and to later writers including Goethe and Steiner, as my tutors. I soon discovered that there were other points of view about the basic colours, which were in opposition to Newtonian orthodoxy.

It was not my intention to make a piece of academic scholarship. Had this been the case, I would certainly have needed to include modern colour theorists of importance: Itten at the Bauhaus, and the influence of the chemist Ostwald on Paul Klee to name but two. The sketches and paintings in this show were made as private study to help me in developing and understanding my own painting practice. The results were to prove very exciting and useful and to suggest significant new points of departure for pictorial form and expression, but I hope the works themselves afford some interest and pleasure. I feel they do have an aesthetic value of their own, perhaps evolving from the searching intention that motivated them.”

Jasper Deane April 2006