fiddler's elbow

Maybe I should have been a brewmaster or something, because “I just want to pick up that beer and drink it” is one of the most flattering compliments that anyone can say about my painting.  I have heard this response from hundreds of people that have viewed this painting, and their response never gets old for me.

What is it about this beer that makes it particularly drinkable?  It’s the color, the golden light flowing through the beer, shimmering on the page.  In this painting, the yellow sings.  How does the yellow capture attention?  It is because all of the color around it is quiet.  This is one of the most important realizations I have ever had in painting- singing at the top of your lungs is much more effective in a quiet room than in the middle of a mosh pit.

I’ve been shown scientific diagrams, charts, essays that establish “scientific” rules of color- in order to make yellow resonate, you place it next to its compliment, purple.  In order to make green sing, you place it beside red.  The impressionists successfully used these scientific principles of color to create color harmonies that were never seen before.  Monet was just as preoccupied with scientific treatises on the optical physics of light as he was obsessed with green lily pads.

But, I’m not an impressionist.

While I enjoy impressionism, I am just not as, umm, happy as they are.  I just don’t like that much sweet harmony.  I like honey in my tea, but I don’t really enjoy squeezing the bottle directly into my mouth.  Sorry Renoir.

My temperament agrees with a quieter color palette- soft, quiet gradations of white and black, into which are woven dull greens and browns.  And then, one sudden burst of yellow.  For this painting, I actually squeezed yellow paint straight from the tube onto the canvas.

Isn’t that more like life though?  Are we always blissfully happy, strolling through Elysian Fields?  Not me.  On a day to day basis, I find life to be quiet and none too exciting- I am fine with this, I accept the mundane days.  In painting, these insignificant days would be the soft, quiet greens, the subtle ochres, the gentle greys.  At times, life is nothing but pain and heartache, dark periods in which we are unable to see, to understand- which would be black.  Sometimes, life is unmixed joy that is unaware of anything but its own bliss.  That would be a rich impasto of yellow paint.

In order for there to be bliss, which is always shortlived, you have to have it surrounded by a lot of nothing, really.  In order for there to be a singing yellow, I have to have it surrounded by an quiet sea of black, white, and green.  And that’s why I’m not an impressionist- I don’t deny the fact that life is painful, nor do I try and assert that heaven is on earth.  It’s not.  But I’m here, and I find contentment is accepting the full range of color and experiences, from resonant blacks to blissful yellows, and all of the muddy browns and greens in between.

Nature rarer uses yellow

Than another hue;

Saves she all of that for sunsets,-

Prodigal of blue


Spending scarlet like a woman,

Yellow she affords

Only scantly and selectly,

Like a lover’s words.

-Emily Dickinson