color and process
A surprising change has come over my work this winter--my typical earthy palette has shifted to brighter colors--reds, oranges, blues, greens. These are not garishly bright--they are tempered by earthy undertones and neutrals. But the overall effect is noticeably more colorful than most of my work has been in recent years. .
Playing with bright colors came over me as an intuitive urge to follow. It began with the painting below, Quay #1, painted in December with memories of the surfaces of old boats seen at various docks in Ireland last fall. Since most of my work is referential, arising form visual experience, these boats were a way "in" to using more color. I was struck by their remnants of bright paint clinging to more neutral weathered surfaces. I took a number of photos of these boats--see below.
|Quay #1, 42"x36", Rebecca Crowell 2014|
I followed Quay #1 with others-- opening up to a spectrum of cadmium reds and oranges, emerald greens and various blues. Some of my recent paintings relate to the boats, others to the lovely bog plants in Co. Mayo some are less specific or involve combinations of influences. All involve joyous play with color.
|Green Bog, 29"x22", Rebecca Crowell 2015|
|Quay #2 36"x48", Rebecca Crowell 2015|
While i experienced this shift in the moment as an intuitive urge, in looking back I can see that there was actually an evolution of the idea, fueled by various experiences and influences. One of these was the commission work that I completed early last October for the new Sheikh Ahmed Bin Zayed Center for Pancreatic Research on the campus of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. The designer chose five older paintings of mine on which to model the new paintings, and they were some of the more colorful ones from my past. So I found myself working in a brighter palette than I had done for some time, and on a large scale. At first I felt a bit awkward with the palette, but soon it felt like a natural rediscovery. Below is one of the commissioned paintings.
|Terra #4, 52"x36" Rebecca Crowell 2014|
My time in County Mayo, Ireland this past October and November was another push toward color. My brother Hugh, a botanist, visited me, and walking with him on the bog I found myself looking very closely at the plant life. The bog from a distance appears an earthy, warm brown--but zooming in, it's an entirely different visual feast---tiny gardens of intense greens, dark reds, pinks and purples. These colors haunted me after my return to snowy Wisconsin in late November.
|Bog plants in November, County Mayo, Ireland|
Winter does often make me long for color, but this one has been particularly bleak, with the death of my mother in late January. At the time of her death, I was already well into my new direction, and in continuing on with it, I've felt a welcome, positive energy. It's quite the opposite of what I might have imagined as a response to death--something dark and somber---but color has felt right to me. I am remembering with a smile that my mother tended to like bright colors and often commented that my wardrobe (heavy on blacks and neutrals) was too dull. A painting of mine from 1999 that she chose to own was full of lively greens. So I think that she would appreciate these new paintings.
And finally, the work of my friend, Janice Mason Steeves has had a major impact in opening my eyes to the power of color. Her glowing canvases, some very large scale, are intense and compelling, and create a visceral response in the viewer. These paintings have made me reflect on how strongly we humans are drawn to color and light. The image below is from her exhibit that opened in January, Gathering Light, at Gallery Stratford in Statford, Ontario.
So, while the move into color may seem a bit sudden, it's actually been incubating and growing over the past few months. In some ways it goes even further back; I did a few colorful paintings in Ireland in 2013, although I did not sense a new direction at the time. But I've been dipping my toes in for a while.
|Gathering Light , Gallery Stratford, installation photo courtesy Janice Mason Steeves|
I feel that it is the combined impact of these various influences and experiences that has tipped the balance in my palette from earthy to colorful, at least for now. I love it that the creative process is so complex, the weaving together of many strands of experience and thought over time. It is magic to see how all the various influences--many not even consciously recognized in the moment--combine in such a way that they to pull us into new territory.