Art In History Art Blog
When we think of the Coat of Many Colors, whether Joseph's biblical coat or Dolly's country version, we think of a patchwork of bright, rainbow colors, intense and splashy. Most of us. When I think of the coat of many colors I think if nature's coat of subtle tones, colors so rich and intermixed that each is every color.
Not that nature doesn't have its bright accents too, its pure blue sky and profusion of wildflowers, but for me, the real feast is in the shades of brown and grey. Brown is just a name for a profusion of color that is on balance warm; if the balance is cool, we call it grey.
The richest colors in nature come in the Spring and fall, when no one color dominates. The full green of summer can't compete with the hundred delicate shades of green in the spring, or the rich ochres and russetts of late fall. In the spring each variety of tree or shrub has its own shade of green, all destined to merge more or less anonymously in summer, and these greens are mixed with the red glow of the maple buds and the lingering earth tones of the winter grasses. In the fall, there is of course the splendor of fall foliage, but also the rich tones of decay. Here the process is reversed: the green of healthy leaves and grasses multiplies into the many colors of plant hibernation.
I'll give an example from art history. Of all the wonderful landscape painters in Holland in the 17th century, I prefer Van Goyen, the one with the "least color". His work is an atmospheric balance of warm and cool, brown and grey, at once muted and incredibly rich, throbbing with warmth. By leaving out strong color, his subtle colors expand to fill the vacancy, and the expereince of color is very strong and satisfying. To me, at least.
It is my most recent works, a series of tree portraits, that prompted me to think of this post. These are trees in early spring, without their leaves, when the colors of the bark and expressiveness of the branches have full scope. It is interesting that I have chosen maples rather than the equally prevalent oaks. Oaks are more muscular, more expressive in the tortured twists of their branches, but their trunks and branches do not have the richness of color of the maples. Like Van Goyen's paintings, the maples' bark is a wonderful balance of warm and cool tones. I've had my moments of doing oaks and beeches, but for coats of many colors, maples take the prize.
Unless you count sycamores. There aren't many near me here, but there were in Indiana when I was painting there, and sycamores, with their fantastic mottled coat, gave me what is probably one of the best paintings I have ever done. "Sycamore" has "no color", but is to me full of subtle and satisfying color.