Art In History Art Blog
This is a photo of my most recent work, "Evening Glow", leaning against my hearth. When I paint in my home studio, this is where paintings in progress are placed for study, to determine final touches. It is also one of the places where my work looks the best.
I have become ever more convinced of what I have known for a long time: my work is not at its best when shown on a white wall. I think this is true of any painting which is seeking to create an illusion, at least one based on effects of light. A white wall diminishes the impact and the magic of the work.
Why? What's wrong with a background of white? It is color neutral, allowing the colors of the work to take on their true character and relationships. The fact is, though white is color neutral, it is far from value neutral: it is a value extreme. It emphasizes darks and diminishes lights in the work.
In the 20th century, we went through a phase when all gallery walls had to be white. This coincided with a period in which the dominant styles were based on strong color, not described light; for these works white walls were the best. Now, as styles become more heterogeneous, we are seeing a return to toned walls in galleries and museums, to my great relief.
I just took down a show in the House of Art in Monson, which had all white walls until this year. Half my work was shown in a room where the walls were still white, half in a room with newly toned walls. To my eyes, the difference was remarkable in how much more powerful the described light was in the latter room. In my most successful comercial gallery, Vermont Fine Arts in Stowe (where I show only snowscapes) my work is shown against a wall of weathered board, and it literally jumps out at the viewer. I have just finished painting the walls of my studio a pale lavendar grey, something I should have done a long time ago.
I don't think the pairs of images I am showing here really show the difference as much as I'd hoped. In the flesh the difference is much more noticeable.
One of the few things I regret in giving up my old website in favor of ArtID is that the former displyed my work against a toned ground. I have long campaigned to have this capability in ArtID, and it is on the list of future enhancements. Until then I will have to live with a background that is less than ideal for my work.