Monday, March 28, 2016

The Dissonance of Colors

Colors and shapes mimic the desert
dissonance |ˈdisənəns|• a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitableelements: dissonance between campaign rhetoric and personal behavior.• unsuitable or unusual in combination; clashing: Jackson employs both harmonious and dissonant color choices
After decades of trying to get the colors "right" I have finally realized that mother nature rarely follows the rules of man. The other day while walking my dog, I was watching all the landscaping that is going on along Ramon Road in Palm Springs. Grass is slowly disappearing as the rush to plant desert landscaping to save water during the California drought proceeds. It hit me that the landscapers, taking their cue from the desert, were using different rules as well.To be granted, some of these plants are not native to California or even the American desert but all are known to tolerate heat and lack of water ... or less than the amount of water grass needs to survive. I noticed that they were putting in some kind of drip irrigation to help the new plants survive and hopefully thrive. Yet look at these colors ... yellow, magenta, a red bordering on vermillion, as well as a variety of greens, tan dirt. A painter might faithfully record such a scene but to western, northern eyes they appear a bit discordant.
Buddhist Shrine

Not all cultures view colors this way. Visiting Hong Kong recently I was struck over and over again by their use of colors. Red is used everywhere! My case is point is this Buddhist Shrine we happened on. Can you imagine something like this is a Christian Church? Christian Churches tend to be monochromatic unless you have stain glass windows. This seems to be the only allowable way you can add a bit of color. However, not only are the shrines vibrant they also seem to violate Western views of the color wheel. Green and red, splashes of blue and orange, gold and a variety of greens.
I remember in one of my first advertising classes in college. Our director was also our teacher and he gave us a quick review of the color wheel ... what would work and what wouldn't. He was especially disparaging of red and green used together unless it was for Christmas. Always a kind of closet rebel I took that as a challenge. My ad, in those days we had to literally draw the headline typefaces, was for a line of women's clothing. I used red and an avocado green with tints of both of them for contrast. Black ink was a given so we were told to pick two more colors for a two-color ad. When I walked in with my masterpiece, I spent the entire day Sunday creating this, there were stares and a few gasps. I sat down and when he walked in, had us stand up one by one and show the class our creations. Most of the ads were pleasant enough but nothing really stood out until I showed my ad. The red literally popped off the page whereas the green became a foil, much like leaves on a tree filled with flowers, better than black even. He looked at it, then at me, shook his head and muttered, "I knew it. You took this as a challenge." I nodded and got an A.

Hand blown vase
We may not always like what we see when rules are disobeyed.This vase is a case in point. I didn't like its use of color yet it attracted me enough to take a picture of it. It is striking and would surely create comments. I began to wonder as I stared at it are we too used to playing it too safe? Then when an item uses colors in a new and challenging way we dismiss it ... at first? Is this what Van Gogh did? Not only was his brushwork unrefined, he used stark brilliant colors, usually, colors that in many cases vibrant off the canvas. Once seen who can ever forget the moon and stars in "Starry Night?"The clash of similar colors in his "Sunflower" series.
Expressionists and many abstract artists were especially eager to use colors in this new way. After the Germans and especially Kandinsky, Russian born but German living, saw their first Van Gogh, German art turned upside down. They never did like the dreamy landscapes of the French Impressionists. They wanted the brute force of color and shapes. Then they created their own.

Hong Kong Street at night
They would have loved the far east. Doesn't this normal street scene seem like something ripped right out of a Van Gogh painting? Its colorful and its colors vie with each other reaching out to passersby to stop and look! On one hand they are very discordant ... blues and purples and reds, yellow and shocking greens all mixed together in a jumble of color. I was so struck I had to record this with my iPhone that luckily recorded exactly what I saw.
The most popular blog I wrote here had to do with color. We all want to be sure that we use color "correctly." Yet, I ask, what is the correct use of color? Sure, we know that one color doesn't go with another ... or can it? We can look at a color wheel to get an idea of what is and IS NOT acceptable. Again, these rules seem to apply to western eyes only. Anyone that has ever been in the Orient or India knows that their use of color

literally boggles the mind. I say that is a good thing. I think artists should be working with color, colors, finding new ways to express feelings and emotions with color than some of the shocking, bordering on pornographic images they create. In temples I saw in Hong Kong, the detail work on temples had no problem mixing beautiful blues with bluish green separated with white stripes. Looking at the color wheel we see clearly the relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Yet how many times have you seen adjacent colors used and often to great effect. Some fast food restaurants use orange and red together as it stimulates you to eat more and faster. Muted tones are more conducive to a slower, calmer pace of eating, resting or sleeping depending on the room. Just think of the last hotel room you stayed in. It almost put you to sleep before you were ready to go to bed.
Even the lowly cactus is colorful
urge you to look at natural color more carefully around you. See how it is used. Is it boring? Is your art boring? Now I'm not saying to just slap any old paint on the walls of your house, the canvas you're painting or flowers you are planting. However, you need to be aware of how color(s) can be used to spice things up ... remove the boring and make lives more interesting. This cactus sure did!

As a kid growing up in the 50's color was all the rage in cars. Turquoise, vermillion and white, black, pink and white cars, even yellow and white. Cars were a showplace of your good and colorful taste. Then cars became white, silver and black. You could look down a parking lot and realize they just about all looked alike. Red made a comeback as did candy apple red. However, it was the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper using a variety of 50's pastel colors that seemed to turn the trick. Now we are seeing blues, rusty reds, shocking greens, yellows, gorgeous metallic browns alongside the
1955 Ford Fairlane
white, silver and black cars that still dominate but are slowly being replaced. Will we ever see the return of that era? Who knows but for me it IS nice to see color on the roads again. However, I doubt we will ever see a Ford like the one at right. Can you believe you could buy this gem right off the showroom floor?

Yes, you need to learn more than the basics of color. You might want to read my blog FUN WITH COLOR written in Oct. 12, 2013 for the basics. Maybe its time to review it again. Life can be colorful or dull. It is up to you. However, the choice remains and will remain yours, and yours alone. My suggestion? Get some color in your life.
Thank you for reading my blog. I cover the way design affects our lives and urge you to check out my earlier blogs.

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