CINEMATIC FLESH TONES
A few weeks ago, while looking at the wet brush mark on a painting that I hoped to have just finished, I watched the liquid magenta paint flow down into a yellow glaze over black and remembered the color in a painting which I had seen years ago at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I only had a vague memory, sensing more an emotion than nameable colors. Looking on the internet, I found an image of the painting: “Christ at the Whipping Post” by Francesco Vanni, a Sienese Mannerist artist. I especially love the smoky tonal gradations in his paintings. Sometimes these transitions are too sweet, even saccharine, and sometimes too acidic and strange. Why did the color and light in that particular painting come back to me with such force? In a notebook that I took with me on my visits to the museum, I found a page of thoughts about the painting from 1991, 1993 and 1997. I loved the Kunsthistorisches Museum, thinking of it as the sex museum - lots of images of all kinds of sex.
In 1991 and 1997, I wrote in my notebook about flesh tones in relation to the other stronger colors in the painting, including pale magenta. I have always desired to use flesh tones in my paintings, but could seldom find ways that worked. The painting mentioned in my notes, #297, then owned by Thomas Ammann, was one of the few in which I had succeeded by using a flesh colored glaze over dark and light colors. In recent paintings, I have often used both pale and full strength magenta in relation to pale blue or turquoise. These are the basic colors of Technicolor film, the colors from which all the other colors in these films derive. Since cyan and magenta are thus the strongest colors in the Technicolor, I feel that paintings emphasizing these colors have a sense of the cinematic and the fantastic.
There is no turquoise in the painting on which I watched the magenta flow down, #638. But perhaps the tonal relations in the painting made up for this. I understand now that in my paintings, magenta and turquoise can be a bridge to a sense of flesh tones. All flesh tones in film are inflected, pulled towards either magenta or turquoise. This is why characters look so good in films when they are in light sources tinted with these colors. For example, in her bedroom in Hitchcock’s, “Vertigo”, Judy’s skin is tinted with the light of the neon turquoise sign outside the window. Perhaps when we identify with figures in films we sense that our own skin has been modified by these tinted gradations of hyper-color. Rather than by a sense of touch on skin, our emotions are activated through some kind of inner force: tactility through vision.
David Reed is a Californian who lives and paints in New York. Upcoming shows in March 2015 include a two person show with Mary Heilmann at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, Germany and a one person show at Haus Lange, Kunstmuseum Krefeld, Germany.
Posted December 8, 2014