Art for the Artist

Fascinated by colour as I am, naturally one of the artists I find very inspiring is Mark Rothko (1903-1970). His work makes use of large rectangular areas of colour, highlighted by or offset with complimentary or contrasting hues.

In his mature work, Rothko generally painted two to three fuzzy-edged blocks of colour, of varying size and set free of the canvas edge. He used a wide range of hues and added complexity to the pieces by breaking the rectangles with a contrasting bar of colour (as a sort buffer), or by creating and varying lightness or darkness, opaqueness or translucence, warmth or coolness, and yet retaining a sense of harmony.

Untitled 1951

Untitled 1951

Apparently Rothko claimed he was ‘no colourist’ and that to see him as such was missing the point of his art. Maybe so, but art is such a personal thing. In a way, it’s a form of communication: the artist may have his own message but he needs to remember that not every observer will see things from the same perspective, level or experience; therefore, the observer may take away something completely different from the piece than the artist intended. No bad thing, if you ask me. If I appreciate Rothko, as many do, for his colour, then it is surely good that I derive pleasure (and a range of other feelings) from his work, despite what his original intention may have been. I’m a simple soul – art for me is about feeling and atmosphere. The meaning and symbolism behind a piece is less relevant for me and I derive little pleasure from analysing a painting – that just removes all feeling from it. Call it escapism if you like.

Untitled 1953

Untitled 1953

In addition to the use of colour in itself, what really fascinates me is the interaction of colours with each other. By placing one hue next to another it can really change the feeling and dynamic of a piece. Red next to orange will tell us a very different story than red next to blue. The interplay between the colours (complimentary, broken and contrasting) and their position and size on the canvas all have a major impact on what the piece is saying to you. Rothko really masters this in his mature work.

Untitled 1949

Untitled 1949

Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee are also favourites of mine, but they don’t hold a torch to Rothko’s purity and depth when it comes to the use of colour. ‘Pure’ in this sense doesn’t mean ‘simple’ though, as often Rothko layered colour upon colour, using glazes and applying and wiping off paint, creating complex hues that are difficult to describe. None the less, the effect of this is, for me, is a purity of feeling.

Red on Maroon 1959

Red on Maroon 1959

If you ever have the chance to visit the Tate Modern gallery in London, Rothko’s Seagram murals are a must. Located off the main exhibition hall in their own room (the ‘Rothko Room’), they invite you to get lost in the vastness of the deep colour. Some are evocative of the after-image you get when you close you eyes, after having looked out of the window on a bright day. They are stunning. I could have spent hours staring at them, losing myself in them. Unfortunately, visiting hours are way too short and all too soon you have to emerge from the temple, blinking in the daylight, back to reality.

Rothko Room - Tate Modern Gallery London

Rothko Room - Tate Modern Gallery London

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

The ‘Ah!’ Moment

Inspiration is a strange and fickle thing. It comes and goes as it pleases, taking you by surprise and disappearing again just as quickly.

Perhaps you can compare it to a frightened kitten. You have to create the right atmosphere before it will come out from behind the sofa and play. You need a calm, trusting environment to coax him out and the right stimuli to initiate his playfulness.

Sounds simple in theory, but it takes some trial and error, and some surprises, before you learn what the right atmosphere and stimuli are for you to become inspired.

Where to start? Well, let’s first think about what inspiration actually is…
We could define inspiration as ‘stimulation of (often) creative action, ideas, thoughts or feelings’. If you like, it’s a stimulation that animates or awakens you.

What do you need in order to become inspired? A source – something that provides the stimulation or interests you. This is of course very subjective and can vary immensely. Also, openness – you need to be open to or to create the right atmosphere, time, space and frame of mind. Inspiration can be blocked if any one of these factors is not met.

For me, work-related inspiration comes from opportunities to develop (personal development, coaching etc) and improve (usually process related, or starting new projects) and from passionate and enthusiastic people. Outside the work arena my sources of inspiration are more visual and tend to be art and nature related. Bold primary and secondary colours; artwork from other artists; flowing patterns and forms; vast, impressive or colourful landscapes; the power of nature (such as the sea, wind or volcanoes); water in its various states; large, intricate or gnarly trees. The list is pretty long.

From the definition though, for something to be inspirational it should incite you to action, thought or feelings. Mostly it makes me feel really alive! Often, with the fascination and energy that these sources awaken, it’s enough to stand there, take it all in, experience them and appreciate them. There’s a deep contentment, an aliveness, a sense of things being as they should be. To capture these feelings I’m usually driven to photography. Painting is more an indirect result of my inspiration stimuli, as it tends to come from deep within and is a more subconscious process.

Sometimes though, the feelings awakened are akin to a sort of longing, somewhat similar to the feeling I sometimes experienced as a teenager. It’s an undefined longing and a slightly sad and pensive feeling. This tends to inspire more philosophical thoughts. A vast expanse of sea or landscape can cause this. Other times the stimuli can awaken my curiosity (my scientific side?) and I start asking questions – How? Why? – I want to know more…

Inspiration, although fickle, can also be a circular process. Being inspired leads you to do things that in turn inspire you further. Maybe you see a photograph of a place, which inspires you to travel, and in turn, travelling inspires you to take great photos…. I find that once I open myself to inspiration and start the creative process, the more I become inspired. If it goes on for some time, it can become almost feverish. Break this cycle though and it stops very quickly.

Of course, without inspiration, there would be no art. There would be no passion. And without art and passion, there would be no inspiration, no ‘Ah!’ moment.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns