Sunday, 30 November 2008


The following post is a blogger's after-image, product of a number 15 bus, between St.Pauls and Whitechapel, London, in words and pictures for Simon Payne's two curated sessions of Colour Field Film and Video at Tate Modern (Fri 21 and Sat 22 Nov 2008).

Perception and memory when object and frame are both wool. A response to colour entwined with texture, into trauma, all its genders and associations. Could I disagree?

The experience of a favourite room. Image of tree on table, bird onto hand. Gift of the optical printer, many doors and windows. Only what confirms the room. A promise of transparency gladly broken.

Insertion of black,  inbetween, an artificial blinking, rhythm variable.  I would never have thought it could prompt in me such combinations of mourning and hilarity.

But I'm a verbal person alright, seventies jazz funk on the soundtrack, removing each sheet of paper in turn. 

So there are these ideas of wool and there is why we feel about a particular colour the way we do, and there is coloured wool, which throws me completely:

Good Evening. We're here because of R, his colour fields and that favourite critics game of finding a cake equivalent for each. It's an odd camaraderie because R hates us. He thinks Robert and Jasper, who you probably know, are sending us backwards, into everything he wanted to rid us of. 

Whereas we, if we're honest, trace everything we do back to combines and flags. R, of course, hates these films. The red of his paintings is not the red of the auditorium in which we sit. 

I tried taking a photo of R, but when it was uploaded he had strangely vanished:


Good evening. I'm not a scholar but the more I get into making these colour films, the more acrimonious it seems.  The claims that colour field pattern is the end point of art, while I prefer placing mirrors in rubble, making spirals of rocks in salt lakes, and so does colour. 

I'll start again, to try and sketch out some basics: 

the field of the canvas

the field of the screen 

CANVAS                      SCREEN                        BUS

Here are two photos of me reading Josef Alber's book Interaction of Colour

... Having a good time in New Mexico [he wrote]. Blue square under my shirt, green on my back. Colored squares of card on the music stand of a grand piano, application of colored fat squares to the walls and windows of our room. 

I tried to get rid of some blue with bleech, but it was the sky. We really laughed. Josef had an affair with the landlady and then looks to a particular combination of colored squares of card to get him out of the ensuing emotional mess...

I wish Josef was on this bus now. Josef was just as difficult as R. But Josef is actually a figure who connects. Robert studied with him, to learn from someone who had opposite tendency to himself. 

As long as the seats in the red room were well designed Josef would be happy, regardless of the films. 

Which, of course, is what you want from a colour, whoever you are. Sigh. Unless you are Helio. 

Hello Helio. I love Helio. Helio's red is the red of the room in which we sit, red walls, red chairs and red films. For Helio, though, this is merely a stopping station on the way to colour we can wear. 

Is there a similar trajectory in colour films towards being clothing? I hope not. 


There is one experience of colour after which there is a mysterious round of applause. No one knows why this should be, but it happens even when the audience is entirely composed of paint charts. 

Why does this applause happen? Relief, yes, but also a kind of gratitude that exists, deep within the blinking, amongst arguing wool strands, defining frame and gender. 

THINKING OF SOURCES: Images from upper deck of a no.15 bus. A colour field is a product of speed, time, and cities. About activity, even in the City of London, quiet and empty at the weekends. 

Wool in Jennifer Nightingale, Knitting Pattern (2006). The insertion of black frames was a feature of Gregory Markopoulos Ming Green (1966).  

Rothko saw an exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg's Combines and Jasper Johns flag paintings at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, seeing both as evidence of a turning backwards to what he had sought to remove from art. 

The tensions between post-Rothko colour field painting, its celebration by Clement Greenberg and his acolytes, and the conflict with minimalism, conceptualism and land art is  well captured in Amy Merchant's Challenging Art: Artforum 1962-1974

The figure of Joseph Albers as a link between these conflicting histories, arises through his own explorations of colour, and his teaching at Black Mountain College.

Inparticular, it relates to the ways artists such as Robert Rauschenberg (as, before in Chicago, Eve Hesse) formed their work through that teaching, even as they questioned and challenged its precepts and products. 

Josef Albers infidelities whilst staying - with Anni - in a New Mexico guesthouse are mentioned by Nicholas Fox Weber in his introduction to the Tate edition of Poems & Drawings, presumably to add some emotional turbulence to the otherwise rather gentle text and geometric drawings that follow.

H is Helio Oiticica, whose work with colour included films, paintings, installations, and parangoles. 

On Friday night at Tate Modern a round of applause followed the screening of Paul Sharits Ray Gun Virus (1966).