Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why is there brown?

November is the time of year to reconsider your attitude toward brown. The more popular colors have departed from the landscape or are subsiding into a brown phase.

Rembrandt van Rijn reveled in brown. I recall hearing that John Ruskin declared Goya found more colors in brown than most artists find in their entire palette.
Impressionist painters, on the other hand, avoided brown almost entirely. Today it is the least favorite color in the Western World.

Seaside goldenrod going to seed at Halibut Point
In the painterly photograph above we can appreciate the diversity of brown although admittedly the brilliance of the scene relies on companionable colors and highlights. But brown is the anchor -  earthy, substantial, and varied.

Cherry tree trunk, rising
Brown does the heavy lifting in the landscape, a scaffold for multi-hued drapery. It lifts foliage to the sky and sets off the flashier colors. In the end it gathers those colors back.
Cherry tree trunk, subsiding
Leaves generally turn brown when they expire and fall to the ground.  We witness their demise with some apprehension, aware of our own mortality. On the ground the leaves decompose into humus to become a life-giving component of soil.

Out of that brown matter comes new growth. Modern humans wish to exempt themselves from the cycle.
Soil formation
If you live there on the ground, brown is the color of safety. It's a good way to dress.
It's the smart way of avoiding notice. Of course a bit of flair helps in connecting with your kin. You can do a lot with a little.

White-throated sparrow
If you're actually going to take the chance of sunning right out in the open your camouflage had better be excellent. Start with brown.

Young bullfrog
You can see the subtle choices in the photo above where some of the browns are developing out of the green portion of the spectrum, olive-like. To replicate them in paint means starting with two primaries - various proportions of yellow and blue to make various green secondaries - then adding a touch of red (the third primary) from the opposite side of the color wheel. 

The resulting browns are therefore tertiary. They contains infinite riches, an amalgam of all the variety in the spectrum.
Grasses on granite
You can approach brown from orange, the liaison of primaries red and yellow. Go across the color wheel for a touch of its complement within the blues (the third primary.) Work out the pigment solutions for the wealth of browns pictured above.
Burdock seeds
The third track to brown begins with violet, a cross of red and blue. Add the complementary yellow. Then explore the coppery colors in these burdock seeds.

There are very few brown flowers. On the other hand there are few green flowers. But flowers exist entirely to be noticed, so brown or green tints would not help them stand out from the verdure. The limitation of brown amongst flowers perhaps limits our notions of its prettiness.
Shagbark hickory leaf, autumn
When you really want to admire life as Rembrandt did, abstractions into brown simplify the pathways of vitality and aesthetics.

Emergent mushrooms
In the organic world - that is, discounting black and white - brown is the color of convergence. Artists are wary of it because over-mixing turns to mud, as does soggy compost. Delicately handled it is the color of many confections and earthy intricacies that sustain life as we know it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for another beautiful and informative post, Martin.