What’s Your Color Signature?

Over the years certain artists have come to be associated with particular colors or color schemes. Yves Klein. Titian. Van Gogh. You can probably think of some others. Let’s take a quick look, and then ask yourself, what is your signature color?

Yves Klein’s impossible-to-reproduce International Klein Blue

Yves Klein’s patented blue is difficult to replicate on screen or in print. He would paint entire canvases color field-style, flooding the whole canvas with this signature blue. Or copies of ancient Greco-Roman statuary, covered entirely with this blue. (Reference)

He painted models and had them press themselves against the canvas, leaving odd blobs of paint. It sounds pornographic, but I find it actually lends the painting an uncomfortable physicality that I can’t quite put my finger on. It doesn’t glorify the human figure at all; it is messy and uncomfortable in a way I can’t quite put words to.

Titian’s Red

Tiziano Vecellio, figurehead of the Venetian school of painting, was known for what at the time was considered bright and strong color, most notably a brownish red-orange that dominated his paintings. Nowadays this color refers to a certain shade of red hair. See: actress Karen Gillian, who played The Doctor’s companion for a while.

Van Gogh’s yellows and blues

When I think of Vincent, I think of yellow sunflowers against a pale blue wall, or yellow and white stars against a swirling deep blue sky. His bedroom at Arles painting is dominated by yellow and blue, as is the Cafe Terrace at Night. I also think of heavy, oppressive brick red, either in his paintings of poppies or vineyards or cafes. The night cafe feels like either everyone is immensely bored, or something terrible is about to happen. Every one of van Gogh’s colors has a heavy psychological significance. The last painting he did, Wheatfield with Crows, is an agitated yellow-and-blue composition, with the yellow wheat being crushed by a sinister blue sky.

Mondrian’s red, blue, and yellow, arranged on a stark white and black grid

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian is synonymous with the De Stijl movement, and if you look at his paintings in the order he made them you can’t miss the simplification of forms into red, blue, and yellow rectangles on a white and black grid. Anybody who’s seen L’Oreal packaging or that Katy Perry video knows what Mondrian’s work looks like.

Me and Cerulean Blue

I’ve loved this bright, almost electric blue for a long time. It’s somewhat ambiguous. It can look warm or cool depending on the light and how concentrated the paint is on the canvas. In my “van Gogh period” in college and for a while after I did a number of paintings of coffee shops. I toned the canvases with Cerulean Blue, and painted yellows and browns on top of it, letting the blue “shine” through.

Do you have a signature color or color scheme? Maybe you use a lot of blue or red, or some other color. I’ve used Cerulean a lot but lately that is the exception rather than the rule. What are you using a lot of, either now or historically?

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