December 3rd, 2021
Have you ever felt frozen in front of a blank page? If you were given a blank piece of paper and were asked to create something, do you know exactly what you would create or might you feel paralyzed by the freedom of the unspecified request? Sometimes, too much freedom can be paralyzing in this way. But what if someone handed you that sheet of paper and asked you to paint a blue dog or write a haiku… perhaps creation would be made just a little bit easier. This is because creativity craves limitations. Sometimes working within a challenge, even one self-imposed, can lead to more creativity and freedom of expression than absolutely no challenges whatsoever.
Monochromatic art presents such a creative challenge. A monochromatic painting is one created using only one color or hue. While the shades of the color can be different, the painting contains only one main base color. Limiting oneself to a single color, can spark this same kind of creativity and encourage an artist to explore other intriguing design elements. It challenges an artist to create a painting of great interest using composition, textures, tonality, line, and form alone.
“If I can achieve all of this interest in grayscale, why would I complicate it?”
– Michael Kessler
Artists throughout modern art history have pushed the boundaries of creativity through monochromatic art. Artists such as Josef Albers, Yves Klein, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Gerhard Richter have shown us how limiting oneself to a single hue can still elicit stunning works of art. In fact, one could argue that the grandeur and scale of a single color in an artwork only adds to its power, eliciting an almost spiritual effect.
While most of our artists work within splendors of color, occasionally our artists will limit their color palettes to focus on other aspects of design. Although most of our artists do not consider their work monochromatic, many will work with reductive or limited color palettes to create their mesmerizing works of art.
Here, we’ve curated just a few of our Gallery MAR artists whose paintings work within limited or monochromatic colors, demonstrating for us how self-imposed limitations can yield some of the most creative, compelling works of art.
Nelson Parrish is renowned for his use of vibrant colors encased in resin. However, many works from his latest series explore a more limited color palette. While a few of his word art resin paintings show a clear differentiation in color, other works like his piece “Stay Tuned” rely on subtle textural differences in the surface of the resin to communicate the messages of his word art.
In them, layers of smooth, pristine resin outline carefully etched, highly texturized words, requiring viewers to walk around and interact with the painting in order to properly see the texturized words against the smooth resin surface. Works like “Stay Tuned” demonstrate how subtle, understated differences in texture can be implemented to astounding effect.
Michael Kessler has long prioritized other design elements above that of color. Early on in his career, he sketched predominantly with charcoal grays and graphite, citing artistic influences such as Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Johns, and Gerhard Richter. Even now, as he occasionally implements brilliant washes of vibrant color, he feels no pressure to do so. “To not have to think about color is a real relief to me,” Kessler confesses. He believes people can be overly concerned with color at the expense of other intriguing aspects of artistic design, such as texture, gradation, and dramatic lighting effects. “If I can achieve all of this interest in grayscale,” he says, “why would I complicate it?”
His large scale works, such as “Aspenslant (2)” and “Aspenslant (3)” offer viewers so much intrigue to appreciate, that color is perhaps the furthest thing from our minds as we gaze into the great depth and complexities of his limited palette work.
Although Shawna Moore’s encaustic work implements different processes and draws from different sources of inspiration than color field painters like Mark Rothko, the use of limited color applied has a similar effect on viewers. These vast expanses of vibrant hues transform color into larger-than-life experiences.
In her latest series, Moore uses the dripping texture of her encaustic to mimic ripples and waves of water, paying beautiful textured homage to her love of the ocean and her surfing prowess. Her paintings, like that of “High Seas,” wash viewers in color, enveloping us in gradations of shades of sparkling aqua blue.
Mixed media artist Maura Allen often begins her artistic process with photography. All of her mixed media paintings are based off of her own photographs, and like any good photographer, Allen has developed a keen eye for composition, tone, and texture. These elements translate beautifully to her canvas where silhouetted forms and their nuanced gradations take center stage.
In many of her paintings, Allen introduces brilliant splashes of vibrant color, but occasionally, her works capture a more muted tone like in her mixed media work, “Calling It a Night.” Her delicate use of blue hues seem to harmonize with the scene she depicts, capturing in her work the quiet sense of peace from a night on the ranch.
Havoc Hendricks describes his work as “detailed minimalism.” While the description may at first glance sound oxymoronic, a closer inspection of his work reveals the truth behind the phrase. His works are all at once detailed, nuanced, and understated. It’s only fitting that an artist with such a style would gravitate towards a limited color palette or monochromatic art.
Hendrick’s line work is so texturally compelling that color can feel superfluous. Because of this, the colors that he does employ feel truly intentional and meaningful to the work. The soft muted gold within his aptly named piece “Art of Subtlety,” for instance, truly embodies this phenomenon. Sometimes less truly is more.
Which of these limited color palette or monochromatic pieces intrigues you the most? How does the limited and intentional use of color enhance the sublime beauty of the work? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Stop by Gallery MAR today to see these works in person today and truly experience each color, texture, line, and form in all its subtle, nuanced beauty.
Written by Veronica Vale