The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

The Structure of Color (1971)

Whitney Museum of American Art, p. 12. From the catalog of the exhibit "The Structure of Color" at the Whitney Museum.

As an attribute of surface, color belongs to painting naturally. I like color as a material and I like to work with it. Though its qualities are sensuous, color can be particularized: it "comes apart." Color offers such variety of combination within itself; it balances all that can be done without color: volume, placement, drawing, shading, and the rest.

I don't know why I have always preferred pale color. From the time that I began painting seriously, in the early 50's, I wanted to set off any dark intense color with greyed or whitened colors around it or open it up by mixing white in. This was an impulse rather than a reasoned action; it wasn't an aim. As a felt process it was something like adding water to Kool-Aid. White seems to expand a color, to make it more available.

In the last five years, my paintings have become larger and looser. Color needs size to get the "feel" across, to show off. Bluegrass was painted early in the Fall of 1970. Most of the surface is a variegated yellowish-green laid on and enclosed by a darker greyed version of the same color. The painted straight members set up the painting and bring in more color: two values of very pale grey, orange-yellow and a darker blue. The greens are cool but effulgent, the blue is relatively hard and cool, and the grey-oranges are warm in a soft, withheld way. As hues, the green and blue are fairly close, the blue and grey-oranges are compliments and the greens and grey-oranges are "squared." There is a deliberate variation of flat vs. gloss which is somewhat independent from the color variation. These color relationships are not rigidly predetermined. Most are established by eye as the painting proceeds. Doping out a painting beforehand usually doesn't work.

I have never been comfortable with Cubism as a stylistic vehicle for painting, and I have a rather far-fetched conceit that bringing color back to painting will bring painting back to a natural state it has not had since Impressionism. But of course painting with color does not hand over automatic virtue, although that notion seems to be getting around now. In fact, what has come to be called "color painting" is well on its way to mannerism, and this will grow in the 70's. When this happens, as always, the best "color paintings" will have been painted, and quality will be in another guise, still reviled.