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What color is your white?

As we approach year end, I've been reviewing my paintings, from this year and those prior. It seems I've reached my (color) saturation point- I'm declaring an all out effort to limit my palette from 2017 moving forward, or at least until this next groove plays out.

After my subconscious poked my conscious mind and echoed 'your world is too colorful", I started checking out some YouTube videos to follow up on how other artists have treated use of color- especially whites. WHITE is a color which is associated with being free from color. It became clear that most artists have also explored this 'no color' color concept.

Jasper Johns created White Flag, Sol LeWitt produced W, Barnett Newman- White, Josef Albers- Homage to the Square – (Nacre), as well as many other AbEx recognizable painters I have not mentioned here.

My paintings below include (left) a whitewash over a colorful ground and (right) the use of whites to indicate innocence and symbolize purity. Compared to the aforementioned artists, these paintings still contain lots of color. My new exploration will be limited to a spectrum of whites plus one color.

Janice Sztabnik, Violet Parr

Janice Sztabnik, Transcendance

Violet Parr 48" x 36" Transcendance 48" x 36"

Another New York contemporary artist and one who is recognized by a career on his use of white on a wide variety of materials is the work of American painter Robert Ryman, born 1930. With his interest in portraying real light and space, his work explores the nuances of white paint that make the viewer relate to the painting more than a focal color. He was inspired by the movements of monochrome painting, minimalists and conceptual art.

Robert Ryman, Untitled

Untitled, 1965

Wikipedia has this to say about white:

WHITE is an achromatic color, a color without hue. An incoming light to the human eye that stimulates all its three types of color sensitive cone cells in nearly equal amounts results in white. White is one of the most common colors in nature, the color of sunlight, snow, milk, chalk, limestone and other common minerals.

In many cultures white represents or signifies purity, innocence, and light, and is the symbolic opposite of black, or darkness. According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, and exactitude.

I've often been interested in white washing a canvas I've painted to unite the barrage of color, and dull the overall canvas. I also like the symbolism associated with the color. Who can deny the feeling one feels when they imagine a room filled white shades of white, ahhh, or the feeling you experience while walking among snowfall, or right after the snowfall when the storm has passed and the sun bounces off the snow? How about what white dishes offer as a backdrop to a colorful meal?

When I imagine each scenario, white brings with it different degrees and shades, depth, brightness, darks, it can shimmer, it can absorb light, it reflects the colors shone onto it...

Heres a bit about the variety of whites available:

Titanium White: This is the most popular modern white. It is the whitest, most opaque white-neutral to warm white. This white has pigments which are carried in safflower oil, giving it a slow-drying quality. You’ll find that Titanium White is quite popular and inexpensive. It’s a pure white that plays well with others.

Underpainting White: While Underpainting and Titanium White are similar, there is one MAJOR difference. Underpainting White is made using alkyd resin or linseed oil which makes this paint dry much quicker than Titanium White. Underpainting White tends to be stable even when thickly applied.

Zinc White: Bright, cool transparent. This particular white is ideal for glazing with its thin and semi-opaque properties, making it ideal for tints and glazing. Loved by painters- Mondrian for creating light. It also has the stiffest consistency. Causes oil paint to become brittle.

Flake White: This lead-based white (toxic) has many great properties. It’s opaque, warmer tone, flexible, quick-drying, and accelerates the dry time for colors it’s mixed with. Flake White is excellent for painting as a result of its flexibility, durability and speed of drying. The inclusion of zinc pigment improves its consistency. This is the stiffest white in the range.

Flake White Hue: A titanium based formulation which avoids the hazardous lead based Flake White. It has a lower tinting strength than Titanium White and has been formulated to match Flake White. It also has a similar drying rate to the original Flake White.

Transparent White: A titanium based white with extremely low tinting strength, providing the palest white glazes.

Cremnitz White: Made from Lead, the absence of zinc gives a stringy consistency. Some artists may prefer a pure lead color in principle.

Iridescent White: A mica based pigment which makes a pearlescent white. It is effective when mixed with transparent colors.

Soft Mixing White: A titanium based white with the softest consistency. It has lower tinting strength than Titanium White.

For mixing in with colors use titanium for better hide and zinc to keep things more transparent.

The oil in white oil paint can be linseed oil which is the best drying oil but has some yellowing issues. Safflower oil stays clear but never really dries. The drying process of linseed oil never stops, it’s a kind of oxidation, and this process can’t be undone. For this reason it makes sense to add safflower oil to your paint as well.

Who doesn't know the work of Franz Kline?! The use of white is affected by his use of black, negative spaces, push/pull. Look carefully, there are whites of every variety sandwiched between layers of overlays. It took years of work for him to portray the amount of energy, space and dynamism in his paintings. I personally see tons of artists assuming his style and getting paid for it. Ha, try his style of work; although it seems simple and effortless there is brilliance in what only he could master! Egh, for me, there is no challenge in exactly duplicating work but to acknowledge the work that came before me and to keep searching for my own truths.

In this video, "Paint Never Behaves the Same: Franz Kline Case Studies" the preservation of the work of Franz Kline is discussed.

According to Gambling Paint company when selecting white oil colors, consider tinting strength. The more opaque the white the higher its tinting strength and the more it will reduce its color. The higher the tinting strength the higher the value of the color/ white mixture (tint). Radiant white and titanium white have the highest tinting strength. They make the brightest, most opaque tints and will reflect the highest percentage of light off the paintings surface.


narrative of the medium

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