Open Memory and Books

I am always on the look out for old books. Most times they play a part in my own work- color theory, design, aesthetics, sometimes technique- a new look at what appears to be familiar. I know one can practically buy any book online if one needs too. But it isn’t quite the same as finding a book hidden on a shelf that you forgot you wanted to find- a distant memory that springs forward with an acknowledgement or assent calling one to recognize with an inherent familiarity “this” book. Or possibly even finding one that surprises you. I often put myself into the hands of fate and  allow myself to be open to what wishes to present itself to me. Sometimes one has to allow what is out there to find you at the right time and at the right moment. It is allowing what is latent in myself to find expression.

I have found some of the most obscure texts this way- Denmann Ross’ books on color and design (1910). I found 2 of these in large reject piles in university book stores for $2 and the third, I payed big money for. Or The Painter’s Secret Geometry by Bouleau  in which I discovered the theory of rabatment just when I was trying to figure out why Antonio Manchini used this system (in a framed grid form with string that the impression of which can still be seen where it was placed against the wet paint to make direct comparisons) and can be seen on many of his pieces such as “St. John the Baptist” in the Museum of Fine Art Boston. You never know what can happen, what will present itself when one is open to the possibilities.

Sometimes a book completes ideas that you only discovered piece by piece through old letters or other artists referring obliquely to them. Last week I found the complete text of Jay Hambridge’s, Dynamic Symmetry– unadulterated, organized and edited by Hambridge himself from his European magazine the Diagonal. This is the very version that Robert Henri read and applied to his own work. It is also the text that provoked Henri to contact Hambridge directly. I know a little about Dynamic Symmetry from Henri’s personal notes as well as his correspondence with Hambridge in which Henri seeks clarification about certain details in Hambridge’s compositional system. So finding the entire text was extremely exciting.

There has been much talk in the last couple of years about Munsell’s Color System and there is a small revival of his theories. On one of my bookstore searches I found one of the original publications of Henry Munsell’s theory, A Color Notation. It included a chart to be used by the artist to compare his own palette mixes with. This was not an early color printed chart which would not be so accurate but included the original color chips, Hue, Value, Chroma, in an unopened envelope. These chips were to be glued to the chart by the artist himself and are more accurate than any printing could be achieved at that time (1946). These original paint chips are invaluable.

Another interesting book I found was Goethe’s Theory of Colors: With Notes (1810). This translation was from 1840, in English just at the time Goethe’s theories were having a real impact. It was also translated by an artist from the Royal Academy, Charles Lock Eastlake. This was not a first edition text but was a facsimilie of the original. What I liked about this version was that it was less about Goethe’s theories contradicting Newton’s theories and more about his real insight into color and how an artist can utilize the text for his own benefit. I have looked at other versions of this book and found them difficult to extract what would be of interest to me as a painter such as his theory of colored shadows. I learned more about this phenomena on my first brief reading than I had known previously through observation. This should directly effect my personal observation skills.

The last book I came across was on William Blake and the Imagination, Blake and Antiquity (Bollingen Series, 1962). This is a book on aesthetics and directly relates to my recent interest in the material imagination- the basis of all art production. Blake allows for the independent nature of the imagination to have precedence over all creative impulses emerging from the artist, giving the inner voice free reign to reveal what it wills.

Beyond my summer reading, I would also like to show you some of my personal reveries on Cape Cod this year. So if you are wondering, “why these landscapes?”, they are just another part of the present equation that includes my thoughts as well as the visual journey I was on last week.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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