Friday, May 1, 2009

No language, just color.

I feel that sometimes in my paintings; I have no language, just color. I am an abstract painter and some people think I am quite the colorist and that my paintings are evocative of certain emotions. I personally have a hard time knowing about picking up emotions from my colors. I know emotions from words, photographs, music, and film, but I'm not always sure about color. I know how to use colors, but not always sure what they mean, say or evoke. This isn't the same argument I have had in the past where I wonder about the validity of making lovely or beautiful art, or what it all means. This is really about understanding what color says to people and what it says to me.

I was having this discussion yesterday, as it comes up every now and then and I said I could talk about it for hours, and I think I could. I really want to understand it. What does color mean to you, is it spoon fed? Does green equal fresh and red equals anger, passion or love? Or can you feel sadness in olive green or hope in bright yellow? Why are we drawn to the colors we are drawn to? What makes me put an orange oxide next to a phthalo blue? Is it because of learned color theory or is it an emotional response, or just because I know they click (in my mind at least).

I think my titles hint at emotions or the stories I was thinking of or creating while painting the work but if you look at the paintings without the titles I am not sure how emotional or evocative they are. Or perhaps I am the only one that pays attention to my titles.

I see beauty in color, I think I even feel color- but I don't know if I can name an emotion to it. Now I do get emotions from a broken pencil or charcoal line or empty space in a painting, so what does this mean? I get emotion from the overall atmosphere of the painting but perhaps not the colors that create the atmosphere. Is this possible?

Suddenly I am thinking of the Tao and the "Tao is nameless, goes beyond distinctions, and transcends language." So perhaps naming certain emotions found in an abstract painting is an obsolete practice. To know it, is to not have to speak of it. It all turns inward into itself. You either like the work or you don't, you either feel it or you don't. It recalls something within you or it doesn't.

No language, just color and we are back to square one.

And speaking of color...I have finally restocked my Etsy shop with nineteen new affordable and original small works on paper. Please visit and Enjoy!

Pictured above:

You'll find me here (again)
©2009 Megan Chapman

Once set, not abandoned
©2009 Megan Chapman


  1. I have *always* enjoyed your titles, the insights I feel like they provide, the emotions they help give name to.

  2. I love your colors too! I think they are bold but calming at the same time. It's easy to get lost in them, the space between them. I feel dreamy after viewing your paintings. Content. Wandering.

  3. Color definetly affects moods and emotion. I love bold colors like you use in your paintings. They are bright and warm. There are people that have a rare conditon called synesthesia. They see colors when listening to music. They also see color with numbers, shapes and letters. I am going to try to go tomorrow to see your paintings at Wear Art Thou. I will take pics if I can go. Have a good weekend!

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    "the emotions they help give name to"- thanks for that.

    I am usually, "dreamy, content and wandering" when I paint so if you are picking that up, that is fantastic!

    Music and color connection is strong with me.
    I have always been fascinated by the synesthetic experience.

  5. Hey Megan!
    I wrote this really great comment yesterday morning, and somehow navigated away from the page, and lost it...and I've been trying to remember what i wrote, and I just can't...

    anyway, the gist of it was something like I don't necessarily see emotion in color either. Colors don't necessarily make me feel one way or another. I also find emotion in mark making, or certain images.

    I feel like there are moments in your work that I can find emotion. When certain colors combine or overlap. I feel that with abstract work, it's not so much about the audience, or viewer, finding the emotion, it's more about the artist who is creating the piece. It's about their feeling that's being put into the work. That's what is important.

    p.s. I'm glad your presence on the internets has returned!

  6. At the risk of starting a tangent, I found this sentence very provocative:

    "I know how to use colors, but not always sure what they mean, say or evoke."

    While I think I would have to know what colors mean before I learned how to use them, that's me, and you may be (and apparently are) different.

    In the nineteenth century, composers started writing "program music", which associated musical expressions with concrete ideas. This concept had various names, such as idee fixe and leitmotif, but in any event was supposed to help the listeners find and understand the composer's inspiration in creating his tunes and developing them into a fleshed-out work. I don't know why the audiences started needing cognitive aids; Bach's, Haydn's, and Mozart's audiences could enjoy their music with no worldly associations attached. While I like program music a lot (such as Liszt's "Les Preludes", Strauss's "Til Eulenspiegel", and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique), I don't feel like I need a cast of characters to like them more.

    So what does this have to do with visual art? I react differently to different colors in different works. In yours, I like the dark azures and reds the most (I keep waiting to find the perfect combination). I find them pleasing to the eye. But I don't associate any emotion with either of those colors, or the others you use. When I think about your art, it's more likely to compare it with other artists I like (Rothko is always the first to come to mind). The only consistent emotion I feel looking at your work is happiness to know such a talented artist early in her career. I write that hoping it does not upset you that I'm not reacting emotionally to your work. Your art is pleasing to the eye and I enjoy studying it.

  7. for some reason your paintings and the colours, to me, make me think of sunday...?

    It really depends on what else is happening in my life as to what colour evokes what emotion. I don't think it is always the same.

    I too am glad you are back again...

  8. Colour and emotion go hand in hand for me - ever since I realised I wore different colours depending on how I felt....

    Colour can make me stop in my tracks and evoke strong emotions.

    There's a whole therapy using colour - fascinating stuff!

  9. Thank you for all your comments on this post. I am mulling them all over and thinking about them all and then I will come back again later and respond.

  10. Dear Megan,

    I just discovered your blog last week. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge in such a clear and intelligible way. Your blog is packed with encouragement, inspiration and useful information for visual artists. Keep up the good work. I put a link to your blog on mine.

  11. Hi Megan, this post has got me thinking this week quite a bit. I appreciate your ability to provoke thought so much. I have a form of synesthesia, instead of seeing colors with music and letters I see certain colors with deep/ repressed emotions. It came about a few years ago and I don't remember having this as a child so I was pretty freaked out by it for awhile, now I'm feeling a bit more comfortable with my weirdness :)

    I definitely connect to your paintings emotionally. hmmm.... I'm gonna get back to you this is really interesting.

    And congrats on the studio space!!!!

  12. Beautiful paintings Megan.
    I love your beautiful paintings. You are very talented.