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Blaise DeLong - Seasons

dArt International - Review - Fall 2008 - Ashley Johnson

Shimmer 2008

Color has fascinated artists and scientists for centuries. Newton demonstrated that light passing through a prism separated into the spectrum, the color order determined by short, medium or long wavelengths. Goethe argued that human perception interprets color and that it has mystical correlations.

The relationship between colors took the graphic form of a color wheel or star. Bauhaus teacher, Johannes Itten, popularized the mystical goal that could result from interpreting and playing with color through his book ‘The Art of Color’. In exercises he subordinated the form geometrically to squares and circles, so that color could become more expressive. He emphasized seven different contrasts, light and dark, saturation, hue, extension (proportional balance), warm and cool, complementary colors, and simultaneous contrast.

Some of the main perceptions were that complementaries, i.e. colors opposite on the wheel, were attracted to each other. Analogous colors or those next to one another on the wheel, repel. We have the optical illusion that warm colors, like red and yellow, advance while cool blues and greens recede. There is also a greater visual weight associated with receding colors. If a neutral gray is placed next to a color the eye sees that color’s complementary tone in the gray.

Blaise DeLong’s paintings explore and manipulate many of these color principles. Her art is within the Modernist tradition, which liberated artists from representational form. This reached its apogee with Abstract Expressionism and it is here that DeLong diverges. Abstract Expressionism emphasized the art object in itself and rejected extraneous emotional content. DeLong welcomes the infusion of place and sentiment into her abstract matrix. She embraces a revitalizing mysticism and has more in common with European abstractionists, like Itten and Kandinsky.

Her paintings are complex and beautifully balanced color harmonies. Many works harmonize into a mid gray, with multiple variations of blue and mauve offset by sharp insertions of luminescent red. The complementary colors are usually subtle shades, toned down by increments of the opposing tone as in ‘Forget-Me-Not’. She also uses the repelling possibilities of analogous colors like magenta and orange, which energize the composition ‘Le Rayon Vert’.

The edges of her forms play an important role in defining the spatial feeling. Colors of a similar tone abut blurring their boundary, then they differ markedly generating definite divisions so the eye travels across borders with alacrity, then uncertainty. The constant modulation of light and dark over the picture plane makes the surface pulsate like a living organism. In ‘To the Lighthouse’, the diminishing chroma in the colors as the eye climbs the painting surface acts like atmospheric perspective, suggesting horizons and skies.

This body of work utilizes the square or its projected outgrowth, the rectangle, as the main formal element. DeLong contrasts horizontal or vertical in many different ways, sometimes using brushstrokes across the forms even as they rise vertically. Often she bisects a canvas and then intersects a conglomerate of squares in the centre, overlapping divisions and growing forms towards the viewer. In ‘Castle Perilous’ her forms and colors have a toppling, unstable effect, seemingly suspended tenuously over the ocean.

She balances control and chaos in her method, allowing the paint to drip. This is from every side in ‘Allsorts’, where the effect is to deny visual gravity. At other times the drips disturb the overall corporeality of paintings like ‘Cherokee’, hinting at the dissolution of form and providing a glimpse into the beyond. Semi opaque overlays allow the underlying color to emerge as if by chance in areas. Transparent veils of color press the forms into a resonant depth and impart a sense of mystery.

The use of oils over acrylic brings luster to the colors. DeLong also contrasts passages where the paint is thin with areas of thicker paint, creating a surface texture. Occasionally she uses a small curved line within the composition, for example ‘A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu’, which draws attention to the compositional austerity of the square and also encourages an architectural interpretation.

Some of these works were inspired during DeLong’s sojourn in Morocco. One can feel the desert heat in certain paintings, like ‘Mr. Cairo’ as the proportion of sandy yellows and reds overwhelm the lesser oasis of cool. Others are drenched in her recent Newfoundland experience.

The works in this exhibition demonstrate a mastery of the Modernist idiom, with DeLong’s confidence in her own painting processes well established. These beautiful paintings hover like mirages, inviting the viewer to plunge into their illusion.