Haunted by Palettes Past

06/22/2010 06:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One recent morning I read Lucy Davies' lovely Telegraph article titled Why Preserve Van Gogh's Palette?. It speaks engagingly, almost poetically, about how, long after an artist has left us, their process can continue to reveal itself through these often-overlooked and ordinary tools of the trade. Each palette shown and discussed in the article is truly a beautiful object of art, beyond the literal sense, in and of itself.

A bit later in the day I return to my studio, inspired and recharged by the article. However, as I sit before my easel and begin to work, the romance of Ms. Davies' piece wears off and I begin to feel a bit panicked. Palette in hand, and looking down at the wild display of vivid splotches and straight-from-the-tube paint puddles, I cannot help but think of Eugène Delacroix's meticulous arrangement of colors and ponder what his reaction to my messy display might be. I can see him standing before me, arms crossed, slowly shaking his head with disapproval.


Eugène Delacroix

If Georges Seurat's palette speaks of rigid color theory, what does mine reveal? I am a self-taught artist. I usually paint from imagination and choose colors instinctively, often changing the scheme of a painting three or four times before its completion. Behind Delacroix I then see Seurat, pointing at me ("pointing", get it??? Insert rim shot here). "Sunday in the Park With George is one of my favorite shows!" I blurt out, apologetically. How pathetic.


Georges Seurat

My process is very informal. Music and words inspire me. Most of my paintings begin as text; a lyric in a song, the title of a movie or a phrase that randomly came to mind and I managed to write down on a napkin during lunch. My use of color (bold color) is just as informal. I am much less concerned with what is considered academically correct than with what feels right to me during the creative process. More often than not, this approach has paid off.

So what will art historians say, when they show up at my studio to gather my instruments, long after I have died and gone to that big bright art gallery in the sky? What will they say when they come to collect my palette for historical preservation? What will they say when they lay their eyes on my less-than-dignified Fourth of July Family Reunion Styrofoam Plate palette. I break into a shameful sweat just thinking about it!

To Eugene and Georges' right appears Gauguin (as if the studio is not already crowded enough). I brace myself for another wave of disapproval. I am a grown man, I can handle this, I tell myself. Defiantly, I set my palette and brush aside and say, "Let's hear it, Paul. I can take it." Instead he gestures down at my canvas and says emphatically "Pure color! Everything must be sacrificed to it." and all is well in my world again.


John Gascot