Homage to the Square, Josef Albers, 1970

As an icebreaker, I’d like to talk about my favorite color, RED.

Red is often talked about in literature, poetry, and is associated with passion, love, and anger. Josef Albers opens his book Interaction of Color with a discussion on red and the idea of the color red vs. observed red. Why is it that red is such an important color to us emotionally?  The argument that it is because our blood is red seems too obvious, and I’m not convinced that alone makes red compelling.

I am personally drawn to reds so bright that it burns a hole in my retina. When I paint, I sometimes like to start with a red ground, and then paint that red ground back in throughout the whole painting.  This keeps the painting open in a way that is energetic and unstable.  The overuse of red causes nausea due to the retinal fatigue, hence why you don’t often see people painting their bedrooms bright red (more power to you if you did!)

One of the best examples of the color red is The Red Studio by Henri Matisse.  This painting has been an enormous influence on my work because it is so unapologetically red. Lines made of the negative space between the red form the images. The lines creating the images recede in space because the red is on top and physically closer to the eye, dominant. The red seeps into the thin lines. It is a struggle for your eyes and brain to decipher the image, and the more you look, the more the red burns into your eyes.


The Red Studio, Henri Matisse, 59 1/4″ x 74 1/4″, 1911

Mark Rothko’s Untitled Number 21, 1949 was strongly influenced by The Red Studio. 1949 was a pivotal year for Rothko, when he transitioned from his more surrealist work to the color field paintings he is best known for. It is also the year when Matisse’s influential 1911 painting The Red Studio went on view at MoMA. Rothko’s Untitled Number 21 creates the same tension using the color red as Matisse’, with a soft, diminishing blue underpainting that the eye must fight to see through the intense red fog.

Untitled Number 21, 1949, Mark Rothko, 80″ x 39 3/8″, 1949

Since seeing The Red Studio, the painting has been in the back of my mind while I paint.  I crave the red in my work and the work I go to see. Red! Red! Red!  In my painting, Family Meeting, I use the tension of the red ground combined with the open postures of the figures’ bodies to create a specific emotional narrative.

Family Meeting, Devon Midori Hale, 40″ x 50″, 2010


This entry was written by Sarvey and published on March 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm. It’s filed under Influences. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.


  1. I love this! I see your painting. I love your painting! You could be a painting grad student teaching your own classes. I can see you showing these slides to your class and helping them “get” color! Honestly! You are so articulate and deeplyfeeling and intelligent! You rock!

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