How is surface and colour functioning in recent art making?

Something very interesting happens, (which I have detected from in-studio experimentation) when colour changes from realistic tones to a monotone or shades of a monotone, on an object or image. It changes not only what we see but also how the image or object can be perceived. Andy Warhol used a colour reductive technique when he created his now famous, silk-screen prints of celebrities. Sourcing photos from media, he recreated these as limited colour palette images that turned what was a natural looking photo of a celebrity into what looked like an icon or totemic image, a sign of the real, but a flattened and reduced form of the original.


Andy Warhol, Marilyn 1967

Screen print on paper.

When I think about it, this technique is nothing new. Artisans and icon painters of the pre-mellismos employed this technique in order to represent the divine and the saints in either the underground tunnels or on the altar panels or walls of the early churches. Andy Warhol wanted to break down the boundaries between high and low art to make art accessible to the masses. He cannily figured out the way to do it was through the vehicle of everyday products and popular culture, but that’s another story! Reducing colour to a monotone removes the naturalistic look of something, changing it to become a sign of what it is, and opening up possibilities for new forms of content. For example, colour as a symbolic component.

A symbolic reading of colour is important to the work of Katharina Fritsch. In the way that minimalist sculpture opens up the potential for many multiple interpretations and free-flowing associations, Fritsch’s minimal use of colour on a form or in an image functions similarly. Not only does it enable the ability to shift the context of the object, it also opens up the possibility of juxtaposition of the form of an object with the colour applied to it. These aspects are important in my own work also.


Katharina Fritsch

Figurengruppe / Group of Figures



Katharina Fritsch

Oktopus / Octopus
Polyester and paint
8 1/8 x 17 3/4 x 23 5/8 inches; 21 x 45 x 60 cm

While there are some conceptual similarities and physical properties in common with my work and that of Fritsch, PIvi and Koons regarding use of colour, there are also differences i.e. I use a greater range of surface finishes (satin, gloss and matt) from Frisch and different textures (glitter) from Pivi.  These differences are part of what positions my practice in its own unique place. Of course there are many other factors also, like working practices, scale and choice of objects and images. The decisions I make for colour and surface relate to each work uniquely and in a broader sense to the interests of my wider practice.

Notes on process in relation to colour:

The process for selecting a colour for an object involves speculation, trial and reflection, until the calibration of the colour and surface with the object is working in the way I want it to. I may begin with an idea in mind and find during the process of making, it isn’t working and I need to do more research. It is both an intuitive and intellectual exercise. Research is important in the process. My research often results in the following types of questions: what are it’s cultural and historical references and associations?, how has it functioned or materialized in the history of art?, and what are the symbolic references of colour?.

The majority of Fritsch’s sculptures are mono-coloured and coated with a densely pigmented resin-type paint that provides rich colour and a matt finish on the surface.  Rather than reflecting light in the way that satin or gloss paint does, the matt finish gives the appearance of absorbing light into the sculpture. Fritsch is invested in the power of colour, the cultural and historical associations it can provide and the emotional impact it has on the viewer.

Similarly, colour and its impact are important to Paola Pivi. Her use of colour and surface or materials provokes ambiguous and contradictory feelings for the viewer (lightness and weight, smoothness and violence, warm and cold, seriousness and absurdity).   Narration is not straight-forward. Pivi makes sculptures that are at times mono coloured, including the use of fluoro colours.  Bright happy colours in her work are used to evoke playfulness in the emotional register of the work and the possibility of positive emotional responses for the audience.  The bears in her exhibition Ok, so you are better than me, so what? 2013, are an example of her use of colour and how material can transform an object. This material transformation resonates with surrealist work. Meret Oppenheim’s work Object, 1936 is one example of this work. Aspects of surrealism are found in my work, but in contrast to Pivi’s material transformation, it is the juxtaposition of images, or object with object within an image that engenders a surrealist interpretation.


Paola Pivi, Ok, so you are better than me, so what? 2013.

view of the exhibition, paola pivi ‘ok, you are better than me, so what?’
galerie perrotin, new york, 18 september – 26 october 2013
photo by guillaume ziccarelli / courtesy galerie perrotin

On the other hand, Jeff Koons creates mono-coloured sculptures or groups of mono-coloured objects that have highly reflective shiny surfaces.  For example, the sculpture Tulips, 1995-2004  is a large-scale reproduction of a child’s play-thing. Other sculptures are large-scale reproductions of kitsch items from consumer culture.   The colours remain consistent with the original item.   The intention of the artist for the work, when considering colour, is most often not revealed to the viewer in the way that Fritsch or Pivi use colour. I think colour holds a different value in relation to the artist’s intentions in the work of Koons. Effects of the reflective surface (reflection of light and self and everything around the object) are a dominant feature in relation to surface in Koon’s work. Surface acts as a seductive attention seeker to reflect the viewer and environment and to mimic the original kitsch object.


Jeff Koons Tulips, 1995-2004

mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating
80 x 180 x 205 inches
203.2 x 457.2 x 520.7 cm – See more at:

In my own recent work I am using mono-toned colour on sourced and found objects. Surface finishes occupy a spectrum from highly reflective chrome, through to satin and matt, as well as some textured with glitter. Symbolic, cultural and historical associations are important in my selection of colour. Whereas with surface, these considerations are important, as well as intentionality, about what the work is attempting to do. As an example, the work using piggy banks, For love nor money (save me), 2015, I wanted to accentuate the cheap, kitsch aspect of the work through use of colour and surface. I wanted the work to embody attention-seeking qualities in the way that products and advertising vie for our time and attention at the mall. Glitter was the option I went with in the end, because I think it embodies kitsch really well. It is a cheap and readily available material that mimics the shiny finish of real gold and silver and its material property is like a stand in, for all the trinkets and baubles that shine and sparkle in the $2 shop.


For love nor money (save me), 2015


This image is part of a work that I am currently making it is not finished or titled yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s