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A Colour A Day: Week 21

Ruth Siddall16 August 2020

A Colour A Day Week 21. 10th-16th August

Jo Volley writes….

Extracts from Matisse on Art Jack D Flam 1973. On the occasion of an exhibition at the Gallery Maeght, December 1949 the title of which was Black is a Colour. Henri Matisse’s remarks were recorded by M. Maeght.

Before, when I didn’t know what to put down, I put down black. Black is a force: I depend on black to simplify the construction. Now I have given up all blacks*The use of black as a colour in the same way as the other colours – yellow, blue or red – is not a new thing. The Orientals made use of black as a colour, notably the Japanese in their prints. Closer to us, I recall a painting by Manet in which the velvet jacket of a young man with a straw hat is painted in a blunt and lucid black. In the portrait of Zacharie Astruc by Manet, a new velvet jacket is also expressed by a blunt luminous black. Doesn’t my painting of the Marocains use a grand black which is as luminous as the other colours in the painting? Like all evolution, that of black in painting has been made in jumps. But since the Impressionists it seems to have made continuous progress, taking a more and more important part in colour orchestration, comparable to that of the double-bass as a solo instrument. 

*Matisse does not mean he has given up the use of black, but that he no longer used it merely for linear construction as in his earlier works. Actually, at this time Matisse was making a use of black as a colour instead of an element of linear construction.

From left to right

  1. Jet – W&N Designers gouache
  2. Perylene – W&N Designers gouache
  3. Lamp – W&N Designers gouache
  4. Blue Black – W&N Calligraphy ink
  5. Mars – W&N Designers gouache
  6. Ivory – W&N Designers gouache
  7. Noir Intense – Lefranc Bourgeois Linel gouache

Pigment Stories: Sarah Needham’s Graphite

Ruth Siddall25 March 2020

Graphite is a naturally occurring mineral pigment, a form of  carbon, which occurs in geological environments which have undergone high temperature metamorphism or where there has been precipitation of elemental carbon from fluids. Vein carbon deposits are regarded as exceptionally pure. Graphite has been used as the main pigment for pencils. A lode of graphite was discovered in Seathwaite in the English Lake District in the 16th Century, when it was assumed to be lead (plumbago) because of it’s sub-metallic, silver grey lustre. Graphite has a very high specific heat capacity (as opposed to the metal lead), so it was initially used for moulds for casting cannon balls. The graphite pencil was exclusively manufactured in Britain because of the particular quality of the Seathwaite deposits, but they were relatively rare. The uniqueness of the Seathwaite deposit was that it could be sawn into square-section rods which could be used for drawing. Most artists and draughtsmen were using silverpoint for drawing at the time and this continued to be used until the mid 19th Century when the ruction of graphite pencils became universal.

For World Pigment Day, artist Sarah Needham wrote about a graphite pigment made from graphite rods used in the steel-making industry.

“I’m really interested in the way that pigments leave traces of our history and human interconnectedness across time and geography. The pigment in these videos is graphite, recovered from graphite rods my Uncle bought at auction when the steel works in a North Yorkshire town were closed down. This is a particular incidence of history that is close to my very own personal history, firstly because my uncle found them, and secondly because on the other side of the family there is a history of stainless steel cutlery making. The industrial graphite took some pounding to get into powder form and I did this by covering it in a cloth before pounding it.

More often I look for pigments that play a role in historical events which have resonance with current events. For example my recent collection From Alchemy to Chemistry uses pigments that were synthesised as a result of chemical analysis, to replace older natural pigments, in the industrial revolution. The connection being an era when technological change revolutionised our ways of being, living, doing and seeing…just like the technological revolutions of
today.”

What exactly are graphite rods? They are used in the steel industry for a stainless steel making technique called the electric arc furnace (EAF) process and for refining the final product (turning steel into stainless steel) in blast furnace processes. The latter were those most probably used by Sarah’s ancestors. Graphite rods are used as electrodes as they can carry huge amounts of electric current. They are made by mixing graphite and pitch and then placing this mixture into tubular moulds. These are then heated so that the pitch turns to coke, this mixture is then heated to extremely high temperatures, in modern process, these are typically 3,000 °C, so that the entire mix of hydrocarbons is reduced to pure graphite.

Follow Sarah Needham on Instagram.