December 17, 2016

A Most Colorful Life: Painter Reginald Baylor, first meet-up, CreativeMornings chapter, launched 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

To an artist, both color and artist are idiosyncratic. With their respective nature in mind, neither can be tamed. It is the headiness of color that drives painter Reginald Baylor to find refuge in his process: color by numbers, color within lines, color applied to precisely crafted compositions.

In his CreativeMornings/Milwaukee talk, Baylor shared his youthful connection to coloring books. This object could be seen as a tool to conform. But to Baylor, a coloring book is a model of logic, similar to an architectural blueprint. Baylor’s paintings are composed of strategically plotted outlines, but their most distinct variable is color, which Baylor coined as his “spontaneity.” Although he colors within the lines, Baylor’s works don’t cling to convention. Each piece of artwork he shared was iterating two of the most visible and liberating forces: lines and color.

Reginald Baylor: Neighborhood, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In his talk, Baylor referenced the painter Cy Twombly. When making lines, Twombly described the act this way: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.” Baylor finds sensation in lines, amplified by the sensation of colors. With masking tape to achieve the linear clarity of his visual artistry, acrylics are selected purposely and applied vigorously to achieve a canvas—plotted, populated and personified in color.

Baylor’s first wave of work was driven by observation. On the surface, associating colors with roses, lollipops and butterflies, as Baylor expressed, sounds trite. Yet it magnifies realities, delightful ones, that are a part of the world and taken easily for granted. Baylor’s medley of color-and-image pairings is a method shared by the astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who pointed to such colorful associations in his book “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are” (1992):
“Fireflies out on a warm summer’s night, seeing the urgent, flashing, yellow white phosphorescence below them, go crazy with desire.” 
“Peacocks display a devastating corona of blue and green…” 
“Luminiscent squid present rhapsodic light shows, altering the pattern, brightness and color radiated from their heads…”
From roses, lollipops and butterflies to fireflies, peacocks and squid, a sliver of nature is identified and recognized immediately for the colors of its essential appearance. Without the reality of color, experiencing the natural and the artificial, and every being and thing in between, would be void of visual stimulation.

In 1740, the mathematician Louis Bertrand Castel compared his findings from examining the phenomenon of color with Newton’s “spectral description of prismatic color.” Castel published “L’Optique des Couleurs” in Paris. It displays this charming diagram:

Baylor’s paintings are proactive ├ętudes in color and its perception. They’re in the exploratory vein of Castel and his contemporaries who were enamored with the perception and science of color. A fascination with optics. To behave as a prism yields a clear benefit: Take in people, places and objects as a rainbow—not reducing anyone and anything to a single impression, a single color.

Intellectually and emotionally, the prisms of ourselves and the world present a reality endowed with visual richness. The opposite of this inheritance is a life robbed of the wealth of light.

Source: Bill Healy for NPR

After 22 years in prison, Tyrone Hood was released. He received clemency from 41st Illinois Governor Pat Quinn when it was proven that he was wrongly imprisoned. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep, he described the long-repressed experience in terms of color. As Hood put it, on being outside and coping with the shock of a new environment unfamiliar to him and his senses:
“The colors was very limited: dark blue, light blue shirt, grey as the bars and white ceiling. That was it. So when I seen the color red, I stared at it. It was a pop machine, or something in front of this gas station. I just looked at that machine for a while, because of the color red.”
Hood’s experience of a restricted color palette was not just harsh. It was dehumanizing. Access to color is living unchained. This is a life full of light. It is a prism set free.

Color is civilization. The human interaction with color goes back 1.3 to 1.8 million years ago, when the earliest human beings began to use fire and tools.

In 1947, LIFE magazine’s Ralph Morse became the first to photograph the paleolithic art throughout the network of caves known as Lascaux in southwestern France. These paintings that portray primarily large animals—horses, cattle, bison, among others—are estimated to be 17,300 years old. From the February 24, 1947, issue:
“[Cro-magnon human] ground colored Earth for rich reds and yellows, used charred bone or soot black for dark shading and made green from manganese oxide…”
Echoing our ancestors, Baylor and his art remind us to live and give the most colorful life imaginable.

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“Color is primarily Quality. Secondly, it is also Weight, for it has not only color value but also brilliance. Thirdly, it is Measure, for besides Quality and Weight, it has its limits, its area, and its extent, all of which may be measured.”
—Paul Klee (1879–1940), Painter
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Big thanks: to The Box MKE (who also hosted), MKE Production Rental, Holey Moley Coffee + Doughnuts, Wellspring for sponsoring Milwaukee CreativeMornings #1; to organizer Paul Oeming and to the Milwaukee CreativeMornings crew for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

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Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

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