Carl Blair: Color Basics and Unlimited Possibility

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That moment when you learn your painting professor is colorblind a lot of thoughts go through your head. A good deal is made about Carl Blair’s colorblindness. It’s a neat aside, it’s even mentioned in his obituary. It is interesting, given that his work is so colorful, but it’s not often discussed at any depth, it’s mostly just a chance for people to be incredulous.

So, how does a colorblind painter make color choices? Color has four characteristics–value, hue, intensity, and temperature. Most of us don’t think much beyond a color’s hue–hue is the name by which we know a color. Red, green, blue–those are hues. A colorblind artist makes decisions about color by using the three characteristics of color at his disposal. Blair couldn’t see hue, so he worked with value, intensity, and temperature.

A color’s value is where it falls on the spectrum of light or dark. The intensity of a color refers to how pure it is–colors come out the tube fairly pure and therefore fairly intense. Every color also has a temperature, a color is either warm or cool. These are the basics of color–hue, value, intensity, and temperature.

Blair’s understanding of the lesser known elements of color grew out of his colorblindness, it was necessary for him. Most of us think about mixing color to get another color, Blair thought about mixing color to get a different result. Every painting was another experiment in the relationships of color–what happens when I juxtapose two colors and turn the dials of their value, temperature or intensity.

There are no ugly colors, only colors in bad relationships
— Carl Blair

Learning about color from Blair–having a painting professor who was colorblind­–raised larger questions for me. What else am I not fully grasping because I’m only looking at one aspect of its character? How limited is my thinking because I’m not educated enough? How long do I stay stuck because I’m looking at a problem from one perspective?

By the time I reached Blair I had already had a color theory class. I had mixed colors, I had created a color wheel and made value studies of both warm and cool colors. But it was with Blair that I saw the potential of the basic knowledge. Blair the opened up the idea of possibility for me­, larger than possibilities–the idea that there is always more to be discovered and that it doesn’t have to be something grand but is often just a turn of the dial or a deeper understanding of the basics.

This is one of a number of posts about Carl Blair who I was fortunate enough to have studied under in college. Carl passed away on January 22, 2018.

Jack BurgessComment