Rupert Deese

Some Notes for Merced Color Studies

Last year I began work on new shaped-plywood structures modeled after the contours of California’s Merced River. Some of these forms may feature two colors instead of one.  The new structures, which derive their proportions, as before, from simple arrangements of equilateral triangles, have been built and are awaiting refinement and color.

Preserving the directness and simplicity of the earlier monochromatic structures requires some consideration of the size, proportion and shape of each of the two colors.  Adding a second color might give the painted structures more complexity and energy, but the addition mustn’t complicate.  The transition from color to color must be sharp and clear—so as not to suggest pictorial space. 

Seeing Matisse’s cut-color experiments in early October was revelatory.  The Matisse paper cut-out works are built of uninterrupted areas of brushed flat color.  His paper is painted in vivid colors with gouache opaque paint.  Gouache’s elegant gum arabic medium barely mitigates the brightness of the various pigments. 

For the Merced color studies I began by painting sheets of paper with different gouache colors, cutting out color shapes of the proper proportions, and pinning these shapes to the studio wall. Lost and miniature-like, the shapes needed a context.

In Matisse’s cut-out compositions, the color of the paper behind his drawn-with-scissors shape is nearly always a painted color.  These compositions are fused in color—with the background and foreground balanced in significance and visual presence.

Recalling an audacious green shape vibrating on a field of black in one of the Matisse works, I have mounted these cut-color studies for Merced on full sheets of paper, each sheet painted a gouache-black.