March 7, 2014

The artist Chuck Close "used to love all-white minimalist spaces," which were "perfect for my black-and-white Sol LeWitt paintings and other contemporary pieces."

"Then I started collecting portraits by old masters from the 1300s to the 1600s."
It didn’t take long to realize I couldn’t hang those paintings on white walls. They looked stupid. Visually, white was too harsh a backdrop.
Based on the colors on the walls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he picked a "totally dead" — no sheen — red that his girlfriend-now-wife Sienna compared to "dried blood." She agreed to it on the condition that she could paint the bedroom black — a "greenish black."
When the two rooms were done, I actually loved the bedroom and she loved the living room. In the green-black bedroom, the wall-mounted flat-screen TV seems to disappear and our tall green mother-in-law-tongue plants look lifelike. Sienna put up one of her green paintings and it looks so vivid, almost fluorescent. The room even seems larger now, and the dark color puts me to sleep instantly at night.

In the living room, the seven old masters on the walls look at home. The red doesn’t make the space seem like a European drawing room. There’s no crown molding and our furniture is modern... We also have a minimalist gas fireplace made of polished gray cement. So the room’s design is still pretty severe....

Before I painted the living room red, we never went in there. I used to roll through it traveling from the kitchen to the den or the bedroom. Now we eat only in there.... Now I notice the reds in the portraits that I hadn't seen before, as though they had been hiding until the red walls brought them out.
First the art, then the wall color, then the effect of the wall color on the color in the art and on the way you sleep and eat.

28 comments:

Bob R said...

Very nice. The order of choice is right for someone whose first priority is the art. I know artists sneer at people who "choose art that goes with the couch," but if your first priority is the couch...

Bob R said...

By the way, I bought my wife (a percussionist) a Zinc King Lingerie wash board (the Stradivarius of wash boards) recently. Looks like he could buy his wife a washboard and not be forced to sleep on the couch.

One more thought: I would like to have a batik smoking jacket, but I don't think I'd let myself be photographed in it.

tim maguire said...

As a until-recently long-standing New Yorker, all I can think is, "that apartment must be worth a fortune." Some of the decorating is nice too.

surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Crack Emcee said...

I am positive I have discussed the appeal of black walls (with green plants) here, before.

Great art/slavery catch, Ann:

White's "too harsh a backdrop" for the colored.

"Dried blood" and the "totally dead" apparently bringing the whole thing to life again.

Enveloped in black, the media "seems to disappear and,...plants look lifelike."

Everything "seems larger now".

Including his openness to seeing what was already there,...

David said...

Valspar Red.

Almost identical to our living room.

Totally my wife's doing, based on her instincts and intuition, which are far superior to mine.

Ann Althouse said...

@Crack LOL

traditionalguy said...

Atheist's question for the day:

Is that some amazing Darwinian Evolution. Did these creatures accidentally make detailed art colors and textures changeable at will to ensure a better living environment for people living in home? Do we believe that organisms lacking the artist's trained mind would not have struggled as well to survive.

Or does is that evidence of a creative power on loan from the creator of the universe to his man?

CWJ said...

Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. Among other things, I found that while I didn't know Chuck Close, I did know his work. Now I understand why he was able to afford 3000 sq ft in the Village.

The article's cliche's were charming in their predictabilty. The head cocked to one side resting on his fist. Assuring us that he paid too much for for his apartment. Casually name dropping Paul Simon at the article's end. The understated irony of living such a comfortable life in a wheelchair for the past quarter century.

Ann Althouse said...

I think a problem with art on white walls is that the white is bright and your eye reacts to light. Then it's harder to see the detail in the dark colors in the art. You need light in the room to see anything, but you want light that makes the painting visible and for your eye to adjust to that. Keeping all that bounced light from white walls out of your eye is important.

Why do white walls work with big modern art paintings? Maybe because they are so easy to see because they're big and bold. Your eye has less work to do. Maybe because white seems more like an empty space than black does. Black — whatever Crack and others want to say about race — when it's on walls and enveloping us environmentally is the night, which contains all sorts of unknown things. It has substance and content and is more of a context for traditional and mystical things. It's not emptiness but fullness.

The color of skin is really a different matter altogether, because we always see that skin is skin and part of a person (whatever you may think of the person).

Walls make a place that we are in and both white and black walls are trying to disappear, but disappearance into white feels very different from disappearance into black, because disappearance into black is our very familiar feeling of day becoming night.

Disappearance into white isn't something that happens in our natural world. It takes us out of the world. That's why it goes with the modern paintings.

Henry said...

Why do white walls work with big modern art paintings? Maybe because they are so easy to see because they're big and bold. Your eye has less work to do.

Bigger means they take up more of your field of vision.

White walls work well in modern houses with large windows. The walls reflect the colors that come from outside.

Our Cliff-May inspired ranch has floor-to-ceiling windows in the main room. We have yet to find any art that works on the walls.

Our last house was a small, urban 1920s American foursquare with tiny windows. The previous owner had desperately skim-coated and painted every surface bright white; This just accentuated the lack of natural light. We repainted every room in deep, strong colors and put up lots of framed art.

All that art is in boxes now, but I'm happy to enjoy the light-filled house in exchange.

rhhardin said...

Minimalist beige works fine with impressionists.

Rusty said...

Althouse.
Like bright sunlight on snow and then walk into the house. Everything appears dim and washed out.
White is unforgiving against color.

Anonymous said...

Rolling Stones. Paint it greenish-black.

Cream. White room with black curtains.

The curators of Rock.

There are others.

Anonymous said...

Comedy Stage Open Mic Night Comic says:


So I have a friend, Trevor, who is an artist, which basically means he is unemployed and living in his parents' basement (laughter), but he is unemployed and living in his parents' basement with a Vision (laughter). Actually, several of his paintings are quite good, people's eyes are where they are supposed to be, things like that (laughter). Lately he has been working on a series: nude women holding bowls of tomato soup. I'm sure the tomato soup means something (laughter): I haven't asked, I'm just letting it be part of the Big Mystery that is Art (laughter). The real question for me, though, is: how exactly do you approach strange women and convince them to come back to your parents' basement and take off all their clothes? Believe me, I've tried (laughter), no success, no success. I mean, anyone can say they are an artist, is that all it takes, or is their paperwork involved? (laughter) Maybe a badge you can flash? I mean, I know Trevor, he's a good guy -- I'm reasonably sure all the women have made it back out of the basement alive (laughter). Still, if I was a woman it would seem a little dicey to me. Of course, if I was a woman I'd spend all day watching myself masturbate (applause)... Thank you, you've been great...

traditionalguy said...

Thanks for teaching us Professor. You are a great teacher.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Those old master paintings were all painted by natural light, maybe with candle or oil light. Which is also how they were viewed prior to the 20th century.

The really interesting information taken from the article is who Chuck Close is married to Sienna Shields. Worth googling, just to see she (and Chuck) agree with James Brown about it being a Man's World.

Also great- Chuck Close asked Ray Johnson for an "artist's discount"!!!

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Those old master paintings were all painted by natural light, maybe with candle or oil light. Which is also how they were viewed prior to the 20th century.

The really interesting information taken from the article is who Chuck Close is married to Sienna Shields. Worth googling, just to see she (and Chuck) agree with James Brown about it being a Man's World.

Also great- Chuck Close asked Ray Johnson for an "artist's discount"!!!

CStanley said...

Love, love, love that red. The black, not so much for me.

Seriously thinking of painting my foyer that color now that I've seen it. Trouble is that when you go bold there is no turning back and it often requires changing other rooms,I love my pale gray ceiling in the living room that opens off of the foyer, and I doubt it would work with the red.

Fred Drinkwater said...

I learned a few things doing color calibrations at Adobe (the main one being, There's No Such Thing as White Paper). Lighting and wall color have very strong effects on image perception, including:
- (the obvious one) lighting controls the spectrum available for reflection from the painting.
- wall color subtracts from that spectrum and changes the lighting directionality.
- the eye and visual ganglia have very non-linear responses to brightness, colors, and spatial frequencies (i.e. the "texture" of an image), and these responses change independently with different time constants.
And all that is before you get to the psychology of perception, which is its own mess.

Michael said...

What are the "standard" colors for walls in museums? The good ones? It would seem to me that a lot of thought has gone into this by people who have some view of how it should work. Or are we to behave like the buyers of new high end cars that immediately put on differently sized wheels; as though the manufacturer hadn't given thought to the performance of the car with stock wheels. Not to mention the aesthetics.

madAsHell said...

Mr. Close hails from Monroe, Washington.
In Monroe, if you're not standing guard at the prison, then you're cutting lumber in the forest.

It's a good place to be FROM...

William said...

Like Mr. Close I have a wood floor. Also, my ceiling is situated in the same place. Not many other similarities.....I didn't read the article, but my guess is that the take away message is that your life sucks, peasant.

Anonymous said...

White walls are unsexy - much too clinical like a hospital.

They are okay for fresh, airy, open spaces, but I don't get them for bedrooms. Give me a black and jewel tones, a better conduit to the subconscious and all activities improved by such IMO.

All professional creative digital environments I ever worked in, for example, were kept dark and glowing. It was very relaxing. Music and sound is also most often displayed at night against a dark backdrop.

Anonymous said...

Most web sites, much to my dismay given my color preferences, do display best against a white or light backdrop, esp. When text based. It helps with usability and looks cleaner and more professional. The most easily read text is black or blue against white.

mccullough said...

His art collection was even better before he had to give up half of it in his divorce. Hopefully he had Sienna sign a pre-nup or she'll be walking away with some of the Old Masters

mikee said...

He called the plant in his bedroom a "mother-in-law tongue plant" and while I know exactly the plant he is referencing, I thought the politically correct used its alternate name, snake plant, or its proper name, sansevieria trifasciata laurentii.

Don't let that writer from Salon who hates white belly dancers hear about this, or we'll be subjected to another column of her writing.

rhhardin said...

I run my (Firefox) browser with forced white text and medium grey background.

Sometimes you have to revert back to default to see buttons and so forth, but not too often.