Skin Tone and the Challenge of Depiction

September 5, 2007

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I’ve often sought a literalness when depicting the color of flesh. Overtime and many techniques, I eventually landed on a restricted palette which uses burnt sienna as a base along with french ult. blue, cadmium orange, sap green and crimson.

In “The Sophia Loren of Mill Valley”, however, I used only indigo blue and golden green with white over a cool rose background. It struck me how much “cool” color could be used to depict heat.
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While I work on my next series of paintings, I’m further struck by how much more emotion can be conveyed when I stray from burnt sienna. In fact, no matter how far out or psychadellic my pallete becomes (gold green for warm tones, orange for cool tones, etc.) the viewer will still read it as a flesh and color, along with gesture, becomes yet another layer of articulation.

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I remember watching the Academy Awards a few years ago and Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz were on the podium to announce the next winner. Here were two of the most beautiful Latina actresses working in Hollywood standing side by side. But instead of having their beauty compounded by seeing them together, I started to focus on their differences– Selma’s arms seemed oddly short in comparison; the top of Penelope’s lip to the bottom of her nose is too small, etc.

I wonder if attempting to emulate the colors of flesh tone too close forces a subconscious comparison; whether or not deviating dramatically sets the viewer free. Surely Van Gough and Gaugin discovered this long before me, but it is one thing to know it intellectually and then another to do it and feel it come alive.