Awakening to Color

     painting from Iris Sulivan

"The wealth of anecdote, philosophical insight, originality and humor of Donald’s presentation was reflected in the unique individuality each picture revealed."

New Mexican born Donald Hall spent formative years apprenticing with Beppe Assenza in Dornach. The ageing art master chose Hall as his successor but destiny led Hall to develop a school of his own, first in Harlemville US and later in Bolzano, Italy where his teaching career has flourished for the past twenty years. He also offers regular courses in Milan, Lago de Garda and Croatia and has a growing number of dedicated students in North America. Within the Novalis Project, in 2006 he explored the theme From Michelangelo’s David to Picasso’s Minotaur, contrasting images of freedom and chaos that seek a balance in the human soul. His public lecture was followed by a two day workshop in watercolor painting at the MacLaren Art Centre in downtown Barrie, Ontario, attracting a varied group of would-be and accomplished artists, many of them graduates past course.

Hall’s work belongs in the Italian tradition of which Michelangelo, who made death his study, Leonardo Da Vinci, who celebrated the universally human being and Raphael who revealed the mystery of birth, are supreme examples. He cited the work of Giberti, a teacher of Michelangelo, who executed the magnificent Doors of Paradise for the Baptistry in Florence. One panel features a triangle entitled the Creation of Eve. The figure of God is vertical and imposing, Adam lies as though weighted down by a bed of rocks while Eve, forming a bridge between God and Man, appears weightless and is supported by angels.

Incarnation into a physical body was viewed by Michelangelo as a contraction into a trap, a block. “He knew that you could not get out of the block if you were weak willed or emotional. Michelangelo’s will force could conquer the three dimensional world! His David is a man who got out of the block…” To be released from physicality was to be released from slavery, Michelangelo believed and the creation of David signified a triumph of human freedom. “His expression is that of a man who faces the darkness without running away. He knows he has the ability to make the right decision.”

Michelangelo’s approach to art was selfless and in keeping with the tenor of life in the fifteenth century. Picasso, in more recent times was “a magician of the human body but he was not interested in divinity but in personal power. For Picasso there was no creation without destruction, a trend in art that gained ground in the nineteenth century.” Michelangelo and Picasso had little in common except an uncommon force of will…. The suppression of the feminine evident in Picasso’s work, had started in the seventeenth century. The feminine presence spoke volumes in the inspired Pietas of Michelangelo, in Carravaggio’s Pieta, women had receded into the background. Donald Hall showed a series of slides in support of his insights. The focused energy of Picasso’s work is legendary and features predatory creatures. “He dominated the art scene by sheer egoic force and technical brilliance. Nobody could say no to him!”

A guiding dictum of Novalis with which Goethe and Schiller would agree, provides a context for Donald Hall’s approach to painting, to living and to the subtle alchemy inherent in his teaching method. Become masters of an endless play and forget your foolish striving in an eternal, self-nourishing and ever-increasing pleasure…. A mood of contentment prevailed during Donald’s opening talk and seemed to increase as participants applied themselves to his clearly articulated exercises and discourses on the history, meaning and purpose of art, delivered between painting sessions when we clustered in rapt attention around him.

Hall believes that a healthy art can be created for the future in the practice of Goethe’s theory of color to which he daily applies himself. Color, deemed by Goethe, the deeds and sufferings of light, arises out of the interplay of darkness and light. “When the darkness produced by atmospheric dust stands in front of the light, as the sun goes down, it creates yellow, orange and red. The darkness behind light reveals the blue of the sky…” Newton said darkness did not exist and Goethe had accepted this viewpoint until his own observations of the natural world presented another reality. Light is expressive and darkness comforting, the human soul vacillates between light and dark and all creation flourishes in this tension of opposites.

Goethe, who was an alchemist, revealed principles of relationship, the harmonizing of outer and inner, through a dynamic interaction of color. “Complementary colors such as blue and yellow stimulate each other but if you mix them they destroy each other…What works is when yellow comes to blue by going through darkness and blue arrives at yellow by going through light.” Remarking as he mixed blue and yellow pastels “Green is not love, green is static, it separates….” Donald showed a progression of yellow to orange and vermilion on one side and blue transmuting into purple and magenta on the other. “ Red becomes the solution, the point of real union, something enters from above in the color red and joins the two when complementary colors meet in this process.” Everything Donald said had a vital bearing on life itself…

We engaged in a color study of the masculine/feminine dynamic to explore the coming into relationship of the New Adam and the New Eve. Letting color show the way led each participant to discover something new. The wealth of anecdote, philosophical insight, originality and humor of Donald’s presentation was reflected in the unique individuality each picture revealed. The course ended with Donald’s illuminating, generous and helpful commentary on each new work of art, encouraging both the specialist and neophyte amongst us. Everyone departed with a song of praise in his or her heart for the brief presence amongst us of a true teacher who taught us by example how to see the world and our part in it as a harmonious weaving of color and consciousness.
Treasa O’Driscoll,
Novalis Project, March 28, 2006.

The Novalis Project is sponsored by Camphill Communities and Sophia Creek Centre for the Arts, Medicine and Cultural Life.

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