Push Pull in Nature

I’ve been trying to apply the concept of ‘push pull’, a term coined by the abstract expressionist painter and teacher, Hans Hofmann, to my watercolor experiments. As explained by The Art Story website:

“The Hofmann School taught the basic principles of ‘push/pull,’ which stressed the importance of applying and combining opposing forces in one’s art, whether these were color vs. shade or hard, geometric shapes vs. fluid, biomorphic abstractions.”

Other explanations describe this technique as a way to portray spatial relationships on a 2-dimensional canvas with the use of color only; without using linear perspective. James Gahagan, artist and former student of Hofmann, said the following about push pull:

“The very space that you’re trying to create the illusion, the experience of—it’s like putty and you have to feel that way towards it and about it. Push/pull. Push/pull. Push/pull. Push/pull. All of that is…you just have to imagine that you’re shaping the space itself. Through comparison and contrast of different colors, one begins to understand how colors interact and how this may be applied in art making.”

Why I’d like to master push pull

To represent three-dimensional space without perspective allows the possibility to consider other types of space: psychic, or mind, space; imaginary space; contours of space.   When I think about it, perhaps this how space is represented in my visual dreams and why it is so difficult for me to draw them. This thought leads me to think that by mastering the push pull concept, I could visually represent my dreams and other states of mind. This is my ambition.

I thank David Tripp for the following quote from Hans Hofmann in his blog entry about push pull, and encourage you to visit his blog:

“Creative expression is . . . the spiritual translation of inner concepts into form, resulting from the fusion of these intuitions with artistic means of expression in a unity of spirit and form. . . . Imitation of objective reality is therefore not creation but dilettantism, or else a purely intellectual performance, scientific and sterile.”

Hans Hofmann

Today’s experiment:

I have been looking at many of the flowers and other plants in various states of bloom or repair (including my pet avocado sapling, Arthur).

I was impressed by this one purple flower that had a bright yellow stamen at its core. I had found push pull in nature, since yellow and purple are complimentary (and opposing) colors.  The  experiment below is the juxtaposition of the purple with the yellow. Usually, my watercolor yellow is soaked up by the watercolor paper, so I used the sample of yellow gouache that I got from my local art store the other day.

I painted the upper background red, a color that appears to advance toward the viewer, and the lower background blue, a cool color that gives the illusion of receding into the distance. I was hoping to set up a spatial tension between these two colors.

Watercolor Sketch - Purple Flower with push pull elements

Flower Push Pull
5″x7″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I think the yellow against the purple works, unlike the red against the blue. If this were truly carving of space, the transition from red to blue would be like a stair step instead of a smoothly carved surface.

I can see that a lot of thought must go into shaping of spatial contours exclusively with colors. But unlike a pure theorist, I am also an experimentalist, so I will continue to push pull. There are plenty of interesting ideas to try out.

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