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Interview and article Produced by Badische Anilin & Soda-Fabrik AG

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With brush and palette...
In Munich's quartier latin lives the painter Oswald Malura. I visit him in his atelier, from which there is a wonderful view over the roofs of Schwabing.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, we soon get down to discussing the object of my visit, and I am fascinated by the manner in which this artist describes his aspect of colour:

The creation of the world marked the birth of colour, that glowing, sonorous prime element which forms the basis of all the beauty of our existence. It is not surprising, therefore, that painting occupies a very special position among the divine arts, as Leonardo da Vinci expressed it in his arguments and his treatises. He gave preference to the art of colourful, graphic representation over all other branches of art. It is fascinating to imagine how man made his first attempt to draw pictures with black and red-brown colours on cave walls, and finally succeeded in obtaining outlines of animals and people. That was the beginning of painting. It conferred plastic vision on mankind. Artistic expression became increasingly rich and complicated in the course of the centuries. China, India and Egypt have left us magnificent products of their colourful art from various epochs. European painters have also left us an immense fortune of works of art in the course of the centuries. This is a veritable triumph of colour. And it continues unabated, even to-day. In all spheres of life, colour has become the dominating factor. Colour is a world power whose influence reaches out in all directions.

It was Goethe's study of colour that formed the basis on which a real understanding of the phenomenon of colour can be gained. His research in this field made him the first man to have a comprehensive, clear idea of what colour is. Everything that had been thought or written before him was fragmentary and completely inadequate, although it may have pointed in the right direction. It was the genius Goethe who first elevated the study of colour to a profound science. He was quite justified in saying of himself: "Everything that I have achieved as a poet does not make me feel proud. What I am pround of, and what gives me the feeling of superiority over many other people, is the fact that I am the only one in my century who knows what is right in the difficult science of colour." Oswald Malura continues: We may obtain a better insight if we disregard modern painting for the time being and observe a painter who has put up his easel in the open, in the midst of the scenery he is painting - as in the days of Corot and Cezanne. Only a beginner attempts to produce a photographic reproduction true to nature. The faithfulness of his reproduction depends on his power of observation and impressions. He is not yet concerned with the law of picture composition and the effect of colour; he simply paints what his eye sees. A master painter does not do this. The way he selects his subject and places it in his picture - what he calls his "composition" - and also the way he handles colours are quite different.

The beginner just copies what he sees, whereas the artist sets each colour deliberately in relation to a uniform whole. He determines the colour-fullness of the picture and promotes or suppresses the shades, until he sets the accent at the end. A good example for this is Corot's The Bridge in a Munich collection. The dominant colour of the whole picture is an ochre-yellowish grey. The only contrast is a woman who is crossing the bridge. She wears a blue apron. Without this accent, the picture would be monotonous and incomplete. This blue accent in the picture fulfils a function similar to that of counterpoint in music. Or look at this aquarelle by Paul Klee. It was made in 1929 and its title is Luftfagdscene. You can see here quite clearly how the whole composition is held together by the colourful central point.

What Rembrandt succeeded in producing in his inimitable masterpieces of colour transparency and density, occurs again later in Paul Cezanne's paintings in a form that is easier for us to understand. No other painter of this epoch offers us this composition of colours which can only be created by one who knows the law of colour. Nothing here is haphazard or at random. The colours are set in an organic arrangement like the stones in a wall. The colour values are graduated with almost mathematical precision. Cezanne's work shows the beginning of the development towards the cubism of Picasso and Braque. Something quite new has come to life in the field of painting. Hitherto unknown values of colourful experience and impression rise to the surface, form certain arrangements, and break all the old laws of painting. Before Cezanne dies, the first abstract picture is born. And now the development proceeds at a steadily increasing rate. All bridges to the past are burnt. A revolutionary change takes place in painting. Kandinsky with his Blue Rider, Marc, Macke and Klee make great strides forward. There is no longer any restriction to the development of colour in its full intensity. "Away from illustrations' Painting as an art for itself" is now the slogan. In 1913 the French painter Delaunay writes "Colour is form and subject. It alone is the theme that develops itself and changes outside of any analysis - be it psychological or otherwise. Colour is a function for itself. Its activity is effective at all times and in every development." Didn't fascination with a colour sometimes go to such extremes that artists worked for whole periods completely in one colour? You mentioned Picasso ... Quite right! Picasso had a "blue" period and a "pink"' period. The blue period was around 1901, when he created pictures such as the Ironing Woman and the Absinth Drinker. The pink period with scenes from the world of the circus was from 1905. What about the old masters?

They also had epochs characterized by certain colour combinations. The Veronesians with their warm golden shades are a good example. You have also heard of Tizian red, van Dyck brown and Rembrandt brown. Each painter developed his own characteristic shades. They prepared their colours by their own recipes, which they kept strictly secret even from their own colleagues.
What are the oldest colours used in painting?

Oh, we would have to go back tens of thousands of years. When the cave paintings from the last ice-age were discovered, stone grinding dishes containing mineral colours were also found. They were mainly red ochre, black manganese earth, red chalk, and iron oxides. Mr. Malura, how does the painter of an abstract picture create the fascination of colours?

Colour lives by itself and it does not require any motive from the world we live in. In abstract painting the painter's only object is to arrange colours in a picture to create the mysterious composition which appeals to the observer or moves or excites him. If I have just one blue on the canvas before me, and it is a particularly beautiful blue, it will appeal to me but it will not satisfy me for long. I am forced to use variations of this blue surface by mixing the blue values with red or green. The surface now comes to life, but I am not yet satisfied. It is only when I introduce the contrast colour orange into this blue that I have tension. The blue in the picture has its complementary colour. Similarly, every shade demands its complementary colour, and until it has it, there is no peace. Of course, that does not solve the whole problem. It all depends on how it is done. It makes a great difference, which orange I select. It must be the orange which corresponds to this blue in the picture.

The painter of today needs not only a strong sense of feeling; he must have profound knowledge of what colour is.