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Red, Black, and Gold

May 2–November 10, 2008

This exhibition explores a genre of painting in which solid ground colors are used to invoke specific emotions. The artist lays down one of these three colors as a base and applies a linear painting over the ground, abandoning solid forms in favor of intense movements of line that create both serene and wildly energetic compositions. For black or red ground paintings, the outlines are generally drawn in gold. For gold ground paintings, a dark red line is used; however, variations occur for all three. Foregoing the typical Tibetan system, in which figures are laid out according to a grid, artists often work entirely by free hand on the solid ground, using motifs of ethereal landscapes, flowing garments, and whirling tongues of flame in a conscious effort to enhance the dramatic nature of the imagery.

While many solid ground paintings will have almost no additional color, many artists vary the palette with light washes and heavily applied pigments, which introduce tonal variations and convey a stronger sense of volume. Each of the three ground colors is used for its emotional connotations. Red is for alarm, power, and resolve. Black is for caution, fear, and protection. Gold is for wonder, wealth, and opulence. The emotions these colors inspire combine with the paintings’ subjects to impart a powerful psychological message. Rarely has religious painting explored the suggestive power of color and line with such extraordinary visual expressiveness.