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  • David Eichholtz

Color Theory

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Color Theory, in art and design, refers to a set of principles and guidelines for working with color that includes pure colors (hues), their values, mixing and the perceptual effects of color. A complex topic with many different theories and the earliest color wheel from Sir Issac Newton. Most of the impact on Post War contemporary art is that derived from theorists and educators such as Johannes Itten (1888-1967) and his and publication of The Art of Color; Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) and his “push and pull” technique to use color and shapes to create the illusion of space, depth and motion in a two-dimensional picture plane; and Josef Albers (1988-1976) and the Interaction of Colors (Yale University Press).

There is a group of contemporary color theorists from Hunter College in New York City who have dedicated their careers to categorizing thousands of colors and developing their own color systems for understanding the affect of color on the human psyche and the sensations that color in terms of human emotions. These artists include Sanford Wurmfeld, Robert Swain and Gabriele Evertz.

Some basic terms and definitions:

Color - The property of an object based on the light it reflects or emits and that the eye receives.

Color wheel - color spectrum from light bent into a circle.

Primary colors - The most basic colors on the color wheel, red, yellow and blue. These colors cannot be made by mixing.

Secondary colors - colors that are made by mixing two primary colors together. Orange, green and violet.

Tertiary colors - colors that are made by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

Hue - the name of a pure color.

Chroma - a color's purity, intensity or saturation, the brightness or dullness of a color.

Value - the darkness or lightness of a color.

Tints - are created by adding white to a color.

Shades - are created by adding black to a color.

Additive color theory - a school of thought that refers to the behavior of color as it pertains to light - primary colors mix to create white light.

Subtractive color theory - refers to the behavior of color as it pertains to the mixing of pigments like ink, paint, or dye - primary colors mix to create black.

Artists whose work explores aspects of or furthers Color Theory:

Paul Reed

Exhibitions that Focus on and Exploit Color Theory

CHRISTIAN HAUB Like A Butterfly October 19 - November 24, 2018

MATTHEW KLUBER No Place Like Utopia October 19 - November 24, 2018

ANGELA JOHAL You Hear The Colours October 1 - October 27, 2018

OPTICAL AND PATTERN PAINTINGS Presenting artworks by Beth Radford, Marge Rector and Eric Zammitt October 1 - October 27, 2018

ANDREW HUFFMAN Modulated: Color and Structure August 23 - September 29, 2018

TADASKY Pushing Boundaries August 23 - September 29, 2018

February 10 - March 17, 2018

OLI SIHVONEN KINETIC ENERGY January 27 - March 3, 2018

ROBERT SWAIN Color: Theory and Affect December 9, 2017 - January 20, 2018


In Shape, In Color September 4 - October 7, 2017

CHRISTIAN HAUB Float November 11, 2015 - January 16, 2016

MATTHEW KLUBER DRprojects: Electr-O-Pura August 5 - September 19, 2015

SENSATION Featuring: Richard Anuszkiewicz, Leon Berkowitz, Gabrielle Evertz, Fred Eversley, Beverly Fishman, Ted Larsen, Tom Martinelli, Matthew Penkala, Richard Roth, Julian Stanczak, Oli Sihvonen, Robert Swain, Leo Valledor, Sanford Wurmfeld April 4 - May 24, 2014

JULIAN STANCZAK Lineal Pathways March 14 - April 19, 2014

THOMAS DOWNING Paintings from the 1970s January 31 - February 28, 2014

PAUL REED A Career Exploring Color and Visual Perception June 21 - July 27, 2013

RICHARD ANUSZKIEWICZ Variations: Evolution of The Artist's Media 1986 - 2012 May 10 - June 15, 2013

DYNAMOS IN PARIS May 8 - May 29, 2013

TOM MARTINELLI OUT OF REGISTER, 1993-1998 March 29 - May 4, 2013

COLORS AND OPTICS Richard Anuszkiewicz, Fred Eversley, Gabriele Evertz, Beverly Fishman, Rakuko Naito, Richard Roth, Julian Stanczak, Robert Swain, and Eric Zammitt February 13 - March 23, 2013

GABRIELE EVERTZ Optic Drive November 9 - December 22, 2012

SANFORD WURMFELD November 9 - December 22, 2012

MATTHEW KLUBER Color Interference November 8 - December 22, 2012

FRED EVERSLEY Light Lens September 21 - November 3, 2012

TADASKY The Circle ReViewed: 1964 to 2012 August 17 - September 22, 2012

JULIAN STANCZAK Grids and Planes August 17 - September 15, 2012

SEEING RED A Group Exhibition Featuring artwork by: Gabriele Evertz, Beverly Fishman, Harmony Hammond, Maxwell Hendler, Tim Jag, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Tom Martinelli, Scott Malbaurn, Julian Stanczak, Yozo Suzuki, Robert Swain, Leo Valledor May 18 - June 23, 2012

ROBERT SWAIN Color Affect May 18 - June 23, 2012

JAY DAVIS Mirage March 2 - March 31, 2012

JULIAN STANCZAK Elusive Transparencies September 1 - September 30, 2011

David Eichholtz, Manager

David Richard Gallery, LLC

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