Colour and transparency

I first read about “transparency” in Rudolf Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (updated version, 1974) [pp.253 – 258]. I must have absorbed the basic idea, because I applied it without realising when I painted an octopus smoking a cigarette a few weeks ago.

Now I’ve encountered transparency again in Josef Alber’s Interaction of Colour (1963) [plates x-1 and xi-1 to xi-3]. Here’s one of the example images he provides.


Josef Albers Plate x-1 from Interaction of Colour (1963) Yale University Press, 50th Anniversary edition p.113

Below is my loose experiment in the basic idea of transparency. At the bottom you can see a couple of fairly tidy experiments. The rest became a bit of a mess.


160829 Transparency (2016) oil on canvas 40 x 30cm

Albers mentions Paul Klee in his text, and I was sometimes reminded of Klee while I was working on the transparency experiments.

A Young Lady's Adventure 1922 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

Paul Klee Abenteuer lines Fräuleins [A Young Lady’s Adventure] (1922) watercolour on paper 62.5 x 48cm

The transparency effect using outlines filled with colour also reminds me of Rufino Tamayo’s  Children Playing with Fire (below). For me, the flames in Tamayo’s painting almost appear to be lit from behind, like stained glass.


Rufino Tamayo Children Playing with Fire (1947) oil on canvas 127 x 172cm


2 thoughts on “Colour and transparency

  1. Dear Liam

    I’m loving your toying with ideas and techniques. Transparency is one such, and of course, the untutored eye and mind, doesn’t inquire too much into this. So thanks for a least posting your short thoughts.

    Tansparency is of course, a many splendoured thing…… (I had to say something like that to balance smarmy comment above)

    There must a wellspring inside you growing and pressing – full of your purpose, your ideas, your growing craft and confidence. Do you conceive of a time when this will all coalesce – and you’ll be a grown-up in your art? Or have I missed the boat altogether and made an offensive suggestion? This paragraph is actually all serious – and note, I know nothing of your early days in art, even when you started.



    • Hi Phil, I got a first class degree in art ten years ago, and I wrote art reviews and a few features for The Times, so I you’d think I’d be pretty grown-up, but I wasn’t painting then. Painting is new to me this year, and I think if I carry on learning the language, soon enough I’ll start being able to say something with it. If that makes sense.


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