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I begin an analysis of Wheel within a Wheel 109 using – The Art of ColorJohannes Itten‘s  color theory analysis method.

When I created my artwork, I made a selection of colors for my palette following my own inner sense of aesthetic taste. Following Itten’s analysis process, I identified the dynamics at work in my painting based on color as a design element.   Here is the analysis.


According to Itten, blue, red and yellow – the primaries – are one of the strongest of the color Triads, and alongside black-white (which are also present in my painting,) these all work to create strong contrasts of color.

“Just as black-white represent the extreme of light-dark contrast, so yellow/red/blue is the extreme instance of hue.  At least three clearly differentiated hues are required.  The effect is always tonic, vigorous, and decided. The intensity of contrast of  hue diminishes as the hues employed are removed from the three primaries” Ibid.

The color triad I chose during my initial set up of the painting expands at a later stage and includes two immediate complementaries – green and orange.  The artwork expands its color palette to include not only complementary colors, but also a variation in the “scale of brilliance,” which appears when both red and blue are each lightened and darkened.


The color combinations become more complex with the introduction of pink and light cerulean blue alongside a darker alizarin red and prussian blue.  The effects of the color combination are unique to the artwork in the end.

Itten recognizes that a myriad of effects can be achieved through this process –

“Contrast of hue assumes a large number of entirely new expressive values when the brilliances are varied.  In the same way, the quantitative proportions of yellow, red and blue may be modified.  Variations are numberless, and so are the corresponding expressive potentialities.” Ibid.

It is useful to see how color theory does work as a technique for analysis of color through its use in an artwork, while still understanding as both Johannes Itten and Josef Albers point out that color is essentially a subjective and multifaceted element of design.

“Our conclusion: we may forget our rules of thumb of complementaries, whether complete or “split,” and of triads and tetrads as well.  They are worn out. No mechanical color system is flexible enough to precalculate the manifold changing factors, as named before, in a single prescribed recipe.”   (Josef Albers, Interaction of Color)

It becomes more a matter of experimentation, inventiveness and taste rather than any particular “recipe” for color use which ultimately inspires an artist’s in his/her selection of color including both their original subjective preferences and/or universalist choices. (See Itten)

It is important to note that although Itten and Albers are both known as theorists and artists dedicated to the investigation of color harmony, each recognized that while some analysis was possible, the quality of the color harmonies was highly subjective and too dynamic and complex to be fully captureable into a set of rules.

Ultimately, even disharmony and chromatic tensions could themselves achieve a form of balance and symmetry in a work of art.

“Besides a balance through color harmony, which is comparable to symmetry, there is equilibrium possible between color tensions, related to a more dynamic asymmetry.  Again: knowledge and its application is not our aim: instead, it is a flexible imagination, discovery, invention – taste.”  Josef Albers, Ibid.

In my next post, I will consider the subject of color illusion and perception.