About Chrome Yellow

This recent article about how the yellow pigment used by Van Gogh fades over time caught my attention.


Microscopic x-ray imaging and chemical mapping technology was used to find (maybe verify) that he used Chrome Yellow pigment – a yellow widely available at the time and used by many of his contemporaries. The pale yellow version of this colour goes brown over time (accelerated with exposure to sunlight), so museums are paying ever closer attention to how much light their precious sunflowers are getting.

The multiple use of the word “discovery” in the article made me think at first that the researchers had found something out about the pigment itself. It’s just where my mind went. I suppose, as a painter, I don’t consider it to be much of a discovery to find that Van Gogh used a yellow that was relatively new, very bright, and widely available in his time. In fact I think it’s pretty fucking obvious. But of course, if your painting is absolutely priceless, then I guess you should look at it that closely and act accordingly. Reading the article again, I can see that the writer does not specifically say the researchers made any findings about the pigment in particular.

I know a bit about the history of Chrome Yellow, so I was wondering what the huge deal was about finding it in a Van Gogh. I guess just hard evidence? In his time the pigment had poor lightfastness, but colourmen knew about it. It was also specifically noted by Renoir. The colour fell from popularity in part because of this, but was produced in the same way until processes were discovered in the mid 1960’s that made the straight-up Lead Chromate that Van Gogh used much more resistant to fading. (information here and here)

Chrome Yellow, though now stable, is still toxic (because lead). It has been mostly replaced by manufacturers with Cadmium Yellow, and has become basically a specialty pigment – for die-hards and restorers and such. Cadmiums themselves are toxic, so they in turn are being replaced in many colour lines by Azo pigments. For my money, the Azo just doesn’t cut the mustard compared to a real, highly pigmented, quality Cadmium. Pigments suspended in oil are not terribly toxic to the user, whatever their rating, as long as you don’t get it all over yourself, or ingest it, or throw it in the sink. Good studio practices go a long way.

In any case, Chrome Yellow works good and Vincent paints a mean pot of flowers.


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Young and Hopeful


Have been working on the installation of Young and Hopeful. The opening is on Saturday the 6th of January, at 4pm, at Les Expositions Ymuno, Belgo Building, 372 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, Suite 530, Montreal, Quebec

Young and Hopeful is an installation of new paintings which deal with themes of hope and hopelessness, gain and loss, and death and rebirth. They were made as meditations on the notion of hope at a personal level, and as a response to an increasingly fractious international social and political climate. They were born out of a conversation with a profoundly politically disillusioned American national in Panama.

Ymuno website

Ymuno Instagram

Facebook event

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Cut Flowers

Flowers with Madeline

Cut Flowers (with Madeline Richards), 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 48in

I have long had plans to repaint these flowers, after doing a smaller version a few years ago. That was a decent painting, but they weren’t dark enough (in mood) and a square is a better format for them. Madeline, my girlfriend, paints beside me in the studio and helps me with everything I do, so we thought to just paint something together. We worked well and pretty efficiently together, and are excited by the possibilities. We’ve started some other work already.

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The Cynic Too Was Once a Child


The Cynic Too Was Once a Child, 2017, oil and gold leaf on panel, 48 x 48in

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Drawing for Asbestos


Drawing for Asbestos, 2017, charcoal on Arches watercolour paper, 30 x 22in

When I was a kid, my family travelled across Canada and we took a tour of the asbestos mines at Thetford in Southern Quebec. We went down into the mines and they gave me a sample to play with, which I kept for years. I would pull the fibres apart and stick them back together like some strange, natural, dry silly putty. We didn’t really know it caused cancer.

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Selfie, 2017, oil on panel, 36 x 36in

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an important project, but it’s also hilarious that when we build a 2.5 billion dollar space robot the first thing it does when it lands on another planet is take a picture of itself.

The painting is basically finished. Maybe a varnish and the largest, gold-est, gaudiest frame I can conceive of. I’m talking urinating putti in the corners gaudy.

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Dirty Hand

Dirty Hand

Dirty Hand (diptych), 2017, oil on panel, 36 x 36in each panel


Drawing for Hand

Drawing for Dirty Hand, pencil, 2017

Here’s a sketchbook drawing and what came of it. Sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes it never happens at all.

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