Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London’ 1841
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London 1841
Cy Twombly, ‘Untitled (Bacchus)’ 2008
Cy Twombly
Untitled (Bacchus) 2008
© Cy Twombly Foundation

I agree with the Chinese scholar A Cheng and his views on the history of colour. He says:

Mankind, over the past 10,000 some years, from the time of the cave paintings until the seventeenth century, has always utilised the history of ‘original colour’.

This comes from natural minerals, from plant extract, and is not blended, but painted directly on the canvas. In the seventeenth century Johannes Vermeer began blending tones to depict objects as they were seen through the light and changes in the environment. The use of this ‘tonal colour system’ continued until Impressionism. Contemporary painters of the twentieth century then reverted to the original colour system. But, despite the notion that today’s artists have all undergone training in the tonal colour system, there is a considerable difference between the current pursuit of original colour and its primitive counterpart.

The primary structure of the works of both J.M.W. Turner and Cy Twombly (1928–2011) is, I think, round. They encompass their environment. They both also used many reds and yellows. Turner’s palette was inspired more by the natural world – for example, the early morning, or the sun-setting light that belongs to tonal colours – whereas Twombly’s came from the needs of his heart: a direct expression of his inner feelings, which prompted him to use original colour.

I like Turner’s works because they have many abstract elements - the sea and sky are the same colour, filled with a yellow and a few black and red points scattered throughout. I think these elements have possibly impacted on two movements of the twentieth century, namely Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. I still don’t know if Turner directly influenced Twombly, but, at least from their iconography, they can be traced to the same origin. If you were to say that my works were influenced by theirs, it would be that the composition exists without a break; however, mine don’t have that much ‘heat’.

Liu Xiadong (born 1963) is an artist living in Beijin