the contemporary colourist painting

Tunji Adeniyi Jones, Max Frintrop, Andrea Marie-Breiling, Dana James

Dance in Heat II, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, 2020

In art history, the term ‘colourist painting’ has its origins in the modernist art movements which were emerging in Europe between the 19th and 20th century and ultimately, replacing the heritage of the Impressionists. Colourism describes the visual characteristics of the art movements such as Fauvism, which relied on somewhat naturalistic depictions of the world with a strong emphasis on the properties of strong, contrasting colours. While les Fauves (‘beasts’) were less of a close-knit group in comparison to the Impressionists, the importance of the artistic leaders – Henri Matisse and Andre Derain has been felt in the artistic circles in Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century and subsequently, in the mid-1920s, when Neo-Fauvism emerged again (although not with the same force) as a way of confronting the surrealist tendencies in art and poetry. In the ‘history’ of colour in twentieth-century art, another significant break can be related to the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, Gutai group and colour-field painting. In both of those movements, even though they employed the colour to different ends, it was a central feature of the work. In the former movement, the works of female artists like Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler have proven to be a source of inspiration for future generations of painters, some of which, like Max Frintrop fully embrace the abstract tendencies, while others, like Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, employ the intense, emotionally-charged colour in relation to figurative themes.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Devotion, 2020

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones (b. 1992) is a young and widely recognized artist, in 2020 included in Forbes ’30 under 30 list’ in the Arts and Style category. The comparison to Matisse has been raised, and rightfully so, by the Artforum magazine. His figurative paintings of people feature Matisse-esque, slightly elongated figures, in dream-like landscapes, in more contemporary or timeless contexts. A central point of inspiration and reference is his Yoruban heritage, which his paintings not only preserve but continuously engage with. There is a strong sense of symbiosis between the organic poses his figures take and the surrounding lush nature, the shapes of leaves and flower petals naturally, which, again, recalls the heritage of Matisse’s paintings and cut-outs. The dreamscape of Adeniyi-Jones’ canvases is defined by the unknown – mysterious, androgynous lovers, unspecified spaces dominated by lush nature, animals possessing some human qualities. His colour palette, while dynamic, is oftentimes comprised of well-balanced colour schemes, dominated by purples and pinks or yellows and oranges, with occasioning paintings fully exploring the power of complementary colours and their full contrasting potential. A lot of the finesse of Adeniyi-Jones’ use of colour lies in the contour line drawings which energise his characters.

Fuck Podcasts, 2020, Max Frintrop

The style of the German artist Max Frintrop draws on the energetic brushstroke championed by the Abstract Expressionists. The interest in colour grew over time, Frintrop’s canvases from a couple of years ago were characterized by more toned down, and generally darker colours. His works focus on the metaphysical brushstroke, often seen as zoomed-onto and enlarged, having an internal life of its own. The dynamic brushstroke is seen to be dominating the whole picture frame and its form often resembles droplets of pigments splashed into the water. The spontaneity of his approach to colour is emphasised by the fact, that the literal white space of the untouched canvas is seen on some areas of the work, giving an impression that the brushstroke can be ‘lifted off’ it. Even though the works possess their own kind of innate geometry, the gradients of individual colour and contrasts between the neighbouring ones are what draws the viewer into the painting. Frintrop describes this balance as one between precision and looseness, one which can be traced back to the dynamic canvases of the likes of Jackson Pollock. Perhaps another dimension that makes his work so visually strong is their sheer size, which dominates the wall and immediately draws the viewer’s attention.


Similarly to Frintrop, the works of American Andrea Marie Breiling are not only defined by their large scale but they oftentimes feature elements of white canvas left to be seen underneath the paint. On the contrary to Frintrop, Breiling’s canvases seem to celebrate the paint differently. The smudgy qualities are what enables the layers of paint to interact with each other and to give her works a surprising, emotional quality. In comparison to Frintrop, Breiling’s works appear to be rawer thanks to the concentration on the more traditional properties of paint. Her palette is more subdued and closer to what appear to be more naturally derived pigments. More recently, in 2021, she also began experimenting with multiple layers of paint sprayed directly onto the canvas, and building up onto one another, giving her works a sense of translucent luminosity. In those new works, the rather delicate, almost pastel-like palette of colours allows for the route of the hand-held spray to be visible, conceptually replacing the mythical brushstroke. This move in an interesting way emphasises a moment of freeing oneself from the preconceptions of what it means to be a painter.

A Hawk's Kill (Like the Brief Pricking of Primaries Against the Sky), 2020, Dana James

In Dana James’ painting, an organizing principle is a multi-panel construction of which her paintings are ‘built’. Each panel has its own organizing principle and a set of defining colours. While the individual panels (of various sizes) could equally function as individual works, their true strength lies is in the visual dialogue they establish with one another. James uses iridescent paint, which reflects particles of light, making the surface of the canvas appear shinier. Alongside oil and pigments, Dana James also produces works on paper using colourful inks, complementary colours of which are also reminiscent of the colours used by Max Frintrop. The technique of using ink in her works on paper allows for a more intense saturation of colour as well as a more diluted gradient.

One Thousand Fireflies, 2019, Dana James

James’ canvases are an example of how different brushstrokes can create different textures on the canvas, and through that, have an impact on the sensual perception of the two-dimensional colour planes. Her colour palette encompasses lighter pinks and blues contrasted with more mature purples and navy, alongside energising touches of yellows or oranges, all in all, creating a rather otherworldly sensation to her works. The colour pallet is also, in a way, a reference to the American mid-century painters like Lee Krasner, whose canvases often consist of overlapping brushstrokes creating a sense of different textures.