For instance, in a portrait colours carry meaning because of their associations with personality traits. You wouldn’t paint red a man who is an embodiment of calmness.
Van Gogh was creating conflict, or contrapunto, in the eye, where all the colours used in the painting would come together:
Colour combinations may also carry a meaning, like in this portrait by a member of the expressionist Blue Rider group. A contrast of green and red in the face may indicate that the personality portrayed is a vessel in which conflicting desires clash against each other.
Or, we can look at another famous conflict of shapes:
Here, the conflict is between what we think we know about a female figure (gentle curves, etc.) and what we see (sharp angles, twisted muscles). The broken silhouettes create a conflict in out mind that leads us to a conclusion something is wrong with these women. We know they couldn’t be like this, so we assume the artist wants to tell us something about them. And, indeed, these are women of liberal persuasion in the matters of having sex for money who once frightened Picasso.
Conflict does not have to be a violent clash of colours or zigzagged lines. It can be subtle, like in “Christ in the desert” by Kramskoy:
Here, Christ is shown at the moment of tormenting doubt, when all he can see ahead is a dark and desolate desert. His feet are cut by stones, he’s dirty, and tired. But the pink dawn behind his back is the promise of a new day, a new age and all we can do is just beg him to turn his head to see it. The conflict – as I am sure you’ve already guessed – is between the pink, promising sky and virtually everything else that is in the picture. I will spend some time later on this painting – one of the greatest achievements in the history of Russian realism.
Now is just the right time to click on the next page to go back to Lowry’s conflict!