Creation and Preservation: Teaching colour theory

Madeleine Kelly
2015 Conference

Drawing upon my experience as a lecturer in painting, this paper reflects on specific learning experiences I have undertaken with particular reference to colour. To do this, I describe two examples of learning activities that follow from short visual lectures that unfold the history of mixing pigments and light. In doing so, I address the relevance of colour theory to painting specifically, as well as its interdisciplinary potential. My ultimate conviction is that teaching the archaeology of colour, that is, the particular historical and scientific contexts from which a knowledge of colour has emerged, is the most enriching pedagogical approach to facilitating student experiences working with and interpreting colour. As such, I argue that colour knowledge remains extremely relevant to the intrinsic material quality of painting, the continued relevance of medium to art, and colour to aesthetic ends. I conclude by describing some of my own creative research.

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About the author

German-born Madeleine Kelly, who arrived in Australia in 1980, is a visual artist who primarily works in painting. She majored with 1st class Honours in Fine Art from the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in 1999, and her practice-led PhD was conferred by the same institution in 2013. Titled Picturing Archaeologies: The Meta-archaic aesthetic, Kelly’s dissertation examines the archaeological metaphor as an image-laden and mutable terrain. In particular, she engages – not without irony – with the descriptive capacity of Philosopher Michel Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge. Her creative work explores the materiality of images – in particular painting, as an earthen testimony figured from the ground that speaks of the primal frontiers of art, such as material transformation, as well as environmental contingencies. In this context, her work avoids dogmatism by depicting protean and rubric worlds.

Madeleine Kelly has been invited to exhibit in both public and private spaces, including GOMA Q 2015 curated by Peter McKay at the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, QLD and Primavera 2005 curated by Felicity Fenner at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. She has won several awards including the Melville Haysom Memorial Art Scholarship, and the 2004 Churchie Prize for Emerging Art. She has been the recipient of Australia Council Grants to attend the Leipzig International Art Programme Residency, Germany in 2016; for New Work in 2011 and the Paris Studio Residency in 2005. Her works have entered many public collections in Australia, including The Gallery of Modern Art/Queensland Art Gallery and several permanent university collections. She currently lives and works in Wollongong and lectures in painting at the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia. View Madeleine’s work at