‘If you let it, your colour will take charge of you’ (S. Poliakoff quoted in Serge Poliakoff, Retrospective 1938-1963, exh. cat, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1963, p. 15).
Painted in 1961, Rouge Monochrome is a striking example of Poliakoff’s virtuoso handling of the chromatic spectrum. A variety of warm nuanced red tones interlock, unveiling their pure materiality, where opaque, luminous and transparent layers intertwine. In comparison to the more clearly delineated colour fields that define his practice, Poliakoff reveals a more expressive quality in this painting - one that displays more movement, illuminated by emotive gestural brushstrokes. The shadow-like dim area on the bottom left corner appears before the viewer like a cloud of smoke gradually arising and extending across the canvas. The intermeshed poetic shades of red suggest a spatial liaison caused by the optical impact of refined hues and their ability to shorten and deepen perspective. The layers of tonality and swirling shapes compiled in a seemingly free composition are not arbitrary, however. Rather, they are masterfully controlled by Poliakoff, who ground his own pigments to create his desired colour. The varied tone and radiance within a single field demonstrates Poliakoff’s inexhaustible creativity and craftsmanship; where some areas appear smooth, others have a grainy overtone. This is what confers the painting’s life: controlled dynamism and vibration, creating space and depth. The title Rouge Monochrome demonstrates the artist’s dedication to the power of a single colour - in this case, red. Poliakoff once said ‘If you let it, your colour will take charge of you.’ (S. Poliakoff quoted in Serge Poliakoff, Retrospective 1938-1963, exh. cat, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1963, p. 15). Indeed, this work displays Poliakoff’s return to the monochrome, where colour itself became the medium and the only reference needed to express itself.
Poliakoff learnt the importance of layering colour and its effects after moving to London in 1935 to study at the Slade School of art. He was also influenced by the colour theory of Robert Delaunay who explored the purity and independence of colour as a tool to create spatial depth and vibrations. Unlike Kandinsky who often explained his work, Poliakoff thought it futile to try and justify abstraction. For him, a painting had to first and foremost be silent; something that could not be explained, only felt and heard through its colour and form. He once expressed: ‘When a painting is silent, it means that it is successful’ (M. Ragon, Le regard et la mémoire, Paris 1956, p.56). Indeed, the forms do not draw their inspiration from physical forms or outside concepts. They exist exclusively and uniquely within their frames. They provide nothing so as to inspire the viewer’s mind to imagine. The monochrome colour creates an arrestingly fresh, harmonious and communicative work: enough for it to speak for itself.