Greg Curnoe (1936–1992) used circles in various ways throughout his career: as a monoprint (made by inking a long-playing record and pressing it on paper in 1962), as coloured shapes in many paintings, as wheels in his bicycle works of the 1970s, and later as colour wheels like this one.


Greg Curnoe, Large Colour Wheel, 1980
Greg Curnoe, Large Colour Wheel, 1980
Watercolour and graphite on paper, 189 x 189 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

With Large Colour Wheel Curnoe pays tribute to his antecedents in the study of colour by naming them in chronological order with the date of a significant work: KIRCHNER 1909, DELAUNAY 1912, MATIOUCHINE 1917–18, CAHEN 1955, and TOUSIGNANT 1967. He liked to collect unusual words, and here are HALCYON (calm, peaceful) placed between green and blue, both colours associated with the word, and ACME (perfect) between the perfect complements, blue and orange. SIGNAL FLAGS refers to his series of maritime flags, which used colours that could be easily distinguished at sea.


In 1855, French chemist Michel Chevreul had developed a seventy-two-part colour wheel to describe what he called “simultaneous contrast,” the effect on perception of juxtaposed colours, especially complementary colours. Curnoe’s colour wheel is his own unscientific version, which plays with the juxtaposition of colours, sometimes complementary, sometimes not. A hole has been carefully cut in the centre of the wheel, so that one looks right through to the wall.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Greg Curnoe: Life & Work by Judith Rodger.

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