The first time we witnessed the Blue Neon Madonna(not her real name), Stratoz and I were startled. She has a blue mantle of other-worldliness. Another favorite neon was Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik.
Neon signs combine glass tubes with inert gases and electrification to create a gorgeous glow. I love neon signs, but neon paint never appealed to me, and in investigating what makes a color “neon,” I discovered that it’s the addition of substances that show up under UV or black light. The paint will reflect back more light than expected. I also discovered the illusion of neon color spreading, where colored lines in the midst of black lines take on a glow like a neon sign.
When I saw Simon Garfield’s book on the color mauve, I checked it out of the library immediately. I wasn’t a mauve enthusiast, but the idea of a whole book about one color was intriguing. William Perkin(1838-1907) was experimenting with coal tar, in hopes of finding a cure for malaria, but instead noticed an intense purple color in his beaker. Perkin pursued the manufacture of mauve, a world awash in shifting purple pinks.
Because it is also Orange Tuesday, I will mention another coal tar dye called Methyl Orange. It changes color, from red in acid, to yellow in base.
Mixing primary color paint is an ingrained memory from elementary school. Mixing light is much less familiar, and watching this video was a bit unnerving. If you mix red and green light, our brains will interpret it as yellow light. I was staggered by the complexity of interpretation on the part of the brain, creating many colors with of just three types of light receptors: red, green, and blue.
I found a copy of Johannes Itten’s book The Art of Color at a rummage sale. Itten was a Swiss Expressionist painter influential on artists of the Bauhaus.
Itten taught about color in the face of the belief that either you were good with color or you were not.
Most instructive was Itten’s statement that, “A color is always to be seen in relation to its surroundings.” Colors shift according to their neighbors and to the light. Itten describes a mausoleum in Ravenna with blue mosaic walls, and narrow windows of orange tinted alabaster. Orange and blue are complements which means they mix into gray, and Itten says the light in the mausoleum is a magical gray, with the walls reflecting blue and orange depending on the angles.
I appreciate his assertion that mosaic art places “high demands on coloristic powers” with each fragment acting in relation to many others.
When I met Stratoz, he said his favorite color was gray. He still digs it. He’s also doing an A to Z challenge, doodling his way through the alphabet with jazz on the stereo. Since it’s Orange Tuesday, I also include this photo of a gray pendant I created with a dash of orange.
One of my favorite classes in Library School was Preservation of Materials, and I wrote a proposal for a program to encourage artists to use archival art supplies. I wasn’t making art at that time, but the subject seized my imagination.
George Field(1777-1854), was a British color-maker who manufactured pigments, and who wanted the colors to stay fast. He kept copious notes on his experiments with the chemistry of dyes and pigments, which were acquired by Winsor & Newton after his death. when I finally took a watercolor class to explore my pull toward art, I bought tubes of Winsor & Newton.
One the articles that introduced me to Field appealed to my former librarian self by including a proper format for citation:
HOW TO CITE THIS BRANCH ENTRY (MLA format)
Shires, Linda M. “On Color Theory, 1835: George Field’s Chromatography.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [Accessed April, 7,2014]. On a Color Theory, 1835: George Field’s Chromatography
Earthtones rise out of browns and grays and can be muted or intense. When I was 10, I came across a Sears catalog from 1972, and the shades of rust, brown, and orange created a world different than my own. This was the first time I realized an era had a look of its own. Pigments made with earth elements have been around a long time: ochre, sienna, burnt umber, but dictionaries attribute the actual term “earthtones” to the 1970’s.
The AIC chose the Spring Equinox to celebrate color because of the equal balance of light and dark, day and night. Color draws me into the studio, and is the fuel for my art. I watch how people respond to my work, how color can draw them like a magnet. The blue-green people are particularly sensitive to those tones, lit up from within, as are the lovers of the spectrum of visible light.
I grew up in Canada, and prefer going north in the summer, but Stratoz and I made a rare venture south for vacation. We discovered the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, which reveals more delight around each partial wall, a maze to enjoy rather than get lost in. The painting Flight of the Butterfly No. 1 by Stanton Macdonald-Wright caught my eye right away with the blocks of color and the spiral shape. To see the whole painting, plus more of the collection, check out Amy Looks Closer: North Carolina Museum of Art.
Macdonald-Wright named his painting style Synchromism “with color” as Symphony is “with sound,” and envisioned color as akin to music, not needing to be tethered to a literal interpretation of the world. He imagined a scale of colors, which could be orchestrated like musical notes. Often there was a central vortex out of which the other colors arose. The orange in the center of Flight of the Butterfly is bursting with sound against the blue-violet. I make mosaic spirals and something about Macdonald-Wright’s unwinding center resonates.
Macdonald-Wright was given his first name, Stanton, in honor of women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and he hyphenated his middle and last names to avoid the constant question of whether he was related to Frank Lloyd Wright. His older brother, Willard Huntington Wright, wrote the Philo Vance detective novels under the pen name S. S. Van Dine.
My love of orange appeared when I started making art in my 30’s. My sister loved orange as a child, but I was unmoved, baffled. I discovered that orange was a contentious subject for some color theorists at the beginning of the 20th Century. Albert Munsell worked on developing a color notation system, like a Dewey Decimal for color, without names, which he found undecipherable, and his notation is still used in the 21st Century.
Orange is known as Yellow-Red. Munsell was an artist, and he envisioned colors as mixtures of pigments, and orange was yellow plus red pigment. He wanted to teach children about color starting with the primary hues and only then moving to intermediate ones like orange. Henry Bailey, a teacher of art, was incensed at the notion that children weren’t ready to learn about orange. He saw orange as a basic color, along with green and violet, in addition to the primaries of red, yellow and blue. Both Munsell and Bailey took color education very seriously, in an odd forward echo of sex education in my own era.
In conclusion Mr Bailey said that the end of all education is character God’s aim in this world is the perfection of human souls and he has flooded it with color. Let us try to lead the children to see the color that there is in the world and to love it. And when we are weary of this world we love to read of the next and in the Book of Revelations we are told that the gates of the heavenly city have the colors of the most beautiful and most precious stones and may it not prove that in teaching our pupils to appreciate the beauties of this earthly habitation we are preparing them to share the glories of that eternal abode that house not made with hands
I have a spiritual connection with color, though not in a Book of Revelations way. In spite of my discomfort with color theory being equated with preparation for the gates of heaven, there is something wonderful about Bailey’s line, “Let us try to lead the children to see the color that there is in the world and to love it.”