“Oh yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent…When the two of us were together in Arles, both of us insane, and constantly at war over beautiful colors, I adored Red; where could I find a perfect vermilion?” – Paul Gauguin
As a child, the artist is drawn to color. Yellow circle, flashes of pink. That alligator is green with red blood dripping from his fangs among the rippling of fat Crayola marker lines of blue. Background and object are all defined by color. As the artist grows, he seeks to reproduce the color that he believes he sees. What is the perfect shade of pink and yellow in the flesh in front of me? How many grays and browns exist in the bark so meticulously observed? The colors are never perfectly correct. Discouragement surrenders to acceptance as his sensitivities deepen and his knowledge of light and form grows. He begins to recognize the interwoven fabric of light that determines colors. There is no single color distinct from another. Each color pulls upon the other and he finds that pink in her dress pulsing under the window sill and hiding among the shadow cast by a loose strand of hair.
“All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.” – Mark Chagall
When observed, no color sits alone. They exist individually and as the parts of one another. Untethered from imitation, the colors reappear throughout an artist’s work. The artist no longer sees the grass as yellow. Rather he sees the specific yellow of his pigment in the grass. The pigment becomes symbolic of something in the artist’s heart.
“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I always look for Naples yellow glinting off the surface of a blade of grass or pine needle. A beautifully white yellow somehow harsh and soft simultaneously. Its texture is like butter and it shines in a range from the air inside a golden halo to the single point of reflected light when the cold sun crashes low on the horizon through crisp, dry air. My highlights long for Naples yellow, preferably tinged with lead.
In green I seem to seek the muted whisper of straw. Viridian reeks of plastic. A touch of ochre and an olive tint relaxes the pigment.
I am always drawn to red. Sudden Red. The deep crimson of Alizarin lake swells to the surface of the gossamer oil. Cadmium is bright, but it never mixes right. It lacks the luster of blood welling from a cut; of lips anticipating an initial taste. Cadmium will shine with white but the translucency of crimson captures the light like lacquered nails or the bitten bing cherry.
I keep catching the aura of my objects sheathed in pale orange glow. The same soft peach slung across the flickering edge of clouds. It glows from underneath the surface. A fluorescent warmth soothing the abrasive bullying of titanium white.
What am I to do with blue?