“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
White is both the absence of any colour and the sum of all colours in concert. White, like the colour black, brings contrast to our lives. Symbolizing purity, innocence, honesty, death and rebirth, beginning and end, this is the colour that brings us cold milk, fluffy cumulus clouds, polished alabaster, and freshly fallen snow.
The priests and priestesses of Ancient Egypt dressed in white linen in reverence to the goddess Isis. Ancient Greece associated white with mother’s milk; Roman citizens over a certain age wore a white toga for ceremonial occasions. Medieval and Renaissance tapestries, manuscripts and paintings highlighted the white unicorn as a symbol of purity and grace. Even today, white is reserved for our extraordinary moments – weddings, births, and in some cultures, funerals.
As a contrast colour, white brings a sense of the dramatic. Whether it is the red and white of the Canadian Maple Leaf flag, white chalk against a blackboard, or the twinkling stars against the black sky, we pay attention. Pablo Picasso once asked, “Why do two colours, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? No. Just as one can never learn how to paint.”
Colours are a cultural reflection of our lives and the society that we create. We draw from the world around us for insight and affirmation. John Ruskin, the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, once said that “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.” Colour inspires us to express ourselves beyond words, to imagine a kinder, gentler lifestyle.
“White is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.”
“I’ve been 40 years discovering that the queen of all colours was black.”
Black is the colour of night, of ebony and outer space. Its power to envelop our world gives it a secretive, mysterious and enigmatic appeal. Technically speaking, however it is not considered a colour at all; rather, it is the absence of or complete absorption of light. Black achieved massive iconic appeal over the centuries and has come to symbolize night, sobriety, denial, authority, perfection and purity, wisdom and maturity.
Black was one of the first colours used by Neolithic artists on their cave drawings, a tradition carried on, but refined, by the ancient Greeks. Egyptians connected the colour black with the fertile black soil of the Nile Valley and their potent god of the underworld, Anubis, who took the form of a black jackal. Nótt, the goddess of the night for German and Scandinavian peoples, traversed the sky in a chariot drawn by a black horse.
Creating the colour black brought out the creative talents of our ancestors. Romans produced “Vine black” by burning cut branches of grapevines; they also burned and dried crushed grapes. On the other side of the world, the Polynesians burned coconuts to achieve the same results. Soot collected from oil lamps produced what was appropriately named “Lamp black.” Then there was “Ivory black” that was a concoction of charcoal power, oil and ivory. “Mars black” was named for the god of war and patron of iron because of its content of synthetic iron oxides.
Black stands apart from the spectrum of the rainbow. It serves as the contrast that enhances the beauty of all the other colours in nature. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to it singleness of purpose, its implacable statement of solidarity.
“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”
Johnny Cash, The Man in Black
“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
A Vancouver spring is all about colour and rain. Everywhere I go my camera comes with me because timing is everything. The first to awake are the crocuses, then daffodils, tulips and now azaleas and rhododendrons. Just the other day, I was so excited about taking a photo that I literally fell into the garden as I was bending over to capture a subtle yellow flower.
Our lives are surrounded by colour. As children, we see blue for the sky and sea, green for grass and trees, browns for the warmth of Earth, yellow for the brightness of the Sun. We intuitively seek colour in our gardens, paintings, photographs, home designs and clothing. Our moods and attitudes are profoundly influenced by the colours around us. From the very beginning, we have linked colour to seasons, planets, the elements of wind, earth, sky and fire. In Greco-Roman mythology, the rainbow was considered to be a path between Earth and Heaven; in Norse mythology a rainbow connects the realms of Ásgard, home of the gods, and Midgard, home of the humans,
This week I want to focus on our creative relationship with a colourful world. Edouard Manet once said, “There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.” Paul Cezanne agreed, “Pure drawing is an abstraction. Drawing and colour are not distinct, everything in nature is coloured.”
In the end, we are all the children of nature, always searching for the colours of life.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”
Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds
There was a huge crowd, but I managed to get a photograph of the most famous smile in the world. But the lesson I learned that day occurred when I looked back into the crowd. There was not a smile on any face. It is a serious business looking at the perfect smile.
“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles until death.”
Leonardo da Vinci
“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening.”
Franklin P. Jones, Reporter & Humorist
Most discussions about listening are centered on listening to another person. Rarely, do we consider are capacity to hear our own voice. Many times, we believe others before we trust our judgment or intuition. How foolish we are.
Duane Michals, American photographer known for his innovative use of photo-sequences and incorporating text to examine emotions and philosophy, once said, “Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if…’ and then do it.”
Let’s do it!
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.”
Equality is straightforward. Winston Churchill once said, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.” Equality is one of those single words that embodies a “great” concept that appeals to our emotional sensibilities. But its true meaning can only be fully understood and integrated within our lives through action. Experience is a rigorous taskmaster. Khalil Gibran wrote, “Coming generations will learn equality from poverty, and love from woes.” When we walk with others, we embrace their needs as our own.
Perhaps, it really is that simple.
“In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, scepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.”
Vincent van Gogh
“Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life”
― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
“Less is more” seems to have its genesis in the 1855 poem attributed to Robert Browning – Andrea Del Sarto. Andrea del Sarto was a Florentine painter who lived in the time of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886 – 1969), one of the founders of modern architecture, embraced this idea in his artistic endeavours, which has come to signify that simplicity and clarity lead to good design.
While “less is more” is really a paradox, we accept it as an absolute truth. The definition of “less” is clearly the opposite of “more.” And yet, we recognize its validity in our experience. Perhaps we can argue that frugality = “less is more.”
These are the tools of a singer:
Lungs – source of air supply
Larynx – acts as a reed or vibrator against the chest
Chest – functions as the amplifier, like a tube in a wind instrument
Tongue, Palate, Teeth, and Lips – articulates and imposes consonants and vowels on the amplified sound.
Vocal Cords – the means to alter the pitch.
Diaphragm and an assortment of Muscles (that have long names) – used to inhale and exhale
The Singing Tools are also used by a painter…
“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.”
“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
The world knows Camille Pissarro as one of the greats of French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist styles. His contributions to the art world were immeasurable. He believed that beauty was found in humble locales and insisted on painting individuals in natural settings without “artifice or grandeur.” His peers recognized his compassion and genuine delight in creating a community where others could find a space to fulfill their creative vision. Art historian, John Rewald, called him the “dean of the Impressionist painters” because of his “wisdom and his balanced, kind and warm-hearted personality.” Paul Cezanne said “he was a father for me.” Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled him as a “revolutionary” because of his portrayals of common folk.
Camille Pissarro saw beauty where others saw ordinary. Those around him acknowledged his greatness beyond his artistic endeavours. They saw a humble man who kindled their imagination and encouraged them to seek their personal destinies. He did not hold them back but gave them the freedom to explore.
“After tea it’s back to painting – a large poplar at dusk with a gathering storm. From time to time instead of this evening painting session I go bowling in one of the neighbouring villages, but not very often.” Gustav Klimt
I never connect ordinary daily routine events with artists who are almost bigger than life. I imagine them contemplating a colour, agonizing over a brush stroke or impatiently throwing open window shutters to bring more light into the room. It seems that even greatness must stop for a cup of tea.
Belvedere Palace at the end of the day.
The residence of the legendary painting “The Kiss.”
Artists have a different perspective on focus. We are programmed to remember what we learned…perhaps there are times when forgetfulness helps our focus.
“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”
Genius recognizes there is no end…
“I am still learning.”
The week is already one day old and it is time to open myself up to a new idea. Ideas need a door or window to come through. It is very difficult for them to chisel through hardened hearts and closed minds.
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
Oliver Wendell Homes
Every life decision carries some risk. We weigh the pros and cons; balance the effort against a promised prize. Even though we want to live boldly, we are likely to favour the safest course. Perhaps the safest course allows us to excel beyond our imagination. Michelangelo once said, “The promises of this world are, for the most part, vain phantoms; and to confide in one’s self, and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.”
Remember my May 3rd post?
Her jacket pockets turned inside out releasing fears of the colour blue...has disappeared. The words vanished as mysteriously as they appeared. The memories remain and we move on…
“In this world of change, nothing which comes stays, and nothing which goes is lost.”
Anne Sophie Swetchine(1782-1857)
I met the Blue and White Warrior on the corner of Granville & Burrard. What a surprise to see the tall, stately Terracotta figure presiding majestically over the intersection. And where there is one, there are others waiting to be found. You’re invited to join me on Chasing Art ! We have limited time to complete the mission.
‘Blue and White Porcelain-ware’
Artist: Regina Liao
Sponsor: Caorda Web Solutions
Location: 2505 Granville St
There are birds in Vancouver’s Olympic Village at the Southeast False Creek Plaza, 1 Athletes Way. Not the ordinary kind that flutters in the air currents above – The Birds prefer to guard the earth with their 18 foot (5.5 metres) presence. Vancouver artist, Myfanwy MacLeod transformed the common sparrow into something extraordinary.
“The Birds reminds us of our past, but it aspires to challenge the future. It is my hope that the work stimulates understanding that will lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility and caring.” Myfanwy MacLeod, 2009
Her jacket pockets turned inside out releasing fears of the color blue…
There’s a story here – not certain what it is, but it interests me. Art is around us, created when we’re not looking. The words appeared mysteriously under the Cambie Street Bridge the week of April 26th. Remnants of equipment were left behind to tease the imagination According to the Vancouver Public Space Blog it is called an intervention and identified Eli Horn and Jordan Bent as the artists. I’ll be following the narrative…stay tuned!
Intervention under Cambie Street Bridge