Monday, April 13, 2020

On Colour

When Bill and I visited the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, we walked into one of their period rooms to find two still lifes adjacent to one another in a corner.  One of these was cheerful:  a blue and white cloth and colourful china and flowers spread on the table.  I was drawn to it immediately.  Then the other still life exerted its more powerful magnetism.  It was dark navy, rust brown, teal, ochre, its composition balanced and careful, not joyfully flung into an airy composition.  They were another of the slow holiday gifts I took home with me, finally letting me understand why I have several quilts on the go at the same time.  Never fear:  I am not going to write you a lecture on colour, particularly since I so often find myself breaking the rules and have never understood some of the rules anyway.  Can someone please tell me why navy and pumpkin orange are a "lively" pair, except for the fact that they are across from one another on the colour wheel?  When was the last time you said "Navy and orange!  How different!  How new!"?  You probably said "How seventies."  I've put my Midnight in Manhattan quilt at the top of this post because it uses every colour.  Hah!  Colour schemes be damned!

Instead, I'm rather fond of the work of Kim MacLean, whose Roseville Album Quilt you see at the left.  I want to make this some day, but my applique skills are going to have to seriously improve first.  Kim has said that "Colour makes us smile," and that was clearly part of my attraction to the cheerful still life.  Kim's principle was behind the two Tula Pink sampler quilts I made.  When I started the black and white quilt, I was supposed to add in grey, according to Pink's version, but I found that grey diluted the graphic pop of the black and white fabrics, whereas one little hit of colour brought it out.

On the other hand, I'm drawn to quiet quilts, like these two which I made for the daybed in my workroom.  Quiet doesn't mean humourless.  The quilt draped over the end of the bed has a row of carefully-cut and named birds' eggs surrounding it.  But you can see how having these two quilts on the daybed changes the mood of the room.  On grey days in the winter, I put Midnight in Manhattan on the bed for its energy and cheerfulness.  In the summer, the calmer quilts prevail.

Or I'm drawn to darker quilts that attempt to reflect our more serious experiences and moods.  There are quilts made by Japanese artists that are nearly entirely indigo,  and they make me want to dive into them, to get lost in the detail, the subtle differences, like a good piece of minimalist music.  They make me want to be reflective, just like that quieter still life at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria made me want to contemplate its balance, its mood.  I wanted to settle into it for a while, to be still, to stop moving and contemplate.

My own personal colour theory is that any colours "go together," particularly if they are bridged by some black.  The only unsuccessful use of colour that I experience is combining one saturated colour, like pumpkin orange, with what we call a "shade," a grey blue.  Technically, that means that black has been added to the blue but I prefer to think of shades as greyed.  Suddenly, your colours are out of sync, one of them looks almost "dirty" and one of them loud.  I'm going to be outrageous and say that two such colours--a loud orange and a greyed-down blue--would be fine in a painting but not in a quilt.  At least not in a quilt I'd make.  A painting has to have an idea behind it, and such a dramatic contrast or figure/ground might be the best way of conveying that idea.  But the quilts I make have to be wholes and harmonies.  No matter how many quilts are put on gallery walls, the quilt has its origin in the home where I suspect we favour harmony and unity, often leavened with playfulness or joy, to intellectually rigorous discord and imbalance--most of the time.  I think colour lets us experience a mood, a frame of mind, a memory.  We mustn't forget that our senses give us experiences, and that grasping those experiences is one of the most joyful, human, engaging things we can do.
This blog, along with the one on trees, was meant to skirt around the coronavirus pandemic, to remind us of something else out in the world besides disease.  I wonder if colour might help us through these weeks when we mostly stay at home.  A colourful scarf with blue jeans and a sweater.  The sight and feel and taste of an orange.  (If Bill and I have "hoarded" anything, it's been oranges.  I couldn't imagine being sick without oranges, and now each day at lunch I celebrate their orange-ness, in spite of the fact that it's my least favourite colour.)  Go right to the bottom of the kids' dress-up box and find the most colourful thing you can, or recruit old curtains or beach towels for their capes.  Draw something using only the loudest colours in your crayon box--or only the most subtle.  People as varied as Jamie Oliver and Diana Beresford-Kroeger tell us that the healthiest food we can eat has lots of different colours in it--a stirfry with peapods, red peppers and carrots or a salad with rounds of radish and carrot.  Let your eyes feast first.

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