As I walk through our neighborhood, the shock of color arrests me. The blooming forsythia, daffodils, tulip trees, weeping cherries, plum and pear trees seem to POP off the visual landscape. This year, it made me ask “why”. As I looked more carefully at the colors jumping out around me, I realized that they do so because of the drab that surrounds them. The vestiges of winter and winter’s ravaging is actually the perfect backdrop for all the yellows, pinks and whites. All that gray, brown, muted green, and rust of earth that my eyes had grown so accustomed to, now plays a very important role in ushering in the beauty of Spring: Neutrals cause pure colors to shine!
Artists know this. At least we are taught this as a kind of “technique” to making our colors “pop” (a terribly over-used term in artist lingo). Yet I can’t help but think this is not some mere technique…but is actually what exists in nature…AND in life. So many times, after having been sick for several days, I have thought that everything tastes better, smells better…everyday stuff just IS better, in the days following sickness. And even hard and painful stretches of life, when they begin to move away…beauty seems to assault us as the blanket of despair and stress sloughs off.
I want so much to embrace this. I want to embrace the winter and its grayed neutrals as being the necessary stage for the riotous colors of Spring. I want to embrace the difficult times as preparation for a heightened awareness and vision of beauty in the future. Yet something in me wants to holler: Can’t we just have the Riot of Color? Can’t we have the POP without the grays? Can’t we have paintings (and lives) that are just pure color alone?
Well, of course, we can paint paintings with just pure color!! It is very difficult for me to paint with neutrals. I once asked an artist whom I admire and from whom I was taking a workshop: “Do you actually LIKE yellow ochre?? Or do you only use it as a foil for the colors you really like?” His response was that he actually LIKED yellow ochre! I could not imagine liking that color…it reminded me too much of what I saw in my babies diapers! That was 10 years ago. Now I have yellow ochre on my palette. Go figure. I must admit I do not use it as often as I use cad yellow, but I have grown to appreciate it’s muted goldenness and how it plays and works with other colors to enhance them. I now also have black and brown on my palette…and I use them all the time. What’s happening to me?
Perhaps as I age, I see the beauty in the grays, browns, ochres, and yes, black. Perhaps I see now that within each of these colors exist many other colors…if I just take time to really SEE them. And perhaps I’m seeing too, that even in the difficult patches of life, color can be seen, beauty does exist. Not JUST as a backdrop or preparation for when the difficulties go away…but for their own sakes. I used to refer to “color” as only the bright ones. Neutrals were relegated to that nasty batch of dull stuff. Now, I think of “color” as including the whole range from grayed blues, greens, and browns, to the bright magentas, oranges and purples. We’ve been given such a gift in the realm of color…taking time to study it and really peer into it’s excellencies is worth every bit of time we can give to it. Spring is a perfect time for this!