Bluer Than Blue

Bluer than Blue

“Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions,” Yves Klein

As an artist whose work is predominantly abstract, I’m always trying to understand how people respond to color. Color is an important element in painting and blue is one of the colors I use most. Whenever I see blue, I just want to dive into it. So, I decided to do a little research on blue – its history, how other artists employ it and what’s the meaning and feeling of blue today?

Blue is a common color in the man-made world, but not found so much in nature. On a cloudless day, the sky and large bodies of water appear blue, but other than that, there’s very little that’s naturally blue. Few flowers or plants are actually blue, and the color is almost never seen in unpolished stones or minerals in their natural state. Historical references to blue were slow to start. The Ancient Greeks made few, if any, references to blue as a unique color. Despite its setting on the Aegean Sea, The Odyssey, doesn’t mention blue at all, however Homer does refer to sailors lost to a “wine dark sea, ” leading to a debate among scholars  as to how the Ancient Greeks perceived and labelled colors, but that’s a subject for another day.

The Ancient Egyptians loved blue. It represented the color of the Nile the sky as well as the heavens. I assumed they used lapis and turquoise for pigment but no, those stones were reserved for fine jewelry and decorative objects. And apparently lapis is very difficult to grind into a blue pigment because of the other minerals it contains. Ground lapis is actually gray! For painting and common objects, the Egyptians developed a synthetic blue pigment by mixing copper, silica (sand or crushed quartz) with lime.  “Egyptian Blue” was created and used on everything from papyrus scrolls to tomb paintings and was even incorporated into pottery and small decorative objects in the form of beautiful blue and turquoise faience (a glass-like substance used for beads and pottery).

Egyptian blue made its way to Europe and was later found in some Greek and Roman frescoes but was largely forgotten by the end of the Roman era. However around 600 CE a pure blue lapis-based pigment, later known as ultramarine blue, was created in Afghanistan, and by the 14th century had reached Europe via Venice. This vibrant blue immediately became in great demand and the price of lapis skyrocketed. Ultramarine blue could only be used in the most exclusive artistic commissions and ultimately became associated with the Virgin Mary whose cloak was always painted (a heavenly?) blue. Finally, in the 19th century, a cheaper synthetic ultramarine was developed, thereby allowing the color to be used more freely.

Blue has always inspired me. Like the ocean and sky it is infinite. Van Gogh captured that feeling in Starry Starry Night. I also relate to Kandinsky’s view that blue is the color of the spirit and connects us to the eternal (Kandinsky had lots of interesting notions about color and spirituality, see his 1911 book, On the Spiritual in Art). Beyond Picasso’s “Blue Period” and Henri Matisse’s blue nudes, Yves Klein was the artist most devoted to/obsessed with the color. In the late ‘50’s Klein created a series of ultramarine blue minimalist paintings and objects (my favorite being Blue Earth, one is currently for sale on 1stDibs for a mere $85,000). He actually invented IKB: International Klein Blue - which can be seen online but must be viewed in person to really appreciate it. By the early 1960’s Kline pushed the boundaries of the art world with his “Anthropometry Series,” by applying his rich blue paint directly to models and “printing” their bodies on paper.

Today we see blue everywhere - from to the spiritual to the dreamily seductive – from a pair of Levis to an artistic rendering of a deep blue evening sky, to the Virgin Mary. However, the color has also been appropriated by the military and police forces to convey authority and dignity and command respect. This works on a good day, but sadly “The Boys in Blue,” in their dark blue uniforms also trigger feelings of fear and represent the abuse of authority. Marketing has demanded that hundreds of shades of blue have been developed. Clearly the color used for the health insurance company, Blue Cross, wouldn’t have worked for Yves Klein. Crayola has 19 different shades of blue ranging from a pale baby blue to a deep midnight.

My own love of blue originates with water. The seashore has always been my favorite place. I want… need to see that horizon line where sky and water meet. While the ocean is often green and the sky can be gray I still associate that scene with blue – which leads to the concept and feeling infinity, and that’s the real draw. As Yves Klein said, “Blue has no dimensions.” Like the sky, it feels boundless.

While this short piece addresses the visual aspects of the color, blue has inspired much of my favorite music from Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, to Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” along with Skip James’ haunted delta blues.

Below you’ll see some of my own works that feature blue. They are available on my website as prints but you can contact me directly if you’re interested in any of them as an original. 

 

Laika                                                                                       Laika, 2007. Print available

 

Riverbank                                                                                Riverbank, 2008. Print available.

 

Seasonal Shift                                                                                    Seasonal Shift, 2017. Print available

 

Igloo Heights                                           Igloo Heights, 2012. Print available