(4/13/01 7:09:51 am)
|The color of death|
Hello all. I've been away for the last month or so dealing with the death of two people -- my grandmother and my roommate. Since my roommate passed away four weeks ago I've dealt with packing up all of her and her three children's things and looking at all of the bare space that she once filled with the color of her life -- It was then I noticed that all of my walls are white. Since then I've been painting every white space in my house -- vibrant shades of purple, blue, green and yellow. And then, this weekend I painted my living room scarlet -- not just one wall but every available space. They seem fitting colors. And now that the white is nearly gone from my environment, I realized that though I had always associated black with death -- white is just as fitting. Emptiness -- white noise.
Now I'm looking closer at color in writing as well -- which of course is only black and white at first glance, but full of all of the colors of life once you look behind the typed words to the palette of the writer's imagination. Any thoughts?
Just some musing to throw into the mix.
(4/13/01 7:52:08 am)
|Re: The color of death|
Carrie, I'm very sorry to hear about your losses.
I think there are cultures in which white is the color of death, although I can't remember which ones offhand. It's interesting that we're going through similar experiences. There have been two sudden deaths in my community of friends -- a 25-year-old friend and colleague at Tor Books, and a 5 year old boy here in Tucson -- and my mother is in the last stages of terminal cancer. So death (and its myths) have been much on my mind lately. Plus, I've just moved into a new house where all the walls are blindingly white. And this after spending the last 7 years obliterating every trace of white wall in my old house, turning it into rich canvas of color. Now suddenly I find I have to start all over again and it's rather daunting...I hadn't looked at the metaphorical/mythical aspect of painting walls before your comments. Life has been so *full* lately -- death, change, loss, birth, renewal. A very mythic time indeed.
Let us know what you find out about the mythic significance of various
colors. Good friends of mine in England turned their livingroom
from white to deep red last year, and we all remarked on what a
*passionate* color it was. A month later, an unexpected baby was
on the way (my new godchild, born in February.) So be careful....
(4/13/01 4:34:40 pm)
I'm so sorry for the loss you (and many people seem to be) experienced/ing. My absolute favorite, eccentric, closest-to-me uncle died about a month ago of cancer with less than a month's warning. It does seem to be a time of re-evaluation...
I've been thinking about color, not so much in relationship to death, but how to use it more symbolically in my work... The cultural meaning of colors range from universally accepted to completely opposing viewpoints. And then there is our own experience and associations we bring to the table. (I am thinking of one of the essays on the Endicott site - talking ABOUT Terri and her decorating of homes. How moving to Arizona changed at least her decorating palette from subtler, muted tones to bright, traditionally SouthWest colors...)
Black is the symbol of death, mourning and the underworld in the West, while in Asia the color of mourning is white. Western brides wear white as a symbol of purity whilst in India and China, brides wear red to represent good luck and fertility. Since medieval times, red has also been used (initially West again) to represent Satan, hellfire and unbridled passion and lust (hence it's popularity as a 'sexy' car color). There are a number of studies that have been done on the physiological effects color has on our systems (how many fast food restaurants can you think of that have a predominantly red/orange/yellow color scheme?)
At least from a Western viewpoint, I think we share many archetypal associations with color - consciously or not. And I love it when those associations are used in art, media or literature. I remember reading something about the costume designer for the movie-musical "Camelot" (the one with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave) - and how the color choices used in the main charactor's costumes was symbolic of the underlying emotional currents of the scene.
Alexandra Stoddard is a much published interior designer. One of my favorites of hers that I read years ago is her "Book of Color" - which helped me to look at color, and what I surround myself with, and the underlying meanings of, in a totally different way. She says "I am still in awe of the vast vocabulary and dimension that color freely offers us. Colors can stir our emotions, change our moods, touch our hearts, expand our vision. It can open all our senses -our taste buds, our sense of smell and touch; we can see the world in the most wondrous ways... Whether from nature or art or from harmonious schemes created by man, color is that magical experience that gives me an inspirational and spiritual life."
I agree. Especially as we increase our awareness....
Here's to surrounding ourselves with all the colors and things that feed our souls.
Edited by: tlchang at: 4/14/01
(4/14/01 6:47:02 am)
|Colors and Death...|
I, too, am sorry to hear about your losses. As I mentioned on another thread, my Nana passed away recently and I've been grappling with the Meaning of Life ever since.
When I was in college, I had a roommate who was originally from China (I forget where exactly). I think I was writing out Christmas cards in red ink, and she began to freak out, saying that red was an unlucky color, that it was associated with death.
In my family, black is still the color of death, as I've learned from trying to wear colors for wakes and funerals only gets me in trouble. I've found that black is more of an introspective color for me, and if you want me to be in the moment, not in my thoughts, don't ask me to wear black! It was the only time I shed tears when my grandfather died, when they yelled at me for not wearing black, not being respectful.
In a few psychology classes I've taken, I've done little tests that are supposed to show your attitude towards things, one of which is death. One version asks how you would respond to being in a room that is pitch black- no windows, no doors, just black. The other version I've heard most is a room of mirrors.
Lately, I think the color blue has been what I relate to death,
but not just a solid color. It's more of a swirling pattern, like
a whirlpool. That's how life has been, just whirling around. (I'd
really like some walls to paint in swirls, but I don't think my
landlord would appreciate it. ) White has been there too, like a
kind of white noise- it doesn't appear like there's anything there
at first, then you hear the hushed rushing, like a waterfall, then
you start to see the swirls and patterns. I guess maybe it isn't
so much as just the color as it is the pattern too. But that seems
to be more my reflection on life as spurred on by death, not death
itself. My Nana's death has been bringing on black-and-white in
the form of old pictures of her, my grandfather; brown tones in
the form of a book about the town she lived in, a pair of gloves
that fit my hands perfectly, and a small roll-paper dispenser; mustard
in the form of my grandfather's hat he wore in the military; and
white, in the form of a blank page that I'm trying to write a poem
about her on.
I guess it's a rainbow connection for some.
Soft whispers and dandelion wishes,
(4/16/01 5:24:11 am)
I'm sorry that we all seem to be surrounded by death these days. Getting into the later middle ages, it's always been "any day now, our friends are going to start dropping like flies." Yet, with a few exceptions, the deaths in my universe of late have been younger people, people who aren't supposed to be on the list yet. I'm hoping this little anomaly has run its course for now. So I think I'll dwell on other aspects of the color issue...
Red is the color of lust and Hell?--no surprise to me that these two are inextricably linked historically. The one will surely get you sent to the other, although the color seems more often applied to women in this regard than to men.
Red is the blood on the pure white sheet hung out the window to prove that the marriage was consumated. Something particularly perverse in that--red, an obscenity to be celebrated. I have to think about this one awhile.
Years and years ago a restaurant chain did color tests to determine what color scheme to use in their interiors. They found as a result that orange interiors were the least comfortable and would make people leave faster, thus increasing the customer turnover. Everyone ate and ran.
A friend of mine who practices chiropractics and is into a lot of dubious New Age cures (magnets, and so forth), argued that the color orange actually weakens you. Wearing orange, having it touch your skin, will sap your strength. While I don't buy this (mainly since he tried it out on me and it didn't work), I find it interesting that this is the color deemed to be the most enervating.
Terri, a few years back my wife and I bought a house with old, white plaster walls and had to do something with them, in part to disguise the defects in the plaster. She became an advocate of glazing techniques. We ended up mixing artist's oils (umber and ochre in particular) into a glaze and "ragging" it--painting the colored glaze onto the wall and then removing it with torn up old sheets, or cheesecloth. Made the whole floor look like an 18th century Italian villa. That might be a look you'd find comfortable in the new house--a little bit of Euro-Southwest. Tucson Tuscany.
(4/17/01 7:42:23 am)
Greg, I've used those techniques (particularly in my cottage in England, where "aging" the walls was important in order to keep the flavor of the structure's great age), but I've always used water based pigments. Oil paints work okay?
(4/17/01 7:54:11 am)
Yes, we used only standard artists oils. The glaze was itself an oil base. You can use up a lot of paint doing this and, as you no doubt know from your applications of the technique in your cottage, it requires making up more than you need, since matching hand-mixed color is near impossible, and invariably you have to touch up something later on (in our case, a whole wall had to be torn out and redone, which was a color-blending nightmare). But it does both disguise and accent the sense of age.
The process got me involved in other faux techniques--such as marbling a fireplace mantle.
(4/19/01 2:54:21 pm)
|Painting techniques |
They make glaze in both oil and water base so both are possible. I have done whole rooms with two 99 cent tubes of acrylic paint from a craft store.
Back to the color topic, to me it is the depth of the color that really conveys the emotion. Like with the sponging techniques mentioned before, the color seems richer with an addition of another color. A flat black just seems so, well, flat. But adding another color gives it dimension.
(4/20/01 5:58:30 am)
|Last off-topic post|
Okay, this is my last off-topic post, I promise. But what I've found useful in aging walls (doors, furniture, etc.) are dry ground pigments which you can add to any medium you want. Nutshell Paints in England has a fabulous line of earth and mineral pigments, and they'll ship to the U.S. Their web site is: www.nutshellpaints.com.
Now back to the topic of color in myths and fairy tales...
I find that I associate fairy tales with the sepia-tinted color range from 19th century illustrators like Rackham and Dulac -- or Dulac-influenced modern illustrators like Alan Lee. As a result, sepia brown is my favorite color, and I use it a lot in paintings and drawings (and clothes, and house furnishing....) Does anyone else have that association, or am I just perverse?
Edited by: Terri at: 4/20/01
(4/20/01 8:51:40 am)
No Terri- you are not alone!
I no longer predominantly to think of fairy tales, not in the sticky-sweet nursery colors that I was brought up with (cotton candy pink princess hats and gowns, sugary blue castles, etc), but more of a Tuscan/Provencal palette (I think that's what they're called. Colors such as sepia, sage, dusty blue, russet, burnt sienna (thanks to an artist on PBS, I forget his first name, but it was one more often given to girls; his last name was Jackson), colors that seem to be under a soft gray veil or behind a curtain of smoke (I love using color imagery!). They seem to have a glassine effect when used lightly, which gives a sense of a world that's not completely there, but is still perceptible if you look long enough.
(4/20/01 9:08:12 am)
|Re: The color of death|
First, I am very sorry to hear of the losses people have been experiencing. I wish I knew what to say that did not sound clumsy or patronizing or inappropriate…
I was thinking of colors…I must bring up Italy again…I hope I do not sound too much like a broken record. But it is my heritage, my father's birthplace and the time I spent there last year deeply affected me. We went to see my Nonna, who is slowly fading away.
I also visited the Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri - when I saw the tombs, the first thing I thought was "Why, they're fairy mounds!" And being there was like being in another world. The tombs are large rounded mounds, too regular to be natural, covered on top with soft green grass and creeping ivy on the sides. The dirt is sunny ochre and grey-brown rock. Inside the tombs, it is cool and dim and damp, and so still, that the slightest movement in the air made me feel as though the dead were breathing in the shadows. I was spooked. But we found a nest of swallows inside one tomb and a litter of kittens in another.
Some of the tombs underground were painted such bright colors. White walls, with paintings of the things the Etruscans believed were needed in the afterlife - food and drink, tools, animals, jewelry - as though life had not ended after all. Bright reds and blues and browns…it really was quite amazing. So I keep thinking of Cerveteri and the ochres and reds and blues and the ivy and the rock…I wonder if those colors represented death to the Etruscans who built that place.
I couldn't help but wonder if Etruscan blood flowed in my nonna's and my father's and my veins…I kept looking at the funerary statues, searching for a resemblance.
(4/20/01 10:21:59 am)
For someone interested in color and its relationship to death, life, love, the film "Goya in Bordeaux" is a delight. The film as a theatrical sense to it--nothing is filmed on real locations, all on soundstages, and shifts of mood come with strong color transformations as well as surprising transparencies in the walls of the sets. It's an appropriately surreal exploration of Goya.