Gold, Clay, and Purple People Eaters
Nothing fogs my brain more than a dive down the rabbit hole into color. Prismatic, Spectral, Trichromatic... it gets very technical quick. I’m not talking about nanometers or kilohertz either... I just gloss over that, although just what a wavelength and a frequency of light are, is fascinating in its own right. Suffice it to say, earth is not revolving around the sun in some flat disc arrangement, in a flat galaxy arrangement. The whole system is spiraling in some direction that just looks like a flat disc that traces out a circular orbit in a steady state diagram or video. Electrons and protons have orbits, too, and photons of light are behaving in similar fashion... electro magnetic propulsion. That’s the easy part, as long as I don’t get into describing it, mathematically!
There are some big differences between pigments of color and the color of light. I can totally wrap my head around little atoms of hydrogen and carbon in a molecule crystal that looks red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet. Even the counterintuitive nature of the color we see is the wavelength of light that is absorbed and not the one reflected. It’s everything that isn’t reflected... sounds suspect but it’s whatever. The whole gamut, gamma color space thing is a total mind warp, though, with white points and lines of purple. I’m sure there is plenty of math involved, but it’s more like philosophy concepts being described in words... over here you have a black box with a Schrödinger’s cat inside... Munsell and Pantone organized it into a Dewey decimal system of categories, but the chromatic minutia is simply mind boggling.
What I really want to talk about is purple. As if that’s not complicated enough, purple is not a single wavelength. It’s not a spectral color. Violet on the other hand is a spectral (single wavelength) color. You see purple is a secondary color. It’s a mix of red and blue. Now purple occupies a space on the color wheel between blue and red, but it’s right next to violet. Purple biases towards red and violet biases towards blue. In the Newtonian color spectrum (the one where light shines through a prism making a rainbow) there is a color called indigo. In the light spectrum, we slide off the blue end of the visible light spectrum into what is called ultraviolet.
I had a color epiphany the other day... it was like that benzine ring dream of the snake biting its tail. If you take the linear color spectrum and connect the red end to the blue end you get the color wheel. Let’s just call it connecting the dots, so to speak, and let it go at that.
Except there is one color on that spectrum, two actually, that we pretty much ignore... cyan and probably magenta. Cyan is a spectral color. It’s there... just we don’t really talk about it, probably thanks to Isaac Newton ignoring it. Magenta is some kind of violet quasi purple color in the red family, a mix breed. The color spaces are really cool... Red, Green, Blue (RGB) and Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) of printer ink notoriety. It’s a printing thing... pigments, but it’s a light thing too.
Metals are not spectral colors... gold for example. When we see gold (shiny!), we can see it’s a color, but it’s a mix breed, too. Most metals vary between white and black residing primarily in grays. But gold being shiny was and still is a popular material in art (gold leaf and gilding, for example).
In gilding, the wooden surfaces were prepared (primed) with a mix of clay and rabbit skin glue. The clay was usually a red clay called bole. Maybe the clay is just really smooth and hard but the red actually shows through the gold in places and further influences the luster that we see, enriching it maybe. But boles come in colors, too, reds, blues, and purples! Like ochres, which come in reds, yellow, oranges, greens, blues (cyans), and purples, also, how come boles are not pigments?
Purple was the color of royalty. There were shades of purple that were forbidden to be worn by the peasantry. Purple dyes came from snails and from the the indigo plant. Today purple can be synthesized like the pigment dioxazine purple. It’s unendingly fascinating to me that a green plant creates a purple dye, buts it’s true. You can try it at home with green things like avocado pits.
As I have become more fascinated with natural pigments, ochres, the Wild Pigment Project, sustainability, and reclaimed pigments like the dull purple of reclaimed iron mining tailings from Gamblin, I’ve become less interested in the bright high chroma synthetic colors, as well as the synthetic supports like polyester canvas.
I’m regressing chromatically, which is a good thing really, as most everything in nature that I’m passionate about painting are comprised of dull, less chromatic colors. But, bring on those blue and purple ochres, some matte purple bole, some organic hemp or linen canvas and some gold leaf!
I’m not, too, keen on mining copper for copper composite painting panels, or gold for that matter, either. It reminds me that two thirds of the Amazon rain forest has been destroyed by human activity, and that we are going extinct. Bamboo plywood or some kind of pulp hardboard, maybe, or just canvas glued to stone... stone really is a good support for painting, I think. Heavy, maybe. I see that the mosaic deck of Roman Emperor Caligula’s floating palace was just repatriated to Italy, after being an antiquities art dealer’s coffee table. That stone mosaic was underwater for 800 years and looks new. A little bees wax paste buffed up... the plight of the bees, really saddens me. As go the bees, so go I.