On Color


2002; Miami Beach

I get the questions all the time: “What do the colors mean?” “Do you think about the colors before you start painting?” “Why do you use such bright colors?“, and “Why is Martin Luther King’s face blue?” The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t really think about a color pattern before I start painting. Kurt Vonnegut said that life is like a painting, in that you only have sort of an idea of where you want to go when you start, and the canvas that you fill in as you go is sort of like your resume; you fill it with your life’s experiences. As you go, one thing leads to another, and what’s there when you’re finished isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you started. It’s sort of a dialectic: one development plays off another, influencing, attracting, pushing, pulling, loving, expanding, contracting, brightening, darkening… yin-yang in motion. In a certain way, the canvas becomes a Taoist alchemy, the framed result a Japanese garden of sorts — a refuge, a sanctity of peace, trapped in time, there to appreciate, reflect on, believe in or ponder for years, or as long as it affects you. The work, like your life, is there to sanction or solicit, confirm or deny, inspire or implore, enthuse or encourage, to beseech, or — to just be. I just pick up the brush and dip it in a color which attracts me, one I think will go well with the color used just before it. I don’t think about it much though. The jeans-cleaned palette knife is already in my hand, moving toward the next paint blob sort of semi-consciously. Sometimes the music makes me do it, the language of the muses so present and potent in the process — behind the scenes, but so forceful and involved — vigorous but invisible — at least in the way our limited minds “envision” presence, process, and praxis. John Lennon said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. I love the way painting can likewise be so spontaneous, and so fulfilling, all while a painting takes on a life of its own. Were it that life were that way: impromptu, carefree, evolving amidst an assuring confidence that our self-impelling motives are right-directed, motivated by a spirit of love. Does art imitate life, or vice versa, or is it symbiotic? Does the orchestra play the music, or the does the music play the orchestra? Are we even supposed to be able to articulate the difference, or is that part of the wonder of being alive, the wonder of being? I wonder. Sometimes I’m convinced that if we enjoy, esteem, and appreciate art for what it reveals, for what it helps us learn about ourselves, and for its reflectivity with respect to the ideas, ethics, and truths we espouse and aspire to, why not let life imitate art? Couldn’t that be the whole point? Van Gogh said, “The only time I really feel alive is when I’m painting.” Now, as for why Martin’s face is blue? I think he is a hero to me precisely because I don’t think of him in black and white terms. I don’t see him as model of or martyr for black-white relations, and I don’t think he interpreted himself, his mission, or his effect in that way either. Rather, he is an example of truth for me, of justice, of love prevailing over fear, compassion over ignorance, and humility accepting its brother pride, even though pride knows not what it says or does (“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”) MLK, like his heroes Christ and Gandhi, was content to live an example, convinced that justice will triumph over trepidation, unwavering on the wave of hope, dignified in fearing dishonor more than death. He wasn’t content to just ride the wave; he was the wave. “Their deaths say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about WHO murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly to make the American dream a reality.” (Dr. King, “Eulogy for the Martyred Children”, 1963).

I love the way art challenges us, and is there to release us from conventions which capture and consistently confine not just our conscious, but our collective conscience as well. Oh, that we listen to art and follow its lead. Oh, that he were known as “Conscious Pilate” instead; but that would have changed insuperably the whole of history, and modified the earthly march of roughly two billion feet. Suffice it say that for here and now — as I know the two, I love the way color intensifies appreciation, enriches enthusiasm, impacts happiness, influences joy, affects mood, and fortifies fervor. We need to shed the shades that tint the truth, and see color for what it is and can be, not for what it was and used to be. What color are truth, love and loyalty, mercy and music, honor, justice, integrity, dignity, commitment, bearing, courage, pride, passion, and principle? I still don’t know, and that is perhaps precisely the beauty of color-blind ideals. But, may the true colors of the noblest canons, whatever song they sing, whichever bells they ring, altruistically alter our dialectical voyage to the highest of altars. Because the truth, whatever bold, emblazoned colors it wears, shall set us free.

Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on On Color