OK, I confess: I am a terrible blogger. This public battle with the blank page drives me ba-ba-ba-bonkers. I have been trying to write this silly thing for weeks and weeks, leading into months upon month; each paragraph a disjointed mess of tangled thoughts and chaotic frustrations.
To be honest, all I want to do is show you pretty pictures, hardly something that would make for an ‘informative’ blog. But I’ve been travelin’, yah see,
and there are all these lovely, charming, intriguing, little details I just want to share with you.
Maybe I am going through a phase…..
a persistent, blue phase.
Rather randomly I read the other day that Akira Kurosawa said, “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” Given that ignorance is supposed to be bliss, then it is no wonder that artists are such a moody lot, but I digress. A stunning example of this slice of wisdom, and if you haven’t seen them you should, are the majestic bronze statues outside the San Francisco Ferry Building, ‘Nuestros Silencios’, Our Silences, by Jose Rivelino.
When I first photographed these sculptures I had no idea what they were, thought they might be ancient, middle eastern kings, or Cycladic gods. How wrong was I! They are monuments to Freedom of Expression, and a protest against oppression, the kind that keeps people silenced. Towering against an open, expanse of boundless blue, their mouths gagged, they are a deceptively subtle, yet incredibly profound statements that mirror our own worst behaviors back at us; they are monolithic warriors standing in silent defiance, beneath the abode of peace, love and freedom. They are our ideals and our truths in open combat under the azure sky.
Part of a traveling exhibit that started in Mexico in 2011, they trekked through Europe, and now these ten statues make their home in our Baghdad by the Bay. Here is a link to the artist and the story behind the statues. http://www.nuestrossilencios.com
Back to basic blue…There is no trick to using blue, just mix it with it’s opposite, orange. Vincent Van Gogh said, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” That is because all blues are fugitive. Ironically the color of faith and truth is easily tainted by the slightest touch of another color. Alter any blue with a bit of yellow or orange, or any other hue, and blue can be pushed, muted, brightened, or even made to glow. The orange/blue combination MAKES the best browns, and cool-toned shades that will pop any color in front of it. By the way, you can make a stunningly deep black by mixing Prussian Blue and Carmine/Lake Red. Prussian blue is a tad green, Carmine Red a strong, cold red, makes a purple-brown so deep it is black. At least that is how it works with oil colors.
I can also tell you that the color blue was a hair-pulling exasperation for every medieval artist out there, not only because the amber-ing of varnish kills a true blue, but it was also the most expensive color in the bunch. Cheap blues could be made from baking copper (or leaving some in a pit of urine) AND, the most expensive blue, worth its weight in gold, came from lapis lazuli, otherwise known as ‘ultramarine’.
One of my faaaaaavorite books, and if you like reading Latin on one page and the English translation on the other, then “Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting“, by Mrs. Mary P. Merrifield, published 1849, is for you! It has a 200 plus page introduction, another 800 or more pages in both Latin and English on everything from glass making, sculpting, painting and more. It covers the 12th-17th centuries, and has recipes for paint in it that start like this :
“To make lake- take urine, and keep it for a long while, and afterwards make it boil, until half of it is evaporated…..”, (pg. 62). You JUST have to marvel at the ingenuity of the person who came up with THAT idea at the end of the day. Lake, by the way, is that red I mentioned above.
There is an archived copy of Mrs. Merrifield’s fabulous book, free to read, linked below. Of course you can purchase a copy from any book buying site, but free is better! There are some very useful tips for artists in this book, much of it applicable even today, and without sarcasm, I can assure you it is a fun, informative read. https://archive.org/details/originaltreatis00merrgoog
For curiosity’s sake, if you want to know a bit more of the history of blue, My Modern Met has a nice little article on it, linked here.
Copper-Blue Beaded Silk Supercoil by Tabitha Warren