On Blue

On Blue

From Lapis to Aqua, Turquoise to Cobalt, the color blue has a rich and storied history within the arts. One of the last natural pigments to be discovered, and unnamed throughout ancient history, from painted Celtic warriors, to royal garments, and the development of some of the most iconic hues, we can’t resist the pull of its cool, emotive tone.


Originally one of the most expensive pigments to produce, the rich royal blue, as seen in Becky Kolsrud’s Allegorical Nude, would only be used to highlight the most significant figures in group portraits and figurative compositions. Frequently reserved for the depictions of the Virgin Mary and royalty, the color quickly became associated with purity, humility and the divine, much like the figure in Kolsrud’s piece. Swathed in an oceanic wash, her subject stares out of the natural scene, confronting the traditional relationship between viewer and sitter.

Becky Kolsrud, Allegorical Nude, 2019; Signed + Numbered Limited Edition Print

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Summer Wheat, Shallow Water I, 2020; Signed and Numbered Limited Edition Print

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Similarly, in Summer Wheat’s Shallow Water I, the vibrant turquoise highlights the central female figures who challenge classical notions of women’s labor and responsibilities. Reserved only for the figures and the namesake water, Wheat’s use of blue ignites a tension between creation and passivity, with these animated figures crafting the nautical world around them.

 

A standout, primary color, blue resists melting into other tones such as when red bleeds to pink, the cool tone has taken on additional, emotional connotations and depth of feeling. From sadness to longing across a wide variety of practices, such as music and film, it is impossible to separate blue from the Blues.

Exceptionally highlighted in Giorgio Celin’s back to the road, back to the blues, the artist uses a wide range of hues to bring depth and movement to the central figure. Melting into the dark background, Celin’s use of blue captures the sense of longing and loss in his signature, swirling style.

Understanding by Marisa Takal, 2021, Unframed Archival pigment print

Marisa Takal, Understanding, 2019; Hand Embellished, Signed, and Numbered Limited Edition Print

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Marisa Takal’s Understanding presents a robust, updated use of the color, connoting similar emotional expressions through natural environments and perceptions. In Understanding, Takal inverts ideas of foreground and background, deepening her bedroom scenes of dark greens and reds. Meanwhile, the cerulean background with a bright aqua line up the center pops against the environment and its branches reach out toward those details.

In Anthony Peyton Young’s Candlelight Vigil, the artist enlivens the nighttime scene with reflections on the water and a translucent wash in the pants to add depth to the relationship between himself and the genderless, ancestral figure that accompany him along the path.

Anthony Peyton Young, Candlelight Vigil edition 9/10, hand-embellished with stars in the sky

 

Each of these works exemplifies a varied engagement with the breadth of uses and connotations of the color. Whether signifying hope and independence, lust, loss and more, the variety of meanings and uses strengthens the power color has in communicating those more subtle, indescribable feelings that only art can bring to light.