I’m a huge fan of Stephin Merritt, inspiration behind the Magnetic Fields and a slew of other collaborations. He has that Elliott Smith-like proclivity to combine unexpected lyrics with a wide range of hummable music. (I like this description: “bitterly smart lyricism and a musical-survey style.”) The results don’t feel forced or manipulative, just delightfully paradoxical. Like fried ice cream.

And then there is this, a riff on Merritt’s wardrobe strategies, from a recent piece about him in the New York Times:

“I have a strange relationship to variety,” the singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt said recently, as he sat at a West Village cafe meticulously tearing a croissant into little bits. He was discussing his wardrobe — absolutely all of his clothing is in a white-to-brown color palette — but also his career. In music, at least, “I like variety,” Mr. Merritt said…

He started dressing in brown about five years ago. “It’s going really well,” he said. “I had a green shirt that looked brown when I bought it, but I recently got rid of it.” All his pants are khakis. His homes — he has an apartment in New York and house and studio in Los Angeles — are decorated in brown and bright red. “If I didn’t make these decisions ahead of time, because my tastes tend to be sort of eclectic, I would have disasters,” Mr. Merritt said. “This is not an O.C.D. thing. This is a way of warding off what other people regard as horrendous, egregious errors in taste.”

Apparently, he’s right. “I knew him during the all-black phase, I knew him during the Hawaiian-shirt phase, I knew him when he wore, I think it was a 20-foot-long braid up on his head,” Mr. Handler [fellow musician and author of Lemony Snicket] said. “I admire the all-brown.”

This is not as fanciful or trivial an issue as it may seem. The All Brown approach sounds very sensible to those of us who have serious “everything is interesting” proclivities. I love to look. There’s no color combination that does not interest me, no symbol that does not intrigue, no panorama I can ignore. Things have a power all their own, and my susceptibility is legend. While a hierarchy of better and best clearly drives my art making decisions, I can be hypnotized by anything. The minute the light hits the retina, I’m a goner. Going All Brown feels like a reset, like finding a safety zone.


2 Replies to “Brown”

  1. Elatia Harris says:

    Deborah, if you went all-brown, all that would happen is that you would be perceived by those who know your painting as having shifted to a warmer palette, simply. No one would know it was brown. The many layers that resulted in the surface being apparently brown would sneak through, disrupting the impression of brownness from across the room. The one difficulty would consist in your finding a color that was a true complement to brown, so that the same signature dynamic — is that painting yellow or lavender? — could obtain to the restricted palette paintings. You would be forced to conceptualize a complement and posit it, since none exists — and this would not be a problem for long. The task would break down to your abandoning the search for a single pigmentary complement to brown, no matter how conceptually intriguing. You would decide that a time shift was necessary — back to all the pigments that, when mixed, result in the impression of brownness. So that you would achieve tension by juxtaposing a layer of seeming brown and a layer of its component parts. I mean, look how much green there is in red. I mean, look at how stained glass at the time of the windows of Chartres Cathedral was green at one molten temperature, red at another, with time and temperature being the only variables?

    I repeat, no one would know that you’d gone all-brown.

  2. E, you know more than anyone of what I speak, I am sure.

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