I have had a small book titled Chromophobia on my shelf since it was published in 2000. After dipping in and out of it over the last few years and being delighted and intrigued, I finally read it from stem to stern. It is a terrific, terrific book.
The author, David Batchelor, is a sculptor whose work is focused on color (or, because he is British, colour.) He also happens to be an insightful and articulate thinker, and this small book has been feeding my thinking for days.
Batchelor’s basic premise is this: “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that, in the West, since Antiquity, colour has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished and degraded…As with all prejudices, its manifest form, its loathing, masks a fear: a fear of contamination and corruption by something that is unknown or appears unknowable.” Drawing from sources that range from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and the philosophic writings of Aristotle, Charles Blanc, Le Corbusier and Roland Barthes among others, the book unmasks our cultural discomfort with colour.
In the process of this uncovering, Batchelor has assembled some memorable references to art and colour. Here’s a few I found particularly provocative:
The poet Joachim Gasquet, reporting some remarks made by Cezanne about looking at painting:
Shut your eyes, wait, think of nothing. Now, open them…One sees nothing but a great coloured undulation. What then? An irradiation and glory of colour. This is what a picture should give us…an abyss in which the eye is lost, a secret germination, a coloured state of grace…Lose consciousness. Descend with the painter into the dim tangled roots of things, and rise again from them in colours, be steeped in the light of them.
Cezanne, it has been argued, subscribed to the idea that a new-born child lives in a world of naive vision where sensations are unmediated and uncorrupted by the ‘veil of…interpretation.’ The work of the painter was to observe nature as it was beneath this veil, to imagine the world as it was before it had been converted into a network of concepts and objects. This world for Cezanne, was ‘patches of colour’; thus ‘to paint is to register one’s sensations of colour.’
Gustave Moreau: ‘Note one thing well: you must think through colour, have imagination in it. If you don’t have imagination, your colour will never be beautiful. Colour must be thought, imagined, dreamed.”
So much more to share from this slender volume. I will do so in upcoming posts.