Falling into Blue


Most people, if pressed to choose their favorite color, will answer blue. Why? And where does this color, so often prized above all others, and summoned with the word “blue”, exist?

Blue at its purest, named ultramarine or royal, takes its place on the color wheel as one of the three primaries. But when we scan the world around us, it turns out that this true, unalloyed hue of blue is all but impossible to find. It is a human creation, existing almost exclusively in pigment and dye.

I pondered this question while making the paper floor sculpture Froth. Painting the deep blue paper strands with ultramarine blue for the base, I saw, as in a vision, the strands of blue falling in layers onto the floor, making an airy pile that ignited into an electifying indigo haze. The stunning potency of this color hits the body involuntarily with a force of a different order – as a strummed note on a stringed instument resonates in its body of wood.

Pure blue – it beckons you to fall into it. It invites, it seduces, it induces a hunger, a yearning, for something just out of reach. This deep blue excites a desire for something lost, or never possessed. An exquisite aching. It is not quite of this world.

This I think is why we are drawn to blue. It is so rare in the visible world, in nature, as well as in fashion and design. The things we call blue in nature are not truly blue – the sky, the sea – they are shades and tints, mingled with other colors, or muted and paled with white. Can you think of a ultramine flower? Exotic birds of pure blue hue may exist, but are too rare to factor into our lives. The bluebird – a dusty muted blue. The great blue heron – a bluish gray.

But blue in art – it lies there. The searing ineffable blue found in medieval stained glass, as in Ste. Chapelle in Paris, or Chartres cathedral. The heavenly blue of the Madonna’s cloak painted by Fra Angelico. Remember – that blue pigment in Renaissance art was the most expensive of all, even more than gold, being rare, and paintings were priced according to the quantity of ultramarine contained. Then there is Matisse’s blue in his cut paper work, when as he neared death, he worked from his bed.

Blue soothes. Blue is aspirational. It leans towards a spiritual realm, beyond this ephemeral body. It is not of the body, though our body thrills to it. Go out and look for blue – see what you find, and report back.

Joan Grubin
July, 2016

To read further on the color blue, I came across this lovely article from the Paris Review offering a brief history of ultramarine, that I found after finishing this short text. http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/06/08/true-blue/