Night, the eater of color

night image with only a little color

I spend so much time thinking in color, forming shapes from and for color, and building my ideas out in color, that I think of color as a real and living thing that is vital and inseparable from the universe. I believe this to be true, I mean I sort of have to. But then there is night and darkness.

Night and its darkness take color away from our eyes so easily. When the sun goes down and the lights go out color fades and disappears. Darkness eats color right out from whatever one is doing, like dome kind of mythological demon. Night, the eater of color.

Color of course is just light reflected and perceived by our little eyes. The nature of the material on view and its chemical structure either absorbs or deflects light in such a way as to make it seem to be green, blue, pink, or whatever hue it might be. But at night, when the lights go out, so does the color. Everything fades to gray.

And as a painter, this can make you wonder what you are doing. Here I am so obsessed with the tricks and trickery of light and color, to then see it all dissolve away with the flip of a switch is a pretty strong kick to the mind. Line remains, form persists, even value hangs around, but color dissipates. What Yellow you made to fire the moment, what red was burning, what violet was singing– they all disappear.

Color to me is always a thought and simultaneously a way of thinking. Yet all those thoughts and all that meaning, all those layers of idea built and planned also dissipate and go dormant with the darkness. Why should all our lines and their ideas remain, all our shapes and their declarations remain, but color and its pleasing, pulsing, gripping, structuring voice not?

Lines, those trickster extroverts, will lead you anywhere, they don’t so much know things as they do put on the airs of knowledge. Value is practically a math teacher, it knows exactly what is and what isn’t, but really it neither dresses or talks well. Form fascinates, but by itself can get boring – a blow hard of sorts, it rambles on and on never getting to the point.

Color though is a watchful poet that sees and feels things truly, and to bring its poetry perhaps requires sleep and rest. It calmly moves among the other 3, binding them together like a friend who brings other friends together

At least it is only our perception of color that goes away. It is true to say that whatever components of a pigment that give it the quality of a color during the day remain with it during the night. And with one more switch of the light, it always returns as if never gone. It seems so permanent, so un-dismissable.

And yet despite how we might believe this, hit the switch again and it’s gone to our eyes.

The permanence of paint is very seductive. It is after all rocks and minerals, perhaps the most permanent of substances on Earth. Often too I think the surfaces of a painting are far more durable than we think of them.

But color has a fragility we can’t ignore. When it goes, so much of the painting goes with it. So much of the idea and so much of the soul.

This is perhaps why I find the idea of sun worship so easy and fulfilling.

Color, while weak and quick to run away, is always faithful. The light will return to it, the sun will resuscitate it, and the conversation will continue by morning. It’s in no hurry to get anywhere. Like a resting animal, it knows its time will return, so it can simply wait out the darkness in sleep.