Green Light

The Color Green

The color green is evoked by light which has a dominant wavelength of 495 to 570 nanometers, appearing in the visual spectrum between the colors blue and yellow. It is created in painting by the combinations of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan. The shades of the color green range from yellow-greens, such as lime and avocado, to those with a blue tinge, such as emerald and turquoise. 

The English word ‘green’ comes from the Old English and Middle English word ‘grene, which like the German word ‘grün’, has the same root as the words ‘grass’ and ‘grow’, The first recorded use of the word as a term for a color in Old English is dated to about 700 AD. Although many languages, such as Germanic, Romance, Slavic and Greek, have old terms for “green’ which derived from words for vegetation, there is no identifiable single Proto-Indo-European source word for the word “green”. Linguistics studies indicate that all these terms were developed independently over time. 

In ancient Egypt, the color green was the symbol of rebirth and regeneration. Egyptian artists used the mineral malachite, finely ground, for painting on walls and on papyrus; this mineral was mined in the west Sinai and the eastern desert. Green had very positive associations for the Egyptians. A growing papyrus sprout represented the hieroglyph for the word green, linking the color to vegetation, vigor and growth. Osiris, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, was usually portrayed as having a green face, as seen in the tomb of Nefertari who reigned from 1295 to 1253 BC. Malachite amulets were worn for protection from evil and given to the dead to promote vigor in the deceased. 

The green pigment verdigris is made by placing a copper, brass or bronze plate, slightly warmed, into a vat of fermenting wine for several weeks. The green powder that forms on the metal is scraped off and dried. This pigment was used by the Romans in murals, and in Celtic manuscripts. It produced a blue-green color; but it was unstable and toxic. Verdigris was used in Persian and European paintings util the late 19th century, when it was replaced by the pigment chrome green. Vincent van Gogh used viridian, a more stable green patented in 1859, in a mixture of Prussian blue to create the green tinted sky in his 1888 painting “Cafe Terrace at Night”.

The use of the color green in painting plays an important role in the creation of naturalistic flesh tones, as seen in Duccio di Buoninsegna’s altarpiece “Maestà” at the Museo deli’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo in Siena, Italy. Its use in underpainting and glazing is seen in Jan van Eyck’s oil paintings and Paolo Uccello’s murals. Helen Frankenthaler used the color green almost exclusively in her 1992 “Overture”, one of her freest works, swirling green paint into vortices and and then dissolving it into rich patterns.  

Another example of the use of green was the installation work “Green Light Corridor” by Indiana-born artist Bruce Nauman which enforced the contrast between the perceptual and physical experience of space. He constructed two high walls spaced twelve inches apart, lit by green fluorescent bulbs hanging above the created corridor. Spectators walked through the tight space, the eyes adjusting to the green light. Upon exiting, their eyes adjusted again, causing them to see an optical illusion of the color pink, the opposite end of the color spectrum. 

Featured image” Helen Frankenthaler, “Overture”, 1992, Acrylic on Canvas, 70 x 94 Inches, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York

Red Light

 

The Color Red

The narrow wavelength band of pure spectral light at 625 to 740 nanometers, stimulating the color photoreceptors of the eye’s retina, produces the color perception of red. At  the end of the visible spectrum of light, red ranges from the brilliant yellow-tinged scarlet to the bluish-red crimson, with variations in shade from pale pink to the dark burgundy. Made from the natural clay earth pigment of ochre, a mixture of ferric oxide and varied amounts of clay and sand, red  pigment was one of the first colors used in prehistoric art. 

Red, the color of blood touched by oxygen, has been associated in history with the ideas of sacrifice, courage and danger. In modern Europe and the United States, the sight of color red is associated with the ideas of heat, passion, activity, sexuality, anger, love and joy. While in many Asian countries, the color red is symbolic of the ideas of good fortune and happiness. Red placed prominently in the ceremonies of the Mayan and ancient Egyptian cultures, and later on in the Roman processions and military victory celebrations. It served as a color to show prominence and power, decorating the gates and walls of Chinese palaces and the costumes for the Renaissance nobility and wealthy. 

After the Western Roman Empire fell in the 5th century, red was adopted as a color of majesty and authority. It became an important part of Catholic Church rituals, symbolizing the blood of Christ and its martyrs, and used as the robe color of its Cardinals. Used to draw the attention of viewers, it was often used in Renaissance painting as the color of the costume of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a central figure of a scene. Layers of pigment mixed with a semi-transparent glaze allowed more light to pass through, creating the effect of a more brilliant color. 

The earlier red, vermilion, was made from the powder mineral cinnabar and used widely in manuscript illumination of the Middle Ages and Renaissance paintings. Early in the 1500s, a new red appeared from Mexico, made from the tiny parasitic insect, the cochineal, which was more brilliant and worked well with textiles. With the arrival of cochineal red, painters had a rich crimson color, called carmine, that was used almost exclusively by all the great painters of the 15th and 16th centuries, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Tintoretto.

With the systematic study of color theory and the study of complementary colors in the 1800s, red was used to create specific emotions in the viewers of artworks. Vincent van Gogh avidly followed these studies. In his description of “The Night Cafe” to his brother Theo in 1888, Van Gogh wrote “I sought to express the red and green the terrible human passions. . . Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens”. The Russian symbolist painter Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin used red in his 1912 painting “Bathing of a Red Horse” to shock viewers, provoking a furious discussion among Russian art critics. Mark Rothko used red in simple block forms on large canvases. In 1962 he painted a series of large murals of the Passion of Christ whose predominant colors were dark pink and crimson, chosen to inspire human emotions. 

Multi-Colored

Photographer Unknown, (A Multi-Colored Universe)

“Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8 color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64 color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64 color box, though I’ve got a few missing. It’s okay though, because I’ve got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. I have a bit of a problem though in that I can only meet the 8 color boxes. Does anyone else have that problem? I mean there are so many different colors of life, of feeling, of articulation.” – John Mayer

The Blue Vision

Photographer Unknown, (The Blue Vision of the Mystic Madu, Scribe of the People, Servent of Min)

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed.  . .But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
― Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead