Study in green
Ihave always had favoured colours to work with – many artists do. Green was never one of those colours. It didn’t feel passionate enough for my fiery nature. But three months in Bali running creativity workshops and making art changed all that.
The vibrant jungle greens offset with bright flowers, butterflies and birds lit up my creative imagination. Dancing in the heat of a tropical downpour with workshop participants, then photographing the glowing wet greenery while breathing in that sweet post-rain smell took my artwork down a green and interesting path.
There is a Buddhist allegory about the colour green. In a dream a young boy sees a deity instructing him that everything he desires will be his, all he must do is close his eyes and not picture sea-green. There are two possible endings. The boy eventually succeeds thus achieving enlightenment. Or he becomes consumed by his unrelenting failure and his life and sanity slip away.
In Feng shui practice green represents the family area and brings calm, balance, restoration and growth, prosperity and abundance. And in the West green is associated with the rituals of spring.
Traditionally court members were required to wear green on the first day of May. Known as ‘wearing the May’, a leafy crown, garland or other prominent green clothing was worn. Anyone showing themselves without this colour was loudly mocked. A bit like showing up to school in uniform on mufti day – oh, the humiliation!
The phrase ‘to be green’ meaning inexperienced has been in use since the Middle Ages. But despite positive associations with healing, fertility and youth, green has had somewhat of an image problem in western culture. Perhaps an ancient taboo against mixing blue and yellow to create green dyes and pigments is what laid the way for green’s rocky PR campaign.
It’s difficult to understand from our modern-day perspective that mixing two substances was once both frowned upon and mistrusted. In some countries anyone caught dyeing cloth by dipping first in woad (blue) then in weld (yellow) could face large fines or even exile. It has been suggested a distrust of alchemists and their mixing of elements had influence on these harsh repercussions for the textile artists of old.
Painters were also challenged by the lack of quality green pigments. The 17th century Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten lamented, ‘I wish that we had a green pigment as good as a red or yellow. Green earth is too weak, Spanish green [verdigris] too crude and ashes [verditer] not sufficiently durable.’
The taboo around colour mixing began to disappear around the time of the early Renaissance and artists blended their own green paints – at least until the discovery in 1775 of copper arsenite by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Scheele’s green became the new fashionable shade.
And here comes another nod to the green image problem – this very association with copper arsenite sees green becoming ‘the colour of poison’. Scheele’s green together with its close cousin emerald/Brunswick green were responsible for numerous deaths – as homes were decorated, clothes made and even food wrapped in the attractive new shade that unfortunately contained lethal doses of arsenic!
Wassily Kandinsky had a, perhaps irrational, dislike of green. He wrote: ‘Absolute green is the most anaesthetising colour possible… Similar to a fat cow, full of good health, lying down, rooted, capable only of ruminating and contemplating the world through its stupid, inexpressive eyes.’
Even so, Kandinsky’s words won’t see me rushing to repaint the walls of my clinic – I love the cool calming shade of green called simply ‘Zen’ that adorns them.
Image 1 above: Cracks in Green
Image 2 above: The creative process holds me
My own artistic explorations with green are ongoing. For me creating with green has come to represent growth, healing, a recovery of balance and grounding to the earth which can be dramatically contrasted or overlaid with traditional associations of jealousy, envy, inexperience and poison.
But enough of words – I will let the art speak for itself.