The power of color. Is color more a presence than a sign, a force, ” the most sacred element of all visible things.” Is color primary and not secondary to form? Is color fundamentally involved in the making of culture from the human body, or, do colors also “spur us to philosophize” as Wittgenstein said.
from Michael Taussig:
Wandering through the darkened streets of Paris one night in 1916, about the time the Frenchmen were losing their red trousers, the narrator in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time happened across a gay friend, the Baron Charlus, surreptitiously eyeing the passing troops. The narrator thought the marvelous display of color must have been similar to the passing of the troops in Napoleon’s time exactly one hundred years before in the same place: “the Africans in their red divided skirts, the Indians in their white turbans were enough to transform for me this Paris through which I was walking into a whole imaginary exotic city, an oriental scene.” By African, he meant the Berbers from Algeria known as zouaves, one of whom was painted in blue, orange, yellow, and black by Vincent van Gogh in Arles in 1888 using oils so as to heighten what he called “the savage combination of incongruous tones,” the zouaves being French infantrymen famous, so it is said, for their brilliant uniform and quick-spirited drill.
That they go together, these quick spirits and brilliant colors, should not be lost on us. Isidore of Seville, the savants’ savant, said in the seventh century AD that color and heat were the same since colors came from fire or sunlight and because the words for them were fundamentally the same, calor and color. Etymology like this is hardly a science, but he was onto something important, same as the famous connection between color and the quick-spirited drill of the Berbers incorporated into the colonial army. And note that in his Etymologiae Isidore of Seville did not say light, but sunlight, light that comes from the biggest fire of all, the one that gives without receiving.
Talking to Primo Levi, famous for his memoir of Auschwitz, the American novelist Philip Roth suggested that his imprisonment was in some sense a gift. Levi replied: “A friend of mine, an excellent doctor, told me many years ago: ‘Your remembrances of before and after are in black and white; those of Auschwitz and of your travel home are in Technicolor.’ He was right. Family, home, factory, these are good things in themselves, but they deprived me of something I still miss: adventure.”…
Being a chemical engineer, Levi survived because he worked as a slave in the Chemical Komando in the factory set up at Auschwitz by IG Farben, the largest chemical corporation in the world, making everything from toothbrushes to the poison gas used for the final solution. Farben means colors, and it was the search for dazzling, standardized colors that in the mid-nineteenth century led to the new science of organic chemistry from which emerged a world of commodities beyond even the dreams of Faust, just as it was these same dazzling, standardized colors that gave the final spit and polish to what Karl Marx saw as the spirit-like character of the commodity….
…The brave new world of artifice created by chemical magic was to Germany what empire was to Britain and France and eventually, as nature gave way to second nature, came to far surpass that old-fashioned, graspable sense of imperial destinies which Proust and van Gogh so admired with the zouaves. To ask, What color is the sacred? is to ask about these connections and whether we have lost the language that could do that connecting for us: the way the primeval forests and swamps went under to become coal and petroleum, the way that coal gas came to illuminate nineteenth-century cities and excrete a waste product from which first colors and then just about everything else could be made in one mighty imitation of nature. We cannot see that as sacred or enchanting because we have displaced that language of alchemy by that of the chemists. We do not mistake color for calor.Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/790060.htmla
…Three of my favorite authors relish this power of color: Walter Benjamin, William Burroughs, and Marcel Proust. They see color as something alive, like an animal, and all three expend considerable verbal talent in getting this across: Benjamin concentrating on the child’s view of color and colored illustrations in early children’s books; Burroughs on drugs, sex, and games with language; Proust on the fullness of involuntary memory transporting one’s body to the event by chance recalled. All of which is to say color comes across here as more a presence than a sign, more a force than a code, and more as calor, which is why, so I believe, John Ruskin declared in his book Modern Painters that “colour is the most sacred element of all visible things.” ( ibid.)
like certain canvases of Vincent van Gogh, that painter who is “only a painter,” who was, like Antonin Artaud, declared mad and enclosed in an asylum. In the preceding months, we must not forget it, he wrote, in a burst of solidarity, driven and motivated by the similarity of their two
destinies, one of the most upsetting books any writer was ever to write about a painter. The blazing of colors in the canvases of Vincent van Gogh, the look of his self-portraits that drills through you, the dramatic intensity of his last compositions, he managed to have all this seen with nothing but words, thanks to the evocative power he was able to breathe into them, through the gathering of sonorities and the internal
scansion of their structure. To succeed in that took the eye of a painter, but a painter who had to be at the same time a fabulous poet, for whom the theater had always been the “magic of living,” for whom, “if theater doubles life, life doubles the true theater.” Read More:http://www.ciasonhar.org.br/PDFS/the_secret_art_of_Artaud.pdf
Artaud:So I shall not describe a painting of van Gogh after van Gogh, but I shall say that van Gogh is a painter because he recollected nature, because he reperspired it and made it sweat, because he squeezed onto his canvases in clusters, in monumental sheaves of color, the grinding of elements that occurs once in a hundred years, the awful elementary pressure of apostrophes, scratches, commas, and dashes which, after him, one can no longer believe that natural appearances are not made of. And what an onslaught of repressed jostlings, ocular collisions taken from life, blinkings taken from nature, have the luminous currents of the forces which work on reality had to reverse before being finally driven together and, as it were, hoisted onto the canvas, and accepted? There are no ghosts in the paintings of van Gogh, no visions, no hallucinations. ( ibid. )