Sunday, December 6, 2009

Seventy-Seven Shades of Gray

Have you ever heard that Van Gogh wrote to Theo he had discovered seventy-seven shades of gray when he was in Provence?  I've been trying to find the passage all  morning, but I did find a copy of an article "The Uncolor Solution" I had saved in 2003. It was from the online May 1st New York Times, and it suggested we look at gray as more than just a dismal color. That writer, Marco Pasanella, listed driftwood, moon rocks,  mist, and Tiffany spoons as examples.

So what can we find, if we look and pay attention? When I stepped outside, it had just stopped raining. I looked around. Specks of the color were in tree bark and branches, the brick pavers we drive over each day, and certain leaves had a gray-green cast. That brown squirrel that scoots across the fence line is really brown and gray. And how about fish, and all those feathers of birds?

Then I did a little research on the many quotes of the artist. It was clear that I had missed so very much.

"...There are but three fundamental colors -- red,, yellow, and blue. Composites are orange, green, and purple. By adding black and some white, one gets the endless variety of grays -- red-gray, yellow-gray, blue-gray, green-gray, orange-gray, violet-gray.

It is impossible to say, for instance, how many green-grays there are; there is an endless variety...The colorist is the person who knows at once how to analyze a color, when it sees it in nature, and can say, for instance: that green-gray is yellow with black and blue, etc. In other words, someone who know how to find the grays of nature on their palette."
Extract from a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo written July 31, 1882

And this one:

"The very broad-fronted houses here are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green, in the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-grays, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming, autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps -- as if they had been blown there, loose, and with the light filtering through them -- from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees."
Extract from a letter to Theo November 2, 1883

So if I go back outside, what else can I find in the tree bark and branches and bricks and leaves? I'm sure they will look different in varied  light of morning, noon, night. Let the artist within be inspired by our Master Artist of All Things.

I hope you will take a moment to click on this link: A Tribute to Vincent van Gogh . Be sure your sound is enabled.

Let us look. Let us see.

 Labels:  Vincent van Gogh, See, Gray. Pay Attention

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