Or Good in a Lost Book
Many years ago, when I was in high school, and still had ambitions about becoming an illustrator, I mail-ordered a book called Visual Illusions.
Naturally, I was hoping to find some age-old arcana of the trade that would come in handy, but it turned out to be a thoroughly boring and pedestrian tour of the kind of visual tricks you find on the quizz pages of dailies, altogether useless even for a beginner. (I’ve actually just amazondotcommed the book – never forget a cover – it was first published in 1922, and mustn’t have raised too many eyebrows even then.)
It did however, in the chapter dedicated to colour, suggest inversion of wam and cold tones to thwart the logic of atmospheric perspective and create a troubled impression of depth. So, dutifully, I painted a still life following this precept, putting pastels blues and pale violets in the foreground, and intense reds and yellow to the rear, and ended up with something reminiscent of a trash heap on Mars.
The only illusion I mastered was briefly thinking the book might actually teach me something.
Recently, however, I mail-ordered another book, entitled, rather more promisingly “The Field Guide to Getting Lost”, by Rebecca Solnit. While it’s an enchantingly directionless book, the author does suddenly, and without any warning, focus on a notion out of the blue, and scrutinize it intently before wandering on.
Speaking of which…
Horizon blue. The kind you can only see because it’s where you’re not. The colour you can only see because you cannot draw near it.
Of course everything we see depends on where we stand. Dime-store philosophy to be sure, but true nonetheless. What’s far away is a hazy blue, but not when we get there. But then, we are no longer the same people, because the voyage sees to that. And what we’ve left even recently has the colour of the horizon.
It’s all those things. The bittersweet knowing that you cannot have both at once. Suddenly makes it worthwhile to appreciate the view from where you happen to be at that time. Every step takes us across a liminal chromatic Rubicon. There is a point in Western art history when atmospheric perspective became the general rule in painting. It is a curious shift, often preceding the hegemony of linear perspective. I’ve often wondered where that leaves us standing.
But, it’s also the blue of just-so stories, the blue that tells you where reality blurs and imagination begins. Simple atmospheric phenomenon? Of course. And? Even real creatures can live in symbolic landscapes; landscape is the earthly paradise of the non-believer.
Recently, on the site forum, one member told of buying a watercolour tube of “Shadow”, which turned out to be a disappointing aubergine. It was the most enchanting post in a long while; would that we could actually buy tubes labeled “Light”, “Rainbow” or “Water”. Or cans of paint like the ones in cartoons, labelled “Seascape” or “Waterfall”, from which the hero deftly executes a perfect landscape in a nimble back-and forth flourish of a wide paint roller.
I’d settle for Horizon Blue, though.
It should be a standard colour in any decent watercolour set.
I’ve temporarily interrupted my reading of Solnit’s book, though, and can’t remember where I left it. I made the mistake of picking up another of her titles I got at the same time: “Wanderlust, A History of Walking”… stepped through the cover and haven’t quite found my way back out. Sometimes you just get sidetracked (when you’re not busily getting lost, that is). The best books on art are the ones that talk about something else entirely.
Preparation for this summer’s event(s) at Saint-Ursanne is advancing apace.