Throughout the ages, blue has been a color that transcends art and culture. The color blue has been present since the beginning of time, surrounding us with its beautiful natural presence in the sky, water and flora. This color was a source of inspiration even for early mankind, but they had no available pigments to render it into their art. So, when and where did blue make its first appearance in art? Why is blue such an important color? Let’s go through the iconic history of the color blue and its evolution and symbology in arts and culture.
Egyptian Blue originated around 2200 B.C and is the first synthetically produced color. To create the first blue pigment, the ancient Egyptians used Lapiz Lazuli, a semi-precious blue stone. Blue was the color of the heavens and the Nile, and to the ancient Egyptians it represented rebirth and the power of creation. Lapiz Lazuli was a valuable stone for the Egyptians, it represented divinity and respect, as they said that the hair of the gods was made of Lapiz Lazuli. Egyptian Blue was used along with gold to decorate tombs, wall paintings and statues. The rich blue shade is famously seen in queen Nefertiti’s crown and in the walls of her husband
During the 14th and 15th centuries, Italian traders started importing a new pigment referred to as Ultramarinus. From Latin, Ultramarinus translates to, “beyond the sea”. This deep, royal blue was unlike anything that had been seen before, making it a sought-after color by Medieval Artists. It was expensive and considered to be just as precious and valuable as gold. Its price meant mostly royalty had access to Ultramarine, and even great artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael would only reserve it to use in their most important commissions. Johannes Vermeer, painter of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” loved the color so much he pushed his family into debt.
According to Orthodox tradition, blue is a sacred color. Blue represents the heavens, transcendence and the divine. The Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing a blue mantle, here presented in Gerard David’s “Virgin and Child with Female Saints”. Mary’s blue mantle is a symbol that reminds us of her faithfulness to the divine. Engulfed in this rich, royal Ultramarine that bridges a connection between humanity and divinity. With this standout blue she is surrounded by faith, carrying it with her wherever she is present.
Yves Klein considered Ultramarine blue to be the best of all. He loved it so much that he created his own iteration as Yves Klein Blue, a matte version of Ultramarine. The rich and matte blue hue became the French artist’s signature in his art between 1947 to 1957. During this time, he painted over 200 monochrome canvases and sculptures engulfed in Yves Klein Blue. He had such a deep connection to the color that he trademarked it, as International Klein Blue.
He was deeply inspired by Bachelard, a French philosopher who said, “First there is nothing, then a depth of nothingness, then a profundity of blue.” And Klein once famously said “Blue is the invisible becoming visible. Blue has no dimensions; it is beyond dimensions”.
The color blue had and continues to have a special spotlight in traditional Chinese Porcelain. The vivid pigment was obtained from Cobalt. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) blue and white porcelain had gained a religious meaning, the colors were used to represent mythical ancestors in a minimalist way. The blue was attributed to the Hazy Blue Wolf and the white, to the White Fallow Doe. They respectively represented the ancestral male and female principles of life; one is not balanced without the other. The combination of the two colors created a striking contrast with masterful imagery, making this porcelain a precious and desirable object of admiration.
But blue and white porcelain was reserved only for special occasions, meant to be used by local dignitaries or used as a Dansaekhwa is another captivating Eastern art form, born in South Korea during the 1970’s. Dansaekhwa loosely translates to “monochromatic painting” in Korean. This movement was characterized by its minimal and primarily monochrome paintings. The artists were exploring new ways to manipulate traditional materials, pushing paint, dragging pencils, ripping paper. The process of creating these paintings was influenced by the artists’ Eastern culture, channeling Buddhism and Taoism philosophy, as if the art form and the process of creating was a sort of meditative act. Encapsulating in the paintings a result of a conversation between the artist and the canvas. The use of natural local pigments and the minimal images invite the viewer to examine every corner of the paintings, and much like the artist, it helps induce a peaceful meditative experience on the viewer.
Blue continues to be one of the most popular shades on the color wheel. From its use in ancient civilizations & its evolution through the centuries, it is a color that continues to evoke inspiration. In these contemporary and modern artworks, blue remains in center stage.
In his Gazing Ball exhibition, Jeff Koons took 35 different masterpieces and intervened them with reflective blue glass spheres. This intervention invites the viewer further into these masterpieces. The reflection of oneself on the spheres invites the viewer to start a dialogue and connect with the art. What does this art mean to me? What is my relationship with this piece? How do I experience this piece?
American artist Lita Albuquerque uses blue in many of her artworks. When asked why Albuquerque said, “whenever I close my eyes, that is the color I see”. Lita channels the brightness and strength of the color blue to highlight the ever-changing landscapes that surround us. Everything around us is always changing with the motion of the earth and changes of light. But somehow the blue used in her artworks doesn’t change, its opaqueness makes it remain the same, therefore bringing attention to the changing landscape. In her ephemeral “Stellar Axis” Lita went on an expedition to Antarctica, where in the vast landscape she placed 99 blue orbs, each of them dedicated to the stars above the Antarctic sky. Creating a constellation that continuously changed with the rotation of the earth.
Blue is at the center of DF18+, our use of Yves Klein Blue stems from an inspiration of the boundless possibilities and creativity that this color expresses. It’s connection to nature, its importance through art and culture and its evolution and symbology through time are all reasons that bridge DF18+ and the color blue together.
Next time you admire something blue, we invite you to reflect. What is your connection to blue? What emotions does it spark inside of you? What do you think about, when you think about blue?
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