Friday, January 03, 2014

`The Glory Which Is Brighter Than the Sun'

In The Primary Colors (1994), Alexander Theroux introduce yellow like this: “It is the color of cowardice, third prize, the caution flag on auto speedways, adipose tissue, scones and honey, the nimbus of saints, school buses, urine, New Mexico license plates, illness, the cheeks of penguins, the sixth dog's livery in greyhound racing, highway signs, Pennzoil and the oddly lit hair before adulthood of all Australian aborigines.” This is accurate but all wrong. Yellow is the richest, most seductive color, as warm and nuanced as human skin. If I had a theory of color, yellow would represent not divinity but humanity, friendship, fellow-feeling. As soon as I saw it from across the gallery I moved closer to František Kupka’s The Yellow Scale (c. 1907). Kupka (1871-1957) paints himself as languidly arrogant, a cross between Baudelaire and George Sanders, but as a self-portrait the painting is inconsequential. It’s the saturated yellow, more vivid in life than in reproduction, that is the picture’s reason for being. Yellow that intense stimulates salivation. 

According to the museum’s website, “Kupka was an eccentric, sensual man with a lifelong fascination for spiritualism and the occult.” In short, he was as flaky as Yeats, but he knew how to drench a canvas in color. “It is the color of early bruises,” writes Theroux, “unpopular cats, potato wart, old paper, chloroflavedo in plants, forbidding skies, dead leaves, xanthoderma, purulent conjunctivitis, dental plaque, gimp lace, foul curtains, infection and pus ('yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye,' sings John Lennon in 'I Am the Walrus'), speed bumps, callused feet, and ugly deposits of nicotine on fingers and teeth.” 

Yellow is saffron, lemons, egg yolks, bananas, butter, poplars in autumn, Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper,  squares in a Mondrian grid, goldfinches, sulfur, the flag of Vatican City, a color much loved by Paul Klee, and the international maritime signal flag for the letter “Q.” I’m with G.K. Chesterton, whose favorite flower, and mine, is the dandelion. He writes in his Autobiography: 

“… what I said about the dandelion is exactly what I should say about the sunflower or the sun, or the glory which (as the poet said) is brighter than the sun. The only way to enjoy even a weed is to feel unworthy even of a weed.”

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