‘Suppose I was to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.’ – Maggie Nelson
‘A good painter needs only three colours: black, white, and red,’ Titian said. Blacks (‘nothing is black—really nothing’): master of ‘the aesthetics of negation’ Ad Reinhardt’s ‘ultimate paintings’ (consider point six1 in Reinhardt’s 12 Rules for Pure Art); Anish Kapoor’s acquisition of Vantablack, the ‘blackest black’ pigment (‘it’s blacker than anything you can imagine,’ says Kapoor, ‘so black you almost can’t see it’); Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son; Malevich’s Black Square. Fierce and definite whites: Malevich’s White on White; Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning; Rauschenberg’s White Paintings which in turn inspired John Cage’s 4’33” (‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it, and that is poetry’). The elusive red, its effect, according to Goethe, ‘as peculiar as its nature.’ Witness Matisse’s Harmony in Red; Félix Vallaton’s La Chambre Rouge; Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden; Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
And yet, it is not black, nor white, nor red, but a pure ultramarine that dazzles in Titian’s painting for the camerino d’alabastro, a god tumbling from his chariot and promising her the stars (‘Who besides me knows what Ariadne is!’)? ‘It is Giotto who first let sky into paintings,’ Anne Carson tells us, but it is experimental artist Yves Klein who, for all his influence on conceptual and performance art and love of unpredictable techniques and use of (anti)materials to create art, sat under an ultramarine sky on a beach in Nice in 1947 and decided on a shade of blue2 that would eradicate the division of heaven and earth. ‘The blue sky is my first artwork.’