Blue – how to choose one?

A painting I am planning is going to be mainly blue, and not any old blue either, I have a very specific blue in my head and that got me thinking about why we chose certain blues?

Blue is arguably the most important colour to us – it has surrounded us since the beginning of time – blue skies and blue seas.     There are so many hues of blue from the faintest tint to almost black that really the word ‘blue’ is meaningless.  When we say ‘blue’ what do we mean?  I guess most people will mean a mid blue, true blue but so often we have to clarify that and add adjectives – ‘pale’ ‘dark’ ‘french’ ‘midnight’ ‘navy’ etc.


Blues can be clean and clear or muted and softer, leaning towards greys.   Blue can be tranquil and calming or sad and moody.  Turquoises – with varying amounts of green added are more energetic whilst dark deep blues are ominous and mysterious.   There are endless adjectives to describe blue!

Blue is the colour of the divine, of heaven and is often a religious colour.  Picasso used blues to convey melancholy and loneliness in his blue period.

I saw a painting at Gosport Gallery recently (Dark Blue/Black Border No.37 by Peter Joseph) that was a large navy blue canvas with a black edge – it was, despite its extreme simplicity, completely captivating and really drew me in.   (You can see a picture of it here, although in reality, the navy seemed a lot darker and hard to distinguish from the black).

But how do we know that the colour I love looks the same to you?  Ludwig Wittgenstein said:

When we exclaim at a colour (a blue sky) we are actually commenting on the sensation of that colour within us – we are naming the sensation it had within us.

We all have our own feelings for the different shades of blue.  As a painter, I am trying to convey my feelings using colour and so the hue I chose is very important to me.

The blue I am really interested in is Matisse’s blue – the one he used for his blue nudes and many other works.   My interest was spiked at the recent Alexander Calder exhibition as there were works there that, I felt, were inspired by Matisse (or perhaps vice versa!) as they contained the very same blue.  But what is it and why did Matisse chose that one?

Unfortunately my research has drawn a blank.   As it says on the Tate website:

But the big question: why did he [Matisse] choose blue? ‘That’s something I’ve always wondered myself, and never found out,’ says Frigeri. ‘We don’t really know.’

And if they don’t know, it probably isn’t knowable.

I have found a couple of quotes from Matisse about how he chose colours though:

“Colour attains it’s full expression only when it is organised, when it corresponds to the emotional intensity of the artist”.


“Colour helps to express light, the light that is in the artists brain”.

So I guess, like a lot of artists (myself included), Matisse painted what he felt at the time.

I have done some playing and I have come close to the blue I am after using acrylics – maybe I will make and copyright my own blue like Yves Klein did – and then he went on to paint nearly 200 monochrome canvasses with it!   But International Klein Blue is a colour now, so perhaps I will invent “Brims Blue”!   There’s a thought…. 🙂

It’s a fascinating subject – two interesting articles below if you want to read more.

Interesting blog with lots of blue art – Roses are red, art is blue – the White Cube Diaries.

Eight Moments in Blue Art History – Tate.

The featured image was taken last week of a glorious blue sky in Gosport, Hampshire.


Calder’s Sculptures and a Sunny Afternoon

I went to see the exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday showing Alexander Calder’s performing sculptures.  I had no expectations of what it would be like but I left Tate Modern very excited about what I had seen.

I loved his work – the delicate way he managed to abstract the human body with his wire sculptures was perfect.   The sheer simplicity of how he had bent a few wires and so accurately captured the curve of the body – male or female – was masterful.   One of the things that caught my eye the most was how these sculptures threw interesting shadows on the wall behind.   It added immensely to the interest of the pieces.   (See Calders website for more here >)

I got so animated at one gorgeous sculpture and was gesticulating so enthusiastically that the guard had to come over and ask me to stop as I had set the alarms off!   I hadn’t even heard the beeping!

The other part I admired the most was the simple abstracted moving mobiles.  (His friend Marcel Duchamp coined the term ‘mobile’ in 1931 – Calder had called them ‘kinetic abstractions’) Their delicate, almost other worldly floating discs were surprisingly ‘moving’ and left me feeling something deeply emotional that is still hard to put my finger on.

There was a great deal of work in the exhibition that showed the various avenues Calder had ventured down, some more successfully than  others – in my opinion the very simple abstracted shapes worked best, some of his pieces were overly fussy – I just don’t think he needed to add the extra details.     There were sketches, test models, paintings and sound sculptures.

A whole room was dedicated to highly coloured sculptures with painted panel back drops which was innovative and intriguing, but most of all, reminded me so much of the later work of Matisse (the gouache cutouts of the 1940’s) – I am sure he must have been an influence.    Calder was influenced by Mondrain also.   The pictures below don’t reflect the bursts of wonderful colour there were.

There was some wonderful work…. one notice explained that when an exhibition came to New York, Einstein is said to have gazed at a single mobile for 40 minutes, lost in thought.  I wonder what new ideas came from that reflection?

Half way round the exhibition, I had an epiphany of sorts – I use abstraction in my work, but I am not going far enough and being simple enough, I over complicate my work, especially the colours – I love colour and tend to bung in too many for good measure!

It will be interesting to see how this affects my future choices, but for now I am very pleased I went to see this exhibition.

Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks

After the Tate we saw the musical about the early life of the Kinks – it was brilliant!  Like so many bands they had their ups and downs but the music was superb and even though we were in the very back row of the Gods looking straight downwards, it was a great show.   Although after one particularly provocative dance number my husband leaned over and asked if we could be nearer the front next time!   Worth catching if you love 60’s music.


Featured Image

Today’s image is part of a series I did when I was abstracting the fate of HMS Grafton for the Democracy Street Project.