Massican is proud to launch its inaugural issue of the Magazine in collaboration with Phaidon Press, the premier global publisher of the creative arts, to explore Massican’s signature color, blue.
“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”
So writes Maggie Nelson at the start of her 2009 prose poetry book Bluets. She’s not alone in being seduced by blue. According to numerous studies, it is the world’s most popular color. Across differences in age, race, political persuasion and even across the genders–where the color is more often associated with men than women–blue comes out on top.
Perhaps given blue’s abundance in our natural world it’s not surprising we are drawn to it, the hallmark of the sky on a clear day and of the oceans, lakes and rivers that reflect it. We may know in our heads that air and water are, in fact, colorless. We may learn that it is only because the electromagnetic waves of blue light are shorter and thus more scattered than other shades in the visible spectrum, making it dominate our perception. But, in our hearts we still believe that the sky is blue and that it affords us a glimpse of something beyond. As nineteenth-century nature writer Richard Jefferies put it, in The Story of My Heart, “I turned to the blue heaven over, gazing into its depth, inhaling its exquisite color and sweetness. The rich blue of the unattainable flower of the sky drew my soul toward it, and there it rested; for pure color is rest of heart.”
My own obsession with blue has less poetic origins, although it is not unrelated to the alluring qualities a perfect azure sky. In 1998, in a bid to redefine the aesthetics of home computers, Apple launched its first iMac: a vision of the future, all minimalism and curves, encased in a translucent ‘Bondi Blue’ shell. Named after a sweeping bay just outside Sydney that is famous for its crystalline skies, wide sandy beach and surf-perfect waves, this color evoked laid-back Australian leisure-time, rather than the stark, fluorescent-lit offices in which most people were by now interfacing with dreary, boxy machines. “Sorry, no beige” ran the copy on the iMac adverts.
I was a university student at the time, and the price tag was out of my range, but oh, how I longed for an iMac! So whilst trying to save my spare pennies for the purchase, I treated myself to more affordable items in that same frosted turquoise plastic, lining my nest like the satin bowerbird. My kitchen soon became a vision in teal: from utensils, to kettle, to microwave. My wardrobe followed suit. Friends started noticing and offered gifts in shades of cobalt, indigo, cornflower and cerulean: “I saw this and thought of you.” Blue had, unintentionally, become an identity.
But what is blue? When you hear the word, which hue comes to mind? Is it Robin’s Egg or Duck Egg? Prussian or Egyptian? Navy or Air Force? Can you even hold a single shade in your mind? When I ponder blue’s variety and mutability, I’m reminded of two artworks by the American artist Spencer Finch. The first, The Color of Water, is moveable color-wheel, some three-feet in diameter, overlooking the English Channel off Folkestone, Kent. Passers-by are invited to turn the wheel to select from one hundred shades of blue, to find the best match for the sea as seen through a matchbox-sized opening. It’s a reminder of the ever-changing nature of water, especially beneath Britain’s temperamental skies. The other work was commissioned for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York and comprises 2,983 squares of watercolour paper, one for each victim of the attacks, painted in different shades of blue. It’s called Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. The title evokes one of the strongest memories, and the most incongruous, of those who witnessed that day.
People have often ascribed moods to colors. Red is anger, yellow is cowardice, and blue, sadness. If one is “feeling blue”, no other words are needed. Picasso’s embarked on his three-year ‘blue period’ after the death of a friend in 1901, its sombre paintings are replete with mournful characters such as the blind woman in La Célestina or the hunched-over man in The Old Guitarist.
Other artists have found blue uplifting. Yves Klein dedicated himself almost solely to ultramarine in the years before his death in 1962. He worked with an art-supplies merchant in Paris to develop a variation of the paint that didn’t use the usual binding media, which Klein thought flattened the luminosity of pure, powdered ultramarine. The result was International Klein Blue (IKB) described by the artist as ‘pure energy.’
Some blues are arguably not blue at all. In a survey organised by a British paper merchant, people were invited to pick their favourite shade online, selecting from an almost infinite electronic palette. People from over 100 countries took part, and the winner was: Marrs Green, a teal-like tone whose name disgruntled a number of the survey’s participants, who quickly took to social media to exclaim that it was clearly “blue not green”. Perhaps it was both at once, a Schrödinger’s blue, like the Crayola wax crayon “blue green” – neither one hue nor the other.
Even the precision offered by digital technology doesn’t always help in defining blue. The four inks used for printing to make all other colors: CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and ‘key’ black) are now measured in percentages, making it possible to pinpoint a tone to the nearest 100 millionth. Yet there isn’t consensus on what numerical value connects to which specific name: according to Pantone, the company often considered the international gatekeepers of all things color-related, royal blue is 56/53/0/46. Yet the ‘web color’ (which defines how the color appears online) has royal blue as a lighter, brighter: 71/53/0/12.
And who can say how an individual sees a specific color? Not only are they defined by the cones in our retinas, but experiments have shown that color perception may be pre-determined by prior experiences of the world: memories, feelings and mood. Color is not only in the eye of the beholder; it is also in the heart and mind.
I got my iMac eventually, though only the second-generation model, which was a darker shade of blue that didn’t please me so intensely. Perhaps it’s fitting that the perfect shade should always remain unattainable. Yet my love of blue lives on.