ARTS CORNER: January in Burnaby is a celebration of the blues

The piece Blue Puzzle is by artist Olive Leung, currently among the works on exhibit at the arts council’s Deer Lake Gallery. - Contributed
The piece Blue Puzzle is by artist Olive Leung, currently among the works on exhibit at the arts council’s Deer Lake Gallery.
— image credit: Contributed

Blue is the colour of the sky and the sea.

Yet the closer we get to either the more elusive the colour. Over the centuries since its introduction into Western art via Arab traders in search of Venetian gold, blue has been associated with transcendence, divinity, emotion, depression and even pornography.

The stone lapis lazuli was transported 3,500 miles from Afghan mines and processed with pine resin, beeswax and acacia gum, then soaked in a caustic lye solution by Venetian artists to become ultramarine, literally meaning “from across the sea.”

Artists like Giotto, the father of the Italian Renaissance, was one of the first to utilize blue when he used it in 1303 as the colour of heaven in the Scravegni Chapel.

This association with divinity brought it under the control of the Catholic Church, which limited supply and drove up the price to surpass that of gold.

Ordinary citizens were forbidden from wearing blue and in art only the Holy Mother was permitted to wear blue robes.

As blue was liberated from the church it was used by artists to denote deep emotion, the most famous being Picasso’s Blue Period. When his best friend Casagemas shot his girlfriend and, believing he had killed her, committed suicide Picasso was devastated and his overwhelming grief began to appear in canvases painted with the colour blue expressing his depression and eventual healing.

Another artist Yves Klein took up the cause of the colour blue and along with a chemist developed International Klein Blue or IKB which he used in monochrome painting, sculpture and performance art in the 1950s.

Blue is also associated with melancholy and sadness. These days the cures are pharmaceutical and only a slight change of body chemistry is believed to be enough to bring us back to our natural(?) state of happiness. Historically the condition of melancholia was associated with genius and creativity. The term “blue devils” referring to these conditions was eventually applied to the Blues, a musical genre which originated in the Deep South of the U.S. Primarily an African-American form of music, lyrics were associated with misery and oppression documenting their experience of enslavement.

All of these blues are being celebrated in the exhibit January Blues: a celebration of the condition blue. All of the art pieces are blue, from an installation called Balance by Nicole Smith, to a post in the gallery painted IKB blue by Burnaby artist Bill Thomson. The exhibit runs until Feb. 2.

• Linda Lewis is art services coordinator with the Burnaby Arts Council.

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