All The Colors Bleed Into One* 
By Rhea Côté Robbins

              Since the season of color and lights is upon us once again (didn't I just put away those Christmas decorations?) I thought I'd discuss the phenomenon of COLOR.  Namely, color as I experienced it most recently during my summer vacation (such as in, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation") and color as I have personally expressed it in my home, in the clothing I have worn or wear and in my drawings.
              For our summer vacation we slipped across the border at Van Buren, Maine into Canada and instantly became engaged in a lively conversation with a visitor's guide who set the tone for the entire trip.  After having lived in northern Maine for seven years, I have become more familiar with Canada and there are several aspects that I miss about it living here in the Southern part of the State.  I liked the feeling of another country within my reach.  Your focus is not so singular or isolated.  You get the feeling there are more people out there other than yourself.  As far as color goes and how Canadians use color, for the uninitiated, it is well to have the attitude--So what?  Maybe they like it that way.
              Canadians, more specifically Québécois, are not afraid of color.  They use color in the most unique way.  I asked myself why are they so insistent on using color where and as they do?  What does the color mean and what purpose does it serve or fulfill in their lives.  I need to qualify myself to discuss this subject by saying my ancestors were Québécois and this past trip was not my only sojourn into Québec. 
              My own response to color before I was made conscious of how I used color and my color schemes were pronounced "French" was pure adoration.  Unquestioningly blind.  Instinctual.  Spiritual.  Moved.  Awed and I must have the color in my life.  I was not afraid of color either; it was a beautiful, fulfilling presence.  I was made conscious of the "oddity" by "pastel" lovers--if color loving is an oddity.  I was an unabashed lover of color and can still be.
              I attribute appreciation of bright colors to being youthful.  Therefore, the color loving people are eternally young because of their obvious adoration of vivid color.  Vibrant color as trim, roof, or whole house, a dress, skirt, shirt, blouse, pants, shoes, flower beds, out buildings, barns, sheds--demonstrates artistry in every persons' dwelling or clothes.  Anyone can add a splash or dash of color.  No one is exempt.  Or everyone can play, or work for that matter, because the color is hard work to maintain. 
              The true, strong colors are renewed often in order for them to be so bright.  I look at what the color detail involves--a white (purple, green, red, yellow, blue) house with say a red, green, or purple trim or roof vs. an all white house and I know color lovers not to be lazy.
              There has been much talk and discussion about the bright colored homes in Canada--and again more specifically rural French Canada.  On this last trip across the border I visually learned to appreciate these bright colors. 
              The question always occurred to me "Why? Why would they paint or plant or wear such bright colors?  What does the color represent to them?"  Is it the longevity of the winters?  The whiteness of the snow?  The expression of uniqueness?  The mark of the person upon the landscape in the form of a favorite color?  The chance to be an individual?  Color as representative of richness?  A fad?  Something that is reminiscent of the old times and old land?  The icons of ethnic strength?  Spiritual rituals long forgotten.  Was the world more colorful at one time and only a few remember that colorful world? 
              If we do not reject the waves of emotion all the colors cause to roll over us; if we revel in the celebration as unabashedly as they do, then possibly we can begin to understand what the color means.  Color to them is unconscious.  It is a choice, but not one made in deliberation such as saying: I'm going to be colorful here.  I'm going to blow everyone out of the water with this red or yellow.  No.  The color just is.  Simply just is.  And the emotions are there to match it, I suspect.  They just are. 
              Advertisers already know the emotions that colors evoke.  While sitting at a gas station on one of the busiest, commercial streets in a town not far away from my home and thinking about this article, I asked my youngest son what he noticed about all the businesses on the street--ten or so were in view.  He promptly answered, "They all have red on their signs or roofs."  Clever boy.  Clever ad agencies. 
              Ironically, we allow ourselves to be over run with color from the commercial world and then we are reluctant, in comparison to our neighbors to the North, to introduce or devise our own bright color scheme to define ourselves as individuals. 
              Somehow a value is placed on bright colors in relationship to an individual and, if their personal tastes tend to run toward the deeper, true colors on the color wheel, others, (for the sake of the discussion let's call them the "pastel people") pastel people associate ignorance with the love of bright color.  Much like accented speech is a sure sign the poor dummy knows two languages.  Shucks!  I wish these foreigners would stop coming in here and trampling up our lily whites. 
              Love of bright color may speak of a longing for the old country, but it can also say I brought my country here.  There's a piece of it within me that I can't erase no matter how hard you point and say-- "Wow!  Is that a bright color."  Very good.  How very observant of you. 
              All I know is when we went house hunting to move from the North to the South and I walked into the house we now own and saw the bright, true red (hard to find--true red) kitchen counter tops--I knew this was the place for me! 
              This summer when we crossed the border back into the states the world turned pale and colorless--drab even--like someone had taken a huge bottle of bleach and washed the pigment out.  (Is denying color in our personal lives representative of denying there are any true emotions?  I don't know.)
              I was always surrounded by color.  My mother was a lover of color.  She sewed and wore color that could blast any pastel person out of the universe.  So didn't I because she sewed for me.  Colorful clothing is a shock to the central nervous system.  It keeps you jumping, alive and hopping.  And it assaults! 
              Every now and then why not take a pulse to see if the outside world still reacts to bright colors even though they do not always indulge or participate.  Wear the brightest clothing you own, sometimes clashing, on purpose, mind you.  As an experiment.  And then go for a walk. 
              Subliminally, by the advertising world, we have had our senses numbed to the point of non-recognition.  We either do not register or allow free access to our color reactors built into our brains by commercial ventures, but resent it profusely when freshly assaulted from a sector where color is not usually seen.  The looks of surprise, disgust, amusement, interest etc. in reaction to the colors you wear will be most gratifying.  The commercial world cannot saturate to the point of annihilation. 
              Going shopping is a danger.  What happens?  To me anyway.  I go into a store.  Say a kitchen supply store, one of my favorites, and all lined up are the colorful objects.  Bright, true primary colors are there tempting me, but also there are a few pastels threatening to take over the world too.  I want one of each item and not necessarily for the item itself, but just for its color.  I'm a real sucker for color.  I have to go home, cool off, think about what I really need and go out and buy a new tube of paint or a box of crayons. 
              In the drawings I do I like velvety blacks, stark whites and bright colors.  Deep blacks and bright whites have the equal effect on the psyche as do colors.  Working with black over and over again I was beginning to disturb the members of my family.  For me the blacks were bright and shiny; for them they were depressing. 
              My husband went on a trip and brought back a new set of colored pencils hoping that the colorful me had not become permanently depressed or damaged.  No matter how often I insisted I was not depressed; let's see some color he requested.  I happen to like black almost as much as color and then white comes next.   Don't interfere with my work I replied.  Do I tell him how to plant corn?  No, I only tell him to plant corn.  What?  No corn?  What kind of a garden is that, no corn?  And you call yourself a gardener?  So what if the raccoons eat it--don't be so greedy, plant some for them. 
              Grudgingly, I began to re-introduce color into my drawings.  I say re-introduce because my high school art teacher informed me "no one does water colors that bright".  I knew better.  I did water colors that bright.  Sorry pastel people I don't mean to snub you, but you really don't know what you're missing--but then again to each their own--and maybe you like it that way.

             *Line taken from the song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on The Joshua Tree album by U2. 

First published in Le F.A.R.O.G FORUM, "All The Colors Bleed Into One," Vol. 17, No. 3, 1989.
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Photo/Graphique Effects by Rhea Côté Robbins