Before there was a written language, color was the universal language of mankind. Prehistoric humans used color to describe every aspect of their lives. Red= blood; orange= fire; yellow=sun; green=natural vegetation/food source; blue=air; indigo=water; violet=the color of sunset/sunrise transition.

Historians believe prehistoric people would travel up to 25 miles to mine iron, for pigments to make the red and ochre paints for their cave paintings.

Tomb of Sennedjem
Dar el-Medina, Egypt 13th Century BCE
Ancient Egyptians valued color symbolism in their tombs and temples so deeply that their desire for additional color options fueled their efforts in mining and trade.
Peplos Kore/ reconstruction
Peplos Kore (Acropolis Museum), Peplos Kore cast, (University of Cambridge)
c. 530 BCE, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
University of Cambridge Faculty of Classics

We know for certain that the Greek and Roman sculptures we think of as monochromatic white, were originally polychromatic! They had red lips, colored eyes, brilliantly hued garments–all painted with painstakingly created paints from pure pigment. The more rare the pigment, the more exalted the subject.

In 1025, Persian philosopher Avicenna included the use of color as medical treatment in his encyclopedic The Canon of Medicine. Since then, chromo therapy has been used to stimulate various physical and psychological responses. Modern scientific research suggests that viewing bright colors causes the brain to release the “feel-good hormone” dopamine; while cool blues provoke release of oxytocin, causing feelings of calm.

Light dispersion through a prism

In the mid 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton discovered that by shining light through a prism, he could separate light into the colors naturally occurring in a rainbow. The resulting colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, give us the pithy acronym Roy G. Biv, which has helped multitudes of school children master the visible color spectrum.

Fausto Fernandez, “Sound to Color Synesthesia”
Collage, image transfer, acrylic, and glitter on canvas
Fausto Fernandez, “I Ate Some Mushrooms on Friday and
Remembered I was Madly in Love with Her” Oil, collage,
glitter, spray paint, and oil crayon on canvas

Many contemporary artists use color as the visual language of artistic ecstasy. Fausto Fernandez, a Mexican artist now living in the U.S., places layer upon layer of color, embellishing his paintings with diamond dust glitter, to magnify and reflect the chromatic effect. Undeniably influenced by the festive use of color in Mexican culture, he collages colorful flowers; draws energetic lines with crayon, and his works emerge as a triumph of colorful beauty. Fernandez’s works were recently featured in the touring museum exhibition, Beauty Reigns:  Baroque Sensibilities in Contemporary Art.

Robert Townsend, “Cherry Blossom”
oil on canvas
Robert Townsend, “Oh Lolly, Lolly”
watercolor on paper

Like Fernandez, Robert Townsend uses explosive color and celebratory themes in his hyper-realistic watercolors. Candy and lollipops, polka dots, and modernist analog clocks, all express the child-like excitement of color.  Townsend’s colorful pop works are included in top museum collections such as the Getty Museum and the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation in California.

Jamie Brunson, “Kirmiz
oil, alkyd on polyester, over panel

Brunson is more of a pure colorist, and she uses deep hues and bold shapes to achieve meditative transcendence. Brunson has received numerous art residencies, and her works are included in the American Embassy in Doha, Qatar, and museums throughout the U.S.

Jamie Brunson, “Sway”
oil, alkyd on polyester, over panel
Brenda Zappitell, “Sunset in Santa Fe”
cold wax, acrylic and flashe on panel

Contemporary artists, like artists since the beginning of time, use the universal language of color to communicate directly through our senses, on the most powerful level.

~ End of Part 5 ~