The colour of life – with Toni Morrison

My latest column in the Christian Courier.
__________________

There are a few instances of colour that stand out in my life and memory. The warm red of a steel wagon that was a childhood gift to me; the deep indigo of a Fula shirt my wife (girlfriend at the time) sent to me from West Africa; the myriad blossoms of Springtime annuals in the greenhouses of my late uncles.

Colour has been especially on my mind since I went back to the writings of Toni Morrison several weeks ago. Morrison, who passed away on August 5th, this Summer, wrote as an African American woman and wrote for a specifically African American audience. While she acknowledged the presence of a non-African American, white readership, she worked hard not to let the questions, concerns, or judgments of that audience determine the shape of her craft. That is, she wrote as a woman of colour for people of colour. She was, as the New York Times put it recently, “an iconic author of the black experience.”

Toni Morrison

Photo by Maggie Hardie/REX/Shut-terstock (490822g) Toni Morrison, 2004.

So again, colour has been on my mind. Yet it has been on my mind not only in terms of the acute questions of identity that Morrison raises, but also in terms of the simple reality of colour (blue, orange, violet) as she weaves it within her work. For example, in Morrison’s unfolding of the difficult and compelling narratives of Sethe and her mother-in-law Baby Suggs, in Beloved, colour finds a place of subtle prominence. For Baby Suggs, in the last years of a life marked by violence, oppression, and slavery (a life equally marked by her articulate and faithful resistance), colour becomes central. Continue reading

Can there be an excess of colour, light, and texture? #chihuly

Today I went down with Becky and the kids to take in the Chihuly exhibit at the Musée des beaux-arts. It is a good-sized, though not huge exhibit – though regardless of its size it represents a cornucopia of colour and shapes and light. Chihuly has the capacity to create enchanting pieces of glass – and astonishing larger pieces made up of multiple piece of glass. More than enchanting, his pieces are remarkable for their colours and patterns and the ways that light is used to set them off as a feast for the eyes.

Another important aspect of these pieces is that they could never have been created by one person. The level of physical effort that goes into blowing, or otherwise creating, pieces of glass of this size requires a team of creators, with Chihuly at the lead.

I can only imagine that there is, out there, an fairly vast literature about the significance of Chihuly’s work and, more specifically, on the question of whether it is mere “decorative arts” – that is, whether it offers some statement on the nature or meaning of human life and community or is simply intended to add colour and beauty to the background and foreground of our daily life. At a minimum, the display I saw today suggested that we are drawn to his work because we are drawn to light and colour and beauty – symmetry and organic shapes and a diverse but generally bright palette. Here are a few of the pieces.

But after these photos I took this morning, and after the jump, I also want to briefly consider (and contrast with the work of Chihuly) a painting I saw in another section of the gallery today.

IMG_9193 IMG_9308IMG_9319

Continue reading