I received an unusual question from my sister the other day: “What’s your favourite colour?” It was funny to us both, the resurrection of a question we had both last encountered perhaps in a school slam book, among other staples like ‘Favourite hobby’ and ‘Favourite ice cream flavour’. Despite my bafflement, I answered instantly: “Deep red.” And then, as lockdown minds are prone to do, I slipped into a psychedelic tunnel of analysis based on an innocent query.
In ‘chromotherapy’, coloured lights or gems or even fabrics are used to work on the body’s chakras or ‘energy centres’ in order to alleviate stress and illness, and promote well-being. If you, like me, see red every time the term ‘chakras’ is used unironically, this might not be the best way to treat the blues. But I remember those colourful directives issued by our school before the board examinations, such as “Green clipboards soothe exam stress”, fondly. Off we went to buy these magic boards that would calm us into befriending acerbic chemical formulas and motivate us into taming irregular verbs.
The relationship between colour and mid-life crises is so evident, we rarely even comment on it any more
“One of the earliest formal explorations of colour theory came from an unlikely source − the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1810 published Theory of Colours, his treatise on the nature, function, and psychology of colours,” explains Maria Popova on her brilliant website, Brain Pickings. The polymath’s views on the subject were not exactly celebrated at the time, but they retain interest for their deeply felt connections between colour, mood and emotion. Of my favourite red he says, for example: “The effect of this colour is as peculiar as its nature. It conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness.” Makes me blush a deep scarlet.
What colour would you like to drink?
In her recent memoir, The Cost of Living, author Deborah Levy resorts to a particularly new-age solution to the problem of setting up a new home in turbulent emotional times: colourful walls. She chooses yellow for its obviously uplifting qualities, but expectedly tires of the muchness of the shade. In the end, she leaves one yellow wall intact, returning the rest to a neutral white. How tiring it must be to be ceaselessly uplifted by relentlessly cheerful walls!
The relationship between colour and mid-life crises is so evident, we rarely even comment on it any more. The bright-red sports car and purple-streaked hair, dazzling Insta filters and splashy accessories all inject a vitality into the years that threaten an all-encompassing greyness. Every mixologist will attest to the fact that colours lift spirits. From the soothing pink of a Bellini to the electric energy of a Blue Lagoon, you relish the colour of a drink as much as its flavour. In the early, dreary days of the lockdown, for instance, my glass of bright orange juice made me feel like I was drinking a glass of sunshine. All the psychological tenets of advertising became clear to me in that vitamin-enriched, double-fortified, cold-pressed moment.
I’ve recently excavated a necklace that was gifted to me a decade ago, lying untouched through the 2010s. A few days ago, I felt this strange urge to put on the lapis lazuli beauty, mined in Mongolia – a gift that I always found too extravagant for my slob-chic lifestyle. The semi-precious stone has drawn interest for its colour since antiquity – its connect with the Indus Valley Civilisation is particularly evocative. The blue stone that found mention in the Epic of Gilgamesh reappeared majestically in Cleopatra’s eyeshadow, and infused the iconic works of Renaissance painters centuries later.
I find the intense blue colour captivating. It holds within it a glorious history – of Afghan mountains and ancient trade routes, metamorphic rocks and Egyptian queens. That’s the thing about colours; they don’t just reflect you, they transport you, metamorphose you, if you will, even if for that one transcendent moment. The fluorescent nail paint that makes your neon heart leap, or the golden-brown pie crust that is the sweet shade of victory. And if this is beginning to sound like an artsy paint catalogue, let’s all just agree to blame Goethe.
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From HT Brunch, August 16, 2020
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