japonisme: 8/10/08 - 8/17/08

15 August 2008


About Dyes and Beauty and Coal-Tar Mauve and Magenta How Made Extra- ordinary Specimen of Aniline Art and the New Colors

Although the ancient Britons dyed themselves with wood, and only a few years ago an Irish member of Parliament offered to die on the floor of the House, it is a remarkable fact that the pigments used in manufacture for the purpose of imparting brilliant effects to silks and linens, have until quite recently been imported from Holland.

The secret of color is, however, returning to the British Isles, and the mauves and magentas, so much in fashion just now, seem to promise for the islanders a monopoly of these peculiar dyes. Does it ever occur to Angelina, as she floats magnificently down Broadway, in all the luster of youth and fashion, that the exquisite dress she wears, and whose faultless sheen seems to be robbed from the dewy blushes of Spring, is in fact dipped and steeped in the essence of vile, smoky, stinky, crackly English coal; that she is — not to be too squeamish about terms — walking off with a ton, more or less of the best Walls-end attached to her skirts.

Yes, frightful as it may seem, our wives and sweethearts are gradually becoming carboniferous, and the day may not be far distant when we shall have to hand them to dinner with a pair of tongs. Coal, or rather coal tar, is the basis of all the new colors now in use, such as mauve and magenta, Both these well-known and highly esteemed colors were discovered by English chemists, who have already reaped handsome fortunes by their labor.

Perkin, the discoverer of mauve, was in search of artificial quinine, when he happened upon it, and almost at the same time a Mr. Simpson discovered magenta. Both these belong to the aniline, or coal-tar series of dyes, and as the way in which the color is produced has been very explicitly given, I have no hesitation in recapitulating it here.

When these new colors have been naturalized in the world of art, as well as in manufactures, what extraordinary results may be anticipated from the pencils of great colorists! At present, the manufacturers carry everything before them. They can make a silk dress of tough, durable, palpable material, a hundred times brighter and more beautiful than the best artist can paint it. "Dick Tinto" is no longer privileged to flatter a lady’s dress as well as her face.

July 28, 1862
The New York Times 1

In its early years, Ault & Wiborg capitalized on two innovations -- the use of coal-tar dyes to produce brightly colored inks and the development of lithography. Both developments helped to expand the ink business beyond the simple black product that had been produced for centuries. Toulouse-Lautrec was just one of the artists who used Ault & Wiborg inks for his prints; and the company commissioned him to create an advertising poster. 2

we tend to think of color as, well, having always existed. yes they have... but clearly the ability to reproduce them has not. we looked at the resurgence of blues here, science catching up with desire. and the rest of the colors came shortly thereafter. these wondrous inks dovetailed easily with the rest of the things we've been looking at here to create that golden poster moment.

it was 1859 when this color revolution came about in the west, one year after the entry into trade with japan. the japanese prints evidence the usage of a wide range of colors, though, for over a century. were secrets of the japanese inks part of the scientific discoveries that occurred just at the time that they would have if they had? i do not know.

i've written david lance goines to see if he knows; he's steeped in printing history knowledge.
if i hear anything i'll let you know.

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14 August 2008

every day i will give you a color


Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed
and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise
and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions
by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus
stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.

Here is my bouquet, here is a sing
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.

Green as mint jelly, green
as a frog on a lily pad twanging,
the green of cos lettuce upright
about to bolt into opulent towers,
green as Grand Chartreuse in a clear
glass, green as wine bottles.

Blue as cornflowers, delphiniums,
bachelors’ buttons.
Blue as Roquefort,
blue as Saga. Blue as still water.
Blue as the eyes of a Siamese cat.
Blue as shadows on new snow,
as a spring
azure sipping from a puddle
on the blacktop.

Cobalt as the midnight sky
when day has gone without a trace
and we lie in each other’s arms
eyes shut and fingers open
and all the colors of the world
pass through our bodies like
strings of fire.

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy, “Colors passing through us” from Colors Passing Through Us (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). First appeared in The Southern California Anthology 16 (Fall 1999). Copyright © 1999, 2003 by Marge Piercy and Middlemarsh, Inc.

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10 August 2008

seeing softly

john henry twachtman and peter henry emerson both worked in the same time period, the 1880s and 90s. twachtman was an american, and emerson, though born in cuba, spent his life in england.

emerson is said to have been the first photographer to insist that film, beyond its documentary potential,
was an appropriate tool for making art as well.

in these positions, he became well-known, and stieglitz credited him as being his first important influence.

twachtman was a painter, often of the landscapes near his home in connecticut, though he travelled in europe and lived for a bit in paris.

so how does one discuss the wonderful similarities in their work, and, not to put to sharp a point on it, that too of hiroshige? quite simply: both were tremendously influenced by whistler, and, obviously, by whistler's own inspiration -- the japanese prints.

both were known to appreciate the tonal subtlety and asymmetry of the prints; additionally, stark composition, flattened spaces, and japanese-like embellishments were employed by both.

both felt that by fashioning familiar places with unfamiliar elements increased one's consciousness of the place, and perhaps revealed elements inside what meets the eye.

see twactman's work in context until october 19 at the clark (and read more here and here), and see emerson's work in context until september 8 at the mia (and online here).

and then while you're at it, go to the met to see the turner show and wonder how the man could have been so prescient having died several years before any black ships appeared in the edo harbor.

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