Northern Virginia Community College Presents BLUES: The Color, the Music, and the State of Mind Group Exhibition

By Editorial Team on October 19, 2021
Courtesy of Northern Virginia Community College.
On view through November 29

Curated by Rebecca Cross, Cross MacKenzie Gallery

This was the year of the blues. Our collective experience of sadness and loss is embodied in the color blue. But there are positive connotations of the color too; under blue skies, feeling the calm, tranquility, serenity, of the hue and even according to Kandinsky, the spirituality. In his “Sonnets in Color”– “blue is the typical heavenly colour”. And the more contemporary author of the heartbreaking “Into the Blue”, Derek Jarman wrote “Blue is the universal love in which man bathes—it is the terrestrial paradise” – the sublime. This exhibition aims to explore the meanings of blue.

Picasso’s famous blue period marked the suicide of his good friend Carles Casagemas and that notable period is conjured immediately when discussing art that employs the color to express the emotion. His blue paintings depicted prostitutes, prisoners, and the down-and-out to underscore a sense of hopelessness – the figures’ blue pallor suggests the bloodless skin of the cadavers they resemble.

Several of the artists represented, use the color to express that state of mind. Kate Robert’s dust drawings evoke our mourning with images of the California forests that burned in the fires last year. Made with ash embedded in the dirt, the drawings conjure the memories of the incinerated trees, poetically bringing the forest back to life. Tim Tate’s rondo has a poignantly blue theme represented by the blue eye of his aunt who he imagines is a guardian angel watching over his life as he survives his AIDS diagnosis one day at a time. The high-tech live video is surrounded by cameo-like flowers and the talisman is working – Tim Tate is vivaciously alive.

“Simulation 1” by up-and-coming DC artist Alexis Gomez uses “enhanced augmented reality activation” to awaken his slumped figure in 3d animation via our iPhones. Most of us were plugged in to virtual reality all year so our blue man fits the group. This blue year there was also big news about the pigment blue. A new synthetic chemical blue “YIn Mn” made from yttrium, indium and manganese oxides, finally made its debut in the art market. Discovered in 2009 – the first new synthetic blue in 200 years – the pigment reflects infrared radiation giving it a practical use for cooling electronics and eco-building materials. But, the dazzlingly intense hue – a hybrid of ultramarine and cobalt – will also be passionately splashed by inspired artists waiting for the coveted tubes.

This enthusiasm for blue is nothing new. The word for blue is traced back 6,000 years. For millennia the color ultramarine came only from crushed lapis lazuli gems found in Afghanistan and then exported around the world. Most highly prized by the Egyptians, Tut’s burial mask was decorated with the pigment to reflect the sky and the divine. Then in 2,200 BC, the Egyptians created a synthetic blue by heating sand, limestone and copper to 1650 degrees melting it into a blue glass then crushing it into a permanent paint or glaze. This “Egyptian blue” was found throughout the Roman Empire. In medieval Europe the blue hue rivaled the price of gold. When the church color-coded the Saints, ultramarine was exclusively reserved for the robes of the Virgin Mary and became synonymous with honesty and purity – the origin of our current notion of “true blue”.

France offered a prize for the invention of an artificial ultramarine in 1824 and the chemist Jean Baptiste Guimet won the prize but refused to share the recipe. So the scientist Christian Gmelin published the formula and began the new industry of color manufacturing winning the profits. Artists in this show expressing the power of the pigment in different mediums are Oliver Brooks’ elegant ceramic vessels, Nick Geankoplos’ dripping cerulean glazed tiles, vessels by Kadri Pärnamets, and a ceramic wall installation by Danielle Wood. Painters Augustus Cross, John Blee and master colorist, German artist Richard Schur are included.

Finally, we explore blues as a musical genre. Included in the exhibition are stunning black and white photographs of two of the greats – B.B. King by Neil Zlozower and Nina Simone by Jack Robinson. Born out of African American spirituals, the “blues” originated in the early 20th century and evolved into secular music with their “blue notes”. These notes that give the genre its name are notes sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than the major scale giving them a melancholy and expressive sound. Guitars are a favorite instrument of blues musicians. Sculptor Koji Takei’s cubist-inspired deconstructed guitar, pays homage to Braque’s analytical cubist paintings from those early days of the blues. The music with its bending guitar strings, and sustained syllables across several pitches delivers the joys and sorrows of life with mournful emotion and now define the sound track to the blue state of mind.

Gallery Hours:

  • Monday through Friday: 9am – 7pm

Waddell Art Gallery is located at 21200 Campus Drive, Sterling, VA.