(aka: The Pink Artist)
Since the dawn of my memories, Pink has been a significant part of my life. It has always been my favorite color… even in sixth grade when Pink was no longer “cool.” I blame it on my mother who dressed me exclusively in frilly, pink dresses when I was little… my father had to beg to get me into something yellow. As I grew and developed, so did my love of Pink. In kindergarten, when the children were asked what their favorite animal was, most replied with a general “dog” or “cat,” a couple of boys said “snake.” Not me… the teachers were all quite impressed that “pink flamingo” was my response.
My simple crush grew into an obsession… I hungered for a relationship with this intangible entity. I investigated Pink through my art, hoping to better understand it. I have learned that Pink is not palpable, nor is it a living thing. Pink, like any color, is a disguise that allows objects, entities, situations, and even people to masquerade in, to provoke a specific sensation, mood, or personality.
But why has something as simple as a color become so important to me? Throughout my life, pink has been one of few constants. Between my father’s terminal illness and my brother’s disability, I feel that my life consists of a series of drastic changes. I have learned to shy away from change in most forms. The fact that pink is my favorite color is one thing that would stay consistent, therefore I bonded myself to it with every means possible. This thus, turns me to desire a close relationship with the color; leading me to the study of pink historically, symbolically, and what it’s meaning to me is.
The Birth of Pink
The history of color is a long and symbolic one. Color has been used in art as far back as there have been paintings. However, some colors are older than others. Some of the oldest colors have been established since ancient times such as reds, browns, and blacks.
Pink is a comparatively recent discovery. It wasn’t first recorded as an individual color until the seventeenth century according to A Graphic History of the Color Pink. It was used to describe the pale red color of the Dianthus flower known as Pinks. It included the color of pale red or pale orange, also known as peach. Peaches (first recorded as an English word in 1588 after the fruit according to A Dictionary of Color) and pinks are often put into the same category, though pink usually has more red while peach has more yellow. Other colors often put into the pink category include rose, magenta, and fuchsia.
For a long time, pink as been associated with the homosexual population, especially hot pink. During World War II in Germany, just like the Jewish people had to wear a yellow Star of David, homosexuals were forced to sport a pink triangle. This is according to A Graphic History of the Color Pink. Now, some organizations have turned the color pink into a powerful idea rather than a repressing one. In Britain, Pink News is an online LGBT newspaper and Pink TV is an LGBT cable channel. These can be seen on the Pink News website. In the year 2000, a gay rights organization known as the Pink Pistols was founded by Doug Krick. It’s a Canadian and U.S. group promoting the right to bear concealed weapons. This can be viewed on the Pink Pistols website. The Pink Pistol’s motto is, “Armed gays don’t get bashed,” and their logo is an upside-down, light pink triangle with someone holding and pointing a gun.
The name “shocking pink” was coined when a perfume designer, Leonor Fini, used a bright pink color for the box of his 1937 perfumed called “Shocking.” This is according to A Graphic History of the Color Pink.
The Family Tree
In order to fully understand pink, one needs to understand it’s relatives. Pink was conceived by the combination of red and white. We therefore need to take a look at both colors’ meanings and history.
Throughout history, white has many different meanings. In Christianity and western culture, the color white symbolizes holiness, purity, cleanliness, forgiveness of sin, innocence, light, triumph, glory, angels, God, clarity, beginnings, perfection, peace, and weddings. A white knight is always known as the good and just knight. He is there to triumph over evil. Doctors and nurses normally wear white to symbolize the hospital and health. A white flag means surrender and a white dove symbolizes peace. White collar jobs are considered the upper crust of the work force and white lies are thought of to be innocent lies that don’t hurt others.
Brides traditionally wear white wedding dresses to represent purity and virginity, though this tradition did not originate from Christianity. In biblical times, the brides traditionally wore blue to represent the virgin, however Greek tradition has always included wearing white. The Greeks used white to symbolize youth, joy, and purity. Greeks also wore white to be to make sure they would have pleasant dreams. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that white wedding dresses were made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. Some brides also wear white in Japan, though normally the Chinese and Japanese consider it a color of death, mourning, and sickness and it is traditionally worn at funerals. In China, white also symbolizes metal, the west, and autumn. In Siam, white elephants are considered sacred and in India, white is for holy men and for women. In Native American traditions, white symbolized the south and the summertime. It denoted peace and happiness. When men would try to woo a woman, he would tell her that he was a “white man,” saying that all was well where he was.
The eastern cultures were probably the most correct in their ideas of white if you look at the history of the pigment. According to Color: A Natural History of the Palette, the first white pigment ever discovered is lead carbonate made from lead metal. This pigment is also known as flake white because it forms white flakes on the grey metal. Breathing in or ingesting the flakes is very harmful to the body because of the danger of lead poisoning. If it gets on the skin, it should be washed off immediately so that it does not get absorbed into the bloodstream. Interestingly enough, women have used flake white for centuries in their base make-up. It was raved about for it’s effectiveness in making women look youthful in Europe and eastern countries such as China and Japan. Unfortunately, the affects were too good to be true and came at a terrible price. Lead poisoning would eventually set in and make the women using it sickly and weak (and unfortunately more beautiful to the European society who loved the idea of frail women). Strangely enough, this highly toxic substance was still used in cosmetics well into the nineteenth century. It was banned from the European Union in 1994 in all but a few paints that were considered special conditions; one of these is artist’s oil paints.
Flake white is one of the earliest artificially manufactured pigments recorded according to The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques; and it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that Europeans started using other forms of white. The next white that came to be was zinc white, also known as Chinese white and permanent white. It has a slightly cooler or bluer tone than the other whites and is quite a bit more transparent. There were a lot of benefits to zinc white. Unlike lead white, zinc white is not poisonous and it does not yellow when in contact with sulfur fumes. It is also takes longer to dry. Zinc white is made from zinc oxide. The pigment is created by vaporizing zinc metal under oxidizing conditions. It was first created in the late eighteenth century, but didn’t become a well known white color until 1834 when Winsor and Newton came out with an improved, denser version for watercolor. They called it Chinese white, possibly after the Chinese porcelain that was popular in Europe at the time. George H. Backhoffner argued everywhere that lead white was the superior white to use, but when Winsor and Newton published a response, the new white took off. In 1844, a better zinc white was created for oil painting. One drawback of zinc white is that it is more brittle while lead white is more flexible. During the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, many artists who used zinc white as a ground to paint on or who used the color straight, had issues with their whole paintings cracking after creating them only a few years prior. When mixed with other colors, there are little problems with zinc white and despite the cracking issues, is still used today, though artists mainly use titanium white because it is non-toxic and it does not crack. This is all according to “Pigments Through the Ages.”
Red has always been a powerful color in history. Red has often been a color associated with passion, therefore, because passion can swing to opposite extremes, red has both good and bad connotations to it. In one circumstance, it’s the color of fire, blood, and emergency. It was the color of the Greek and Roman god of war, Ares or Mars. On the other hand, it is the color of warmth, love, and romance. The red rose is almost universally known as the flower you give to the one you are romantically interested in. In eastern cultures, predominately in Japan, brides wear red on their wedding days. This is all according to “Pigments Through the Ages.” In ancient times, red was the color of the woman because it was the color of earth or mother earth. However, in Christianity, red is the color of man because God created him from the red earth. Blue is the color of woman because the Virgin Mary was always portrayed in blue. In the Bible, words spoken by God are often written in red.
Red has caused many troubles throughout the ages. According to Color: A Natural History of the Palette, in 1884 the people of Brittan complained that the green mailboxes were difficult to see and that they were running into them so the post office decided to paint them all red. They chose a vermilion which was fairly resistant to fading… unless the paint was in direct sunlight. Unfortunately for the person who made that decision, most public mailboxes are located outside in open areas where the sun beats down on them all day. Only three years later, the post office started receiving letters of complaint by the public that their post boxes had all faded to an almost white. There were several suggestions of new pigments to use by residents and naval officers alike. New, synthetic reds eventually replaced the vermillion.
The color white is not the only deadly pigment. Not only does the above mentioned vermillion give problems when put in direct sunlight, but it is also a very dangerous pigment to collect. Vermillion is manufactured from cinnabar. According to lore, cinnabar resulted from a grand brawl between a heavy elephant and a yellow dragon. The result ended up with both their deaths as the dragon coiled around the elephant and the elephant toppled onto the dragon. The combination of their blood became cinnabar. This is an excellent metaphor if you consider that the elephant as one part and the dragon the other part of the equation. As stated by Color: A Natural History of the Palette, cinnabar is created by combining equal parts of Mercury (the heavy elephant) and sulfur (the yellow dragon). The biggest mercury mine is in Almaden. A form of punishment for prisoners in the sixteenth century was to send them to the Almaden mines. Most would die an uncomfortable death, to say the least, after only a couple of years of working twelve hour days with no ventilation because of the absorption of the heavy metal into their system.
Carmine red, or Spanish red, has a history almost as zealous as the color is itself. As said by Color: A Natural History of the Palette, the color carmine is from the cochineal. This is a small, white insect that inhabit the Prickly pear cacti in Mexico. It was first discovered by the Spaniards when they began colonizing the new world in 1499. The dye became insanely admired among Europeans for cloth and paint; and it was a roaring success amongst women “as the ultimate cosmetic.” As this new red became more successful and more popular, people demanded to know its source. However, the Spanish told the colonists to keep its origin secret and to guard it as if it were their own gold (especially since gold is what it would eventually end up being). It was kept secret for a few centuries until the late eighteenth century when a Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Joseph Thierry de Menonville entered Mexico on his own despite warnings from his family and friends and with his intentions kept from the Mexican peoples. He learned that not only was it used as a pigment to beautify textiles and people alike, it was also known as a medicine to Central Americans. Despite being banished by the governor, running from the authorities, and facing hunger and terrible weather conditions he discovered that cochineal was not a berry, nut, or fruit, but a bug. As his award, the French government appointed de Menonville Royal Botanist for this great and dangerous accomplishment.
The Many Sides of Pink
Though, pink is just barely a pre-teen compared to its parents, red and white, it is an incredibly loaded color in yesterday and today’s society. Pink is not pure, it’s a mixture of colors. Therefore, the meaning of pink is not pure. Pink is part of passionate, erotic red and another part innocent, peaceful white. So what do we get when we mix those very different meanings? Pink evokes a number of diverse feelings depending on what shade and type of pink it is.
Light pink is said to be relaxing and calming. According to Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, some prisons paint special cells pink for particularly aggressive inmates in order to keep them at a more composed state of being. Artists, Bigert and Bergstrom, did an installation based on this concept called Bubblegum Pink. They painted a whole room pink for observers to walk through.
Light pink is also considered peaceful. A Czech artist named David Cerny, to symbolize the first soviet tank to come to Prague, painted a Soviet tank pink. This gives this very dangerous object an innocent, harmless quality. In response to this idea, the Czech army, finding the artwork offensive, took it upon themselves to paint the tank back to olive green. In the end, Parliament stepped in and repainted the tank pink again and demanded that it be left alone.
David Cerny - Pink Tank
Light pink is also, in today’s society, considered sweet, cute, and girly. Pink represents little girls in today’s culture, but it wasn’t always that way according to the HBC website. Up until the early 20th century, pink, being the pastel version of red, was considered a little boy’s color while as stated before blue, the color of Virgin Mary, was meant for girls. It wasn’t until about the 1940’s that the colors reversed roles and pink was considered a girl’s color. This happened for unknown reasons.
Hot pink or shocking pink, unlike its lighter, very soothing sibling, is found to be incredibly irritating to look at. It’s loud and obnoxious and hurts one’s eyes when looked upon. It has so much energy to it that it demands one’s attention immediately, and yet, it has so much energy, that it overwhelms the viewer’s eyes.
Emiko Kasahara – Pink 1
All pinks, but especially a fleshy pink, are quite often coupled with the sexual. People many times associate the color with sexual parts such as the lips and the female genitalia (also known as looking similar to a rose). It is also associated with the idea of blushing, a reaction many women in particular have when she is embarrassed or after having sex. This is according to Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture. Society has coupled blushing with women when they get the notion that a man is interested in her. This concept was explored by the artist, Cindy Sherman. Though she did not use the color pink (she only used black and white stills from movies) she does an excellent job at capturing society’s ideal of the moment when a woman knows she is vulnerable or the object of desire.
Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #13
The Japanese culture uses the color pink extensively due to the importance of the famed and celebrated cherry blossoms that are pink. According to Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, the falling of the cherry blossom leaves symbolize the souls of fallen solders killed in battle, at the peak of their fitness. The blossoms also represent the beauty and fragility of women. The color pink is very sexual in Japan. Pornographic films and magazines are called pink movies and pink magazines and places where prostitutes station themselves are known as pink corners.
Regula Dettwiler - Cherry Blossom
As said by Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, pink is very fleeting. In nature, it is seen in the sky only at sunsets and sunrises. On the ground, it is seen in blossoms that die quickly after their appearance, unlike green leaves. In association with nudity, pink is rarely seen as it is, in most cases, unacceptable in society to show one’s nakedness. This concludes that pink can only be enjoyed for a short period of time, therefore making it even more desirable to the individual.
Pink and Me
My art is mainly introverted, although while I am not specifically addressing issues such as feminism or politics, I invite the viewer to consider these possibilities through the loaded symbolism that Pink carries. My paintings range from pattern, to graphic images, to chimeras incorporating the flamingo; my physical manifestation of pink. I investigate the anti-cliché of Pink by creating evil, demonic, three-headed flamingos and exploring their personality through painting and printmaking. I have also discovered the effects of Pink overwhelming people through installation.
When I began my journey as an artist, I fought some tough dilemmas. Coming up with ideas was laborious for me and I was so locked into the idea of doing photo-realism that everything that I could think of seemed cliché; but I liked realism. It’s something I knew how to do. Doing something such as abstract art was out of the question, because at the time I didn’t understand it (and to be honest I wonder if I do to this day).
At one point, a professor of mine gave me an assignment to do a self portrait that incorporated what I felt represented me. After much assessment, I became increasingly depressed as I could only think of one thing to associate myself with… the color pink. I reluctantly produced the artwork and unfortunately, the class seemed about as enthusiastic about it as I felt about myself at that point (although, now that I look back upon it, it’s not quite as bad of a piece as my peers said).
Self Portrait in Pink
Without realizing it, the ideas behind that self portrait greatly informed my next painting. With the desperation of producing something for the next critique I borrowed an idea I used in high school; putting a surface from one thing onto something unexpected. As I continued thinking about the design, I became increasingly more excited about it. I painted a three by six foot canvas solid pink and in the corner I placed a graphic flamingo clad in zebra stripes. The “Zebringo,” as I called it, was a roaring success in critique and sparked the beginning of a series. The empty space and graphic qualities were new and exciting to me and to top it all off, I got to use my favorite color! Subsequent to that one, I created four more paintings, one of which won an award, and five prints of different chimeras.
When I felt that I was running out of steam with the chimeras, I was again thrown into a conflicted state of not knowing what to do. I fought and wrestled with where I could go to next but nothing came to me except for pink… So that’s what I painted. I pulled out a canvas that I had found and stretched weeks prior. I then began mixing as many colors and shades of pink that I could and gave each it’s own separate spot on the canvas.
As enjoyable as that painting was to produce, the patchwork pink wasn’t as thrilling to look at as I had hoped so I chose a different method. An instructor of mine recommended that I use the particular pattern that was on a blouse of mine. I took the advice and started on another canvas I had already built. As my pattern slowly crawled down the canvas, it became increasingly difficult to control. It no longer looked exactly like the pattern on my shirt. So in accepting that I am not a machine, I played with the morphing and emphasized the skewing by pushing and pulling the points.
In the fall 2008 semester, a friend of mine wanted me to participate in a show she was currating for Halloween called The Creatures of Garden Street. The only requirement was that each artist involved was to produce something scary. After much thought and a few failed attempts, the Hydringo was born. I put down an eerie mossy green and black background, and on top, floating dead center with three crooked heads, two sets of spindly wings, and no legs was the almost blood red, toothy mouthed bird, staring at you with a malicious grin. It was not by any means realistic, but it had more form than the other chimeras and was slightly, ghostly transparent so the background glowed through it. It was repulsive and ghastly and very different from what I had ever created and I and the public loved it (especially since the number one complaint about my work was that it was too cute… and this was far from cute).
As with any new turn in my artwork, more problems arose with this. I now had three very different tracks that my artwork was going in. I couldn’t quite see how they all came together. It finally dawned upon me that all my artwork was connected by the color pink. This opened a world of exploration for me; and brought me to completely embrace pink rather than merely include it. I began researching it and getting to know it even more.
By borrowing Bigert and Bergstrom’s Bubblegum Pink idea, I decided to observe the effects of fluorescent pink in the viewer. I did this by creating a four by four by eight foot tall room and painting the entire interior fluorescent pink.. I then placed a white wall outside of the doorway. The experiment worked perfectly. I consumed the viewer in the intense color. By doing this, the eyes become so completely overwhelmed by the pink and they try their hardest to correct this sensation by trying to make everything more the compliment, green. When this happened, the viewer finally became more comfortable with the color, however when he or she exits and looks directly at the white wall, they see flashes of green because their eyes don’t immediately adjust to the normal coloration.
After this successful accomplishment, I decided to delve into not so much the cliché of pink, but more so the anti-cliché of pink. I did this by using the character of the Hydringo. Pink is so often considered a happy, innocent, sweet color… So what happens if we try to make it scary? I liked the idea of the Hydringo getting it’s color from it’s food source, like the real flamingo, except instead of eating shrimp, it drinks blood. And I liked discovering what it would do in certain situations, like if it was suddenly starving
I have already discovered a great deal about Pink through my artwork and research and I have also discovered a lot about myself. In the course of further examining Pink, I will gain an even better comprehension and appreciation for it… perhaps sating my craving for pink!