For a series of years now, I feel like I have been doing a study in this grey, but suddenly have an inkling that I am on the verge of some kind of peripeteia (though admit this may be but a sensation). Still, this hope (which Plutarch also writes of) has brought colours to my palette - and through this relief,* the greys have become even more beautiful to me, my own memento mori.
This week on The Getty Iris blog, an artist wrote of how Diebenkorn "spoke about the difficulty of making a gray painting—how hard it is to make something meaningful and able to connect when one of the fundamental elements of painting—color—is not present or is reduced."
The very day I read that, I went out for a run and found that very grey (do follow the link to see the grey Matisse paintings referenced for comparison) - and wondered how hard it would be to make a painting of that, rather wondered, because isn't El Greco's "View of Toledo" and Turner (e.g. "Snow Storm") largely based on grey? When searching for the latter painting, I found it was included in a getty exhibit entitled, "Set Free" - which perfectly suits my interpretation of grey.
If human life in its genuine colours is but a shadow's dream, to become set free from that is to embrace the Senecan adage, and from there, add all the colours, knowing they are fleeting gifts. That's kind of what Diebenkorn's "Ocean City" manifests visually: the colours relegated to the edges; present, if minimal.
And sometimes [Diebenkorn] just needed to think out loud, and he’d talk about painting as a discipline, about having a work ethic, and about not being complacent with either success or failure and how they were both valuable lessons if you paid attention.Grey is a valuable lesson. Harder to work with - but, as Turner shows, not impossible. What is more, it seems that the only way to find "freedom" in this grey is to accept one's own lot in life, whatever this may be. To accept, as Dienenkorn is described to have accepted, that life is work. Again, to quote Plutarch (quoting Socrates), our own lot is easier for us to carry anyway, so we might as well accept it:
And here that opinion of Socrates comes in very pertinently, who thought that if all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap, whence every one must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.Interestingly, that Socrates anecdote is rather similar to one told in an Eastern tradition about a man who complained the cross he was carrying was too heavy, so an angel brought him to a room full of crosses and said: set yours down, and pick any here in its place. When the man had chosen one he found light enough to carry, the angel said: that was the one you had been carrying to begin with.
*Nb. I am fascinated by the various manifestations of relief, and wrote about its etymology in an earlier post.