colour red is universally known as a symbol of the principle of
life because of its intensity. But red, the colour of blood and
fire, also has a symbolic ambiguity that depends on whether the
red is light or dark.
Light, clear red, which is intense and extroverted, belongs to
the day. It is fresh and invites action by projecting its light
onto the world, like an enormous and invincible sun. It
attracts. It is this colour which I used in the painting "The
Tiger and the Donkey Hunting Together", inspired by Aesop’s
fable ”The Wild Donkey and the Lion”:
tiger and a donkey are perfect hunting companions.
The donkey’s braying makes an excellent hunting signal.
But nobody ever heard a hunting horn claim that it had brought
down the game itself.
The Tiger and the Donkey Hunting Together.
146 x 114 cm. 2003-05.
really dark red, on the other hand, is of the night, secretive
and almost introverted. It is the symbol of the mystery of life.
It warns, restrains. It is the colour of the forbidden, of the
lamps of the old red-light districts. This is the colour I used
in the painting "Odysseus’ Companions", inspired by Jean de la
Fontaine’s version of the myth, where Circe transformed
Odysseus’ friends into different kinds of animals with her
Odysseus’ companions were transformed.
Through cunning he won them the right to be transformed back
But who said that it is better to be human than an animal?
Certainly not Odysseus’ companions: they preferred their new
146 x 114cm. 2003-05.
have always thought that there was something missing in the red
artists’ colours that you can buy nowadays. When you look at
sunlight through a glass of red wine an infinite number of
nuances of colour appear, from the deepest shades of red to a
bright red that jumps out at you with the energy of a turbojet.
How can I get to a deep red which is not a dark cadmium red, a
rose carmine or an imitation red cinnabar, but a rich red that
feels right artistically and at the same time is more ambiguous
than the simple synthetic colours that are everywhere?
It is here that red natural cinnabar comes into the picture. The
largest and most important source of this mineral is in southern
Spain, where it has been extracted and made into pigment since
ancient times. It was used for the frescoes of Pompeii, and it
was used early in the Renaissance with Lapis Lazuli and gold to
create the icons of the Sienna School.
The process of extracting the mineral and transforming it into
pigment was very expensive, and this is why a substitute was
sought, just as alternatives have been sought for lots of other
colours throughout history.
The process of producing a synthetic cinnabar red was begun in
the Arab world in the 7th and 8th centuries. They mixed mercury
and pulverised sulphur and heated this to 600°C, thus producing
a uniform red pigment that they could use in their art.
placing several pieces of unworked natural cinnabar crystals
together and studying them under lighting conditions which
ranged from bright sunlight to deep shadow, I could see how the
clear red surfaces that were illuminated reflected their colours
onto the surfaces of the crystals that were in shadow. This made
the colours in the shadows change to a much richer, fuller red
instead of being just a normal flat shadow colour.
These rich reds can be achieved by mixing pigments
together. I do it simply by mixing synthetic cinnabar red
(vermilion) pigment with other colours. In order to make a clean
colour that can be used as both a light and a dark red, I add
white, yellow, red ochre, alizarin crimson or madder, according
to how warm or cold I want the red to be. Then I paint the red
on top of, for example, a cold green, a lemon yellow or another
colour. This brings the red alive. I never use red on red,
however, as this kills it completely.
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