I'm Seeing the Color Red


Color is such a big subject! Its stories begin in the earliest of human history; it crosses boundaries of science, art, philosophy, religion and psychology.  

And then there’s RED. Associated with power, with life, love, anger, for starters; its status has evolved from high to low through history and cultures. It’s one of the most assertive colors in full saturation. 

The earliest of colors, red was formed from iron oxide and used in cave paintings; it has been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Another first red paint was made from ocher, an earth-clay pigment which varies from yellows to brown to reds. 

The range of the visible spectrum is small and red’s wavelength is the longest of the colors we perceive, violet is among the shortest. We see an abundance of red mixtures with oranges and yellows in sunsets because those are longer color wavelengths that can pass through the atmosphere on the horizon when the sun is setting. 

Red is an important color to use for focal point in painting for symbolism and meaning, or for energy and intense emotion. Used well a small patch will direct our attention, establish meaning or expression. 

For example take a look at Paul Klee’s, Fire in the Evening, 1929, below. There’s no doubt what we’re meant to look at.  

The red draws us into the painting above, Girl with a Red Hat by Johannes Vermeer. 

In the Klee painting cool and warm medium-to-dark neutrals generously surround it, giving red power to assert its light, heat and luminosity. Only the blue and pink seem to be more saturated than the other neutrals. The red’s intensity is answered by the dazzling bit of blue on the upper horizon. 


P. S. Next week I focus on a painting which uses a lot of red so…stay tuned! 

P.P.S. Best wishes for a peaceful, happy and healthy 2022.  


Paul Klee, Fire in the Evening, 1929, MOMA NYC




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