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Color establishes a mood.

January 15, 2013

It’s funny how one’s mood can change disproportionately to the apparent input. It’s not funny if you’re stuck with a dark mood you don’t want, although not all dark moods are unwelcome.

Driving my pickup home from Castle Rock at rush hour, familiar ruminations arose, familiar since the first gas crisis four decades ago. Something about bumper-to-bumper traffic at 75 mph and endless streams of red and white lights prompts reflection.

In the Chevy, which gets half the mileage of its brother, Honda, I was especially sensitive. Every 20 miles, I knew a gallon of gasoline was gone. Every 15-20 minutes, another gallon gone. And another, and another—times the hundreds of vehicles I could see, times the thousands and millions I couldn’t see, times a billion across the planet.

Oh, dear, and auto fuel is only a small fraction of our use. And where are we all going anyway?

It grew dark. I’d forgotten my dashboard lights had failed and no amount of banging had yet been able to turn them on, making impenetrable midnight where my speedometer should be.

Suddenly, an orange light flashed on, one I didn’t know I had: “Check gauges.” What? How? The cell phone, normally a Pandora’s Box, provided light and revealed the temperature gauge was pegged high. I expressed exasperation.

As I pulled over, the orange light went out and the temperature was normal again. I paused to reflect on the nature of reality, when suddenly, the entire dashboard lit up again with a beautiful pale green light.

I had to laugh. It was the most inexplicably delightful thing. Suddenly, all was well. I could see my speed again, the fuel gauge, everything. I remained in a contented mood all the way home through the canyon.

I don’t know. Maybe you had to be there. Moods are not just fickle but mysterious. They are the background light of the day, although sometimes more sunshine is not welcome.

I find that moods are sensitive to art. I noticed this at the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver Art Museum and then at the new Clyfford Still Museum right next door (a vastly superior museum space compared with DAM).

It’s easy to like Van Gogh’s colors, which can make them harder to see if one is not careful. I had a mixture of reactions to Clyfford Still’s large abstract paintings, including confusion or aversion to some of the colors. I went round and round the museum, clockwise and counter, looking at the paintings again and again. The museum made it a pleasure to do so, but I never settled myself about Still’s work.

Perhaps this is good. At the end of this month, the museum opens a new show emphasizing Clyfford Still as a colorist, so I’ll certainly go back to see what’s said about that.

Color establishes a mood. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it except be aware of it. And perhaps enjoy it, of course. This is what I do with my favorite among the paintings of Susan Spohn’s on display at the library.

It’s called “Fall Hillside,” and the combination of colors, image, and textures I find very appealing. Although I like many of her flowers, too. Her show is aptly called “A little of this. A little of that.” Come visit it, and you’ll see that this is true, a variety of subjects, techniques, and colors.


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