Breton Yellow, Arabian Red
or The Emotionality of Color

When one leaves the small plaza in front of the Mesquita in Cordoba and proceeds in a westerly direction through the narrow tangle of alleys of the Juderia (formerly the Jewish Quarter), then along the Calle Indios, after just a few steps, one stands before the small Museum for Moorish Culture. Arabian lute music drifts from the patio, where flower petals float in a open fountain and birds twitter in the climbing roses. The walls of the living space are lined with Azulejos, Moorish wall tiles with geometric patterns: This is where I found my Arabian red, a color that doesn't exist in the oil-paint palette nor in the selections available for printmaking. It is a bluish, dull/blunt red, devoid of the usual aggression that clings to red colors, a red that on these cool wall tiles among the other colors develops its own strength that connects and carries. I went to my printmaker with my notes and together we tried to find the tone with all its nuances intact and tested it directly on the moistened paper by dabbing it on with the ball of the thumb.

The color card for Charbonnel printmaking inks have a lemon yellow, a primrose yellow and other yellow tones listed, but I often find that I cannot get started with them because they do not match my color experience. My Breton yellow glows with the yellow of blooming gorse bushes, has a hint of warm gray from the menhir overgrown with lichen and has a play of the wind-whipped blue of the Breton sky. When I explained my inner color to the printer, the copper plates still under my arm, he knew which yellow I meant! In this connection, I have wondered how blind people experience colors, how does their understanding of color function? Have they, like the sighted, a background experience background for color?
In my studio, at work on the copper plate, I see the colors of the future print, even though the acid that burns into the copper, the varnish layer, the grains of the collophoniums, do not actually have any color - the colors first show with the printing of the plate. 
Do you know Istanbul blue? No, not the banal turquoise! Also, not that which shines from the windows of the Blue Mosque. I mean instead the light over the Bosporus, the blue I saw from the Café Pierre Loti when I looked out high over the city, outside on the terrace, when the noise of the traffic in the early morning was still bearable and the air stood still in the treetops and down under where the boats plied, their sirens ripping through the monotonous hum of the automobiles. I thought, "He must have noticed this blue as well. It is the same blue as the reed banks on the Charrente bei Rochefort (his birthplace), which he must have seen when he walked past the Corderie Royale to the drydock. Perhaps, he actually rediscovered later during his life in Istanbul that which had touched him in his youth."

Naturally, my friend the printmaker laughed about my naming efforts, but finally he mixed orient blue, Turkish blue lacquer, a bit of spring green and lots of white to create the Istanbul blue that I meant. And when he wanted to tease me in the middle of a serious conversation about the emotionality of green, he accessed a curious common description: "Ah! You mean the green of a maple leaf, on the underside naturally, struck by the oblique afternoon light at 5 o'clock." Exactly!

Walter Ehrismann
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