It's All Yellow
Updated: May 3
On my walks lately, I’ve noticed that yellow seems to be a dominant colour in the wildflowers that are growing at the moment.
The colour of sunlight, gold and daffodils, yellow is often associated with warmth and optimism, joy and friendship. It might also stand for intellect.
Where it appears in nature, bright yellow is hard to miss. Plants can use it to attract pollinators, but some animals use it as a flashy warning to potential predators.
Here are just a few yellow flowers that I’ve seen lately:
Top left: daffodils; Top right: Gorse (or Whin in Scotland); Bottom left: Yellow Primrose; Bottom right: Marsh Marigold.
A Great Yellow Bumblebee was recently spotted by a friend who tends the garden at Freswick Castle. This is one of the rarest British bumblebees, now restricted to machair and other flower-rich areas in the Orkneys, Scottish islands, and Caithness and Sutherland, so it's pretty special. This one was spotted outside of Ben's home (photo taken by him):
For more information about the bumblebee and how you can help maintain bee populations, go to: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/
Spring is a hopeful time, and the vibrant bursts of yellow in the landscape add to the brightness and joy of the season.
A few days ago, I was showing some of my artwork to friends that were visiting Freswick Castle. One of them is a gallery owner from London. She commented on the use of yellow in my paintings, having noticed one sitting in the hallway leaning against a wall. I painted this one some time ago now:
When she asked about my use of yellow, I responded vaguely, referring to the infusion of light, and the lifting sense of warmth and peace I wanted to convey.
Since then, I have thought about it more, and realise that not only are there emotional reasons for choosing a colour, but often a colour choice in a painting is also about the message it might bring to the piece or what it symbolises, and the various associations with subject matter or objects depicted in the painting.
While largely intuitive, I believe that this painting was intended to convey friendship and hope. Two people are walking together, comfortably alongside each other - together, but also apart. They head into a place and space beyond, implying a hopeful and inspiring journey into the future.
Many other artists have used yellow in their work. Alongside red, yellow is one of the oldest colours in art history. It is present in some of the paintings dating back to ancient Egypt and ancient Rome—it can even be found as far back as prehistoric times featured in cave paintings.
A detail from the Lascaux cave paintings, which feature yellow ochre pigments and have lasted over 17,000 years.
The yellow sun has been worshipped by countless religions with numerous sun gods wearing yellow as representations of it. Because of its associations with sunlight, yellow is often seen as a warm colour, accounting for the connotations with happiness and optimism. The colour yellow was an extension of the sun’s radiant light and a powerful symbol of divine everlasting wisdom. It is often the colour of prayer.
In wall paintings it coloured the clothing of their most revered figures while it is believed the white classical statues of gods and goddesses were once painted with dazzling shades of colour including yellow ochre; in particular Venus the goddess of love was said to wear a yellow robe.
As societies and civilisations advanced the yellow ochre colour continued to hold an important symbolic and religious role, appearing in many examples of Medieval and Byzantine art. But when artists in Christian culture began portraying the Biblical character Judas in yellow robes an association with cowardice persisted, which may have led to the later expression “yellow belly.” Examples include Giotto di Bondone’s masterful portrayal of The Kiss of Judas, 1306 in the Scrovegni Chapel.
Giotto di Bondone / The Kiss of Judas, The Scrovegni Chapel / 1306
In modern times yellow ochre and its synthetic variants have continued to prove popular across various cultures while its complexity of meaning persists.
Yellow, the colour of gold and sun, is synonymous with vitality and strength.
This noble colour dazzled and fascinated William Turner. Turner used it without limits to make worlds emerge or to brush the flames of the sky of Genoa, the sunset over the waves of the Atlantic, the clouds of Scotland, the powerful Venetian mists...
The Fire at the Parliament Building, J.M.W.Turner
Vincent van Gogh is often cited as the modern master of yellow, painting the sun-drenched, ochre-lit scenery of France in endless variations of warm-yellow, a colour he came to associate with the comforting familiarity of home, even in the most unstable of times.
A more recent piece I came across while reading a magazine the other day is that of artist, Jennifer Packer, called 'Blessed are those who mourn'. It is a large and powerful piece and the most dominant colour is yellow. Its use here seems to refer to the homeliness and every day aspects of a person's life and familiar nods to humanity and comfort. This is set as a backdrop to more tragic circumstances, reflecting an incident that occurred in the U.S. in 2020 which involved the killing by police of Breonna Taylor on 15 March 2020 in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky.
The titles of Packer's paintings often lend tones of lamentation to scenes of everyday life.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Breonna! Breonna!), 2020 Oil on canvas 300 x 438 cm 118 x 172.5 inches Private Collection. Courtesy the Artist, Corvi-Mora, London and Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York Photo: George Darrell © Jennifer Packer
For more information about her work and the exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery last year, you can read Will Gompertz' review about it here. It is an epic piece. I hope to see it in person someday.
I hope you've enjoyed being on this journey. Like Chris Martin's famous song - 'It was all yellow'!