Celebrating Fourth of July in Red, White, and Blue

Pablo Picasso, 'La Vie [Life],' 1903, ARS/Art Resource

Pablo Picasso

La Vie [Life], 1903

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland

Henri Matisse, 'Blue Nude II,' 1952, ARS/Art Resource

Henri Matisse

Blue Nude II, 1952

Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Yves Klein, 'IKB 49,' 1960, ARS/Art Resource

Yves Klein

IKB 49, 1960

Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin

On the United States’ national flag, white signifies purity and innocence, red stands for hardiness and valour, and blue symbolizes vigilance, perseverance, and justice (Blue PMS 282 and Red PMS 193 via Pantone, if you want to be specific). But do artists and their palettes follow similar suit? This Fourth of July, we look to the inspirations of artists who have embraced America’s national colors.

Red:

“The monochromatic red images as well as the metallic characteristic of the Mylar can be seen as metaphors for another natural element, synonym to light, and usually perceived as antagonist to water: fire,” Karine Laval says of her flame-red photographs. But she’s not the first or last artist to view their work through a crimson lens. At right, see Andy Warhol paint his canvas a solid red or William Wegman dress his dog in a ruby-red raincoat.

White:

Working almost exclusively with white, Robert Ryman once explained his choice of color (or lack thereof) by pointing out the ability of white to bring about nuances—like coffee on a white shirt. “I don’t think of myself as making white paintings. I make paintings. White paint is my medium,” he once said.

Blue:

So enamored by the color blue that he worked with a French paint dealer to patent his own hue, a blue-handed Yves Klein painted with International Klein Blue—the ubiquitous color now sharing its name with an Australian indie rock band. “Blue is the invisible becoming invisible,” he once said. “Blue has no dimensions. It exists outside the dimensions that are part of other colors.” Also of note, Pablo Picasso spent his three-year “Blue Period” painting his world an austere, somber tint of blue.

And last, though known for his blue nudes, Henri Matisse remained torn between favorites colors. “A certain blue enters your soul,” he said. “A certain red has an effect on your blood pressure. A certain color has a tonic effect.”

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