Having recently had paintings accepted for an exhibition on the theme of SOIL, I got to thinking all about brown and what a wonderful, gorgeous, giving colour it is.
I did not always think this about brown. In fact I used to loathe it. Probably because it formed half the colour of my school uniform – paired with light blue(!) – revolting.
It was when I started painting that it occurred to me that it would not be in my interest to dislike any colour. In fact, I wanted to love ALL colours. And so I set out on a mission to love brown. I began thinking of all the things I did love that were brown …
… the childhood memory of slipping around in mud, of making mud pies, of digging in the dirt for treasure; the satisfaction of a highly polished wooden table, gleaming with golden hues from ages past; the aroma, the glistening viscosity and the unrivalled savour of melted chocolate; the lustre of a pet’s fur; the sheen of a thousand glistening tones on a racehorse.
Brown is not a spectral colour, but it is the colour fundamental to all life. Germination happens in the soft moist ochres of the soil and, at the end of a plant’s cycle, brown is the colour of its decomposition. Brown is the most common colouring in mammals as it provides the greatest camouflage, brown being the predominant colour within nature.
Brown is earthy; it is redolent of enormous natural variety, from the multitude of woods to the diverse ochres of the earth. It also evokes stability, reliability and longevity. In the West, trees that have stood the test of time are listed in the same manner as historic buildings, in order to ensure that they are never destroyed. In Europe, wooden artefacts from ages past are valued for their endurance, with antique furniture receiving decades of loving polishing, and historic buildings being carefully preserved for their wooden structures.
Brown also has a close association with food – potatoes, rice, flour, bread, chocolate, coffee, tea – and these days anything termed ‘brown’, such as rice, pasta or bread, is considered healthier than its white processed counterpart.
Brown has come to represent wholesome goodness, the colour of the original as opposed to that of the blanched imposter.
Often brown is added to reassure us that the food product is rich and filling, as opposed to thin and watery; the darker the brown, the stronger the flavour is perceived to be. Coffee, gravy and chocolate do not taste the same when grey in colour; full, lustrous brown is what is required. Gravy colouring is called ‘gravy browning’ and how often does a recipe end with the enticing instruction to cook til golden brown?
Brown is messy and warm and nurturing and history and grounding and life-giving.
Where would we be without Brown?