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PICTURE THIS Colour-themed complexities

An arresting exhibition of blue-inspired art works

TITLED after an eponymous 2017 work by Paula Rego, The Sky was Blue the Sea was Blue and the Boy was Blue, the Victoria Miro Gallery London is presenting blue works by artists exploring the colour’s broad symbolic and conceptual associations through a range of media.

Available to view online, the exhibition looks at artists working with blue not merely as a colour but as an essential element to the work’s meaning and interpretation, as a compositional device or to suggest a particular mood or atmosphere.

On show are new works by Jules de Balincourt, Ali Banisadr, Idris Khan, NS Harsha, Secundino Hernandez, Chris Ofili and Flora Yukhnovich and key examples from Milton Avery, Ilse D’Hollander, Chantal Joffe, John Korner, Isaac Julien, Celia Paul, Grayson Perry, Howardena Pindell, Tal R, Paula Rego, Do Ho Suh and Sarah Sze.

From the earliest uses of lapis lazuli in ancient Egypt through the Renaissance, when the semi-precious stone was used to create ultramarine — a colour so venerated it was reserved to represent the Virgin and denote her heavenly robes — to Picasso’s Blue Period and Yves Klein’s patented IKB, blue has occupied a special place in visual culture.

Used to signify both the emotional and elemental, worlds of mind and weather, harmony and sadness, blue’s complex and shifting associations culturally are equalled by its elusive qualities in the natural world. Ancient languages did not have a word for blue.

The blue we perceive in nature is rarely a pigment but a reflection of light. Water absorbs the longer wavelengths of red and other colours, while the shorter wavelength of blue scatters to give the sea its blue appearance and the oxygen and nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere scatter blue wavelengths when sunlight passes through it, presenting us with a blue sky.

These everyday illusions account in part for the enduring metaphorical and emotional power of blue and its enigmatic place among the colours even today.

Each of the artists featured in the exhibition employs the hue in distinctive ways — some conceptually, some emotionally and some — as with Rego, whose work is inspired by a fateful tale by Helia Correia in which a little boy believes his father is the sea — to tell a story.

Together, all the works on show evoke our enduring fascination with blue as mood, possibility, paradox or as a reminder of the mystery of perception itself.

Runs until March 31, victoria-miro.com

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