Color // The Power of Red

Red is an emotional color. It elicits feelings, both positive and negative, depending upon its context. Last year, I wrote a blog in February about the color red in art & design and why it has become associated with Valentine's Day. When I began thinking about it recently and if and how I might add to this, I found red was present in many places other than art. It prompted me to think about what else elicits emotion. Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko's "No.1 (Royal Red & Blue)" sold in November 2012 for $75 million at a record-setting Sotheby's contemporary art auction. The NY Times reported that as the bidding was escalating, the dealers described this painting as having "wall power" - as in, it is large, and has presence, a result of the strong color and composition, and thus fetched a significant price.

Leatrice Eiseman, a color specialist, is an "international color guru". She works with color consultant Pantone, and with companies worldwide offering advice on how color can affect their brands. Eiseman says, "People love red".  In her book, "Colors for Your Every Mood", she writes that red evokes a physiological reaction. And since it is believed to promote passion, it's an obvious choice for the bedroom. Red is perceived as the most sensual of all colors and, as the saying goes, 'sex sells.'

Diana Vreeland, the larger than life fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar, Vogue and then Creative Consultant to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum said, "Red is the great clarifier - bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful. I can't imagine being bored with it ... I wanted this apartment to be a garden - but it had to be a garden in hell."

Vreeland in her  multi-patterned living room, with layers of red,  her "garden of hell",  photographed by Horst P. Horst

Editor Pamela Fiori recently wrote in Harper's Bazaar about Richard Avedon and his muse, Audrey Hepburn. This photo was one of his many photographs during his collaboration with Vreeland.


The passion of red extends to other fields, including sports...and this was very apparent to me recently. At a Super Bowl party last week, a kitchen conversation, away from the TV's and the game, turned to politics, Michelle Obama and her fashion choices. There was a sharp divide on the subject of the Jason Wu flowing red organza gown she wore to the Inaugural Balls. Was it a good color for her, was it too strong, was it elegant, did she look better in white four years ago?  My opinion: I thought she looked beautiful and regal in red!

And then the sports teams themselves. This past week with football season over, my family turned its focus to Big Ten college basketball. I began to notice the red and white uniforms. First, of the Indiana Hoosiers (my son's team, so a family favorite!) then, the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes. Really, once you start looking, there's a long list of teams with red in their uniforms, from college to the pros.

National Geographic reported a study by anthropologists on the power and benefits of red in sports. It stated that, "when opponents of a game are equally matched, the team dressed in red is more likely to win."  It went on, "Across a range of sports, we find that wearing red is consistently associated with a higher probability of winning."  The feeling is that there is an intuitive, but not conscious, aspect to seeing the benefits of the strong color.

In art, color theorist Josef Albers series, Homage to the Square, he explored chromatic interaction of nesting squares. One of  his red studies

I'm a fan of the strong canvases of several artists that I work with;

Attraction, by Xanda McCagg - with an evocative name

Random Red, by  Andrea Bonfils - created with layers of encaustic wax

Cirrus Cadmium ll, by Anne Raymond - named for the red pigment

In interiors, color is used sparingly as an accent or in large doses to fill the room. Designer Jennifer Post, known for her minimalist interiors, often punctuates a space with bright color

Architectural Digest recently featured the LA home of Maroon 5's Adam Levine, beautifully filled with an art collection and mid-century furnishings. Designer Mark Haddaway used a combination of reds, from the deep rich hue of the drapes, to the pattern of the rug to accent the masculine bedroom. The oversized bright red tufted red ottoman is the visual centerpiece

Miles Redd is known for his bold use of color and often chooses red, either saturating a room in the color or in small doses of red as in this fun closet.

Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture was initially created as a holiday card for the Museum of Modern Art. The design then became a sculpture exhibited at the Indiana Museum of Art.  It has since been recreated around the world, it became a postage stamp and an iconic pop art symbol.

As a color identified with emotion and love, red has long been associated with Valentine's Day. I found it so interesting when I began to focus on the color red, I realized it was all around me: from the First Lady to fashion to interior design to art, to sports uniforms. Totally different applications, but in each, the color red, elicits emotion.

de Kooning at MoMA // on a Saturday afternoon

MoMA on a Saturday?  I wasn't so sure I was up to weekend crowds. Alexis, my daughter and I had been wanting to see the much talked about Wm. de Kooning Restrospective since it opened in Sept.  She and I often explore musems and galleries together, but this week, my son Brett, uncharacteristically offered to join Saturday it had to be. The Museum of Modern Art exhibit is the largest retrospective of deKooning’s work.  de Kooning, an Abstract Expressionist, is considered among the most important and prolific of the 20th century. The show spans his early work after arriving in NY from the Netherlands in 1926 through his more recognized abstract paintings in the 80’s. An exhibition of this breadth gives the opportunity to follow an artist as they evolve and transition from one stage to another. Since the exhibit opened, I have read and talked about it.  Exhibitions of this significance inspire those from the art and design worlds, from interiors to fashion. I’ve discussed de Kooning’s work with several painters I presently work with. Each artist has their unique style;  Anne Raymond's nature-inspired color studies. Tracy Burtz's beautifully executed figurative women and Janet Mait's bold color statements. Each spoke about how this exhibit was inspiring to them,  how wonderful it is to see the colors and compositions of de Kooning's original works.

Interiorconnector, a site for "haute home furnishings", wrote that, "de Kooning's work not only incites us to experiment more with color and shape in our homes, but the paintings themselves inspire us to go bolder with the artwork we purchase", and goes on to make recommendations for art and furnishings that will provide a touch of de Kooning's "spirit and attitude".

Interiorconnector, The Spirit of deKoooning Lives at MoMA

The perspective of my two children and the conversation added yet another dimension to the art, as we walked the exhibit. Alexis commented on this still life, done when he was just 14 years old. The composition is similar to those done by all young art students, including herself, and today would be part of a college portfolio.

In the early abstracted works, he often mixed figurative imagery and abstraction, mixing both within one composition.

The black and white compositions in the late 40’’s were the first of his exploration of little or no color. de Kooning played with color, as well as the compositons, putting many elements into many of these paintings. “I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting,” de Kooning said in a 1951 New York Times interview. “I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it: drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.”

de Kooning returned to figure paintings, mostly women, at different times, painting them both figuratively and abstract throughout his career. Brett, not having the patience to read the wall tags, went to his phone as he’s accustomed to, to deKooning’s Wikipedia page to read and learn about the artist and his art. He wanted the facts - he was Dutch, 1907-1997.  At auction, Pink Lady sold at Sotheby’s in 1987 for $3.6 million, the value of his works have increased. Steven A. Cohen recently bought Woman lll from David Geffen for $137 million.

In the mid-50s, he painted abstracted urban and pastoral landscapes. Once outside of the city, these paintings were lighter, warmer, more color...both strong and pastel. We drive on the Merritt Parkway often, so to see what deKooning reduced the familiar landscape to led us to a good discussion about form and color.

The same thing with L.I. - there were several Montauk paintings in the 40s and again later on when de Kooning, along with Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and other Abstract Expressionsists lived and worked in the Springs in East Hampton

We walked the galleries talking about the different period of his life, color, and the changes in de Kooning’s work as he transitioned from a loft on West 22nd st in 1937 drawing figuratively.

loft on West 22nd St., 1937

to a studio in the Springs on L.I. in the 80’s surrounded by bold and colorful and accomplished abstract canvases.

Studio with Late Abstract Paintings, Springs, 1981

We ended our visit in the Architecture and Design Exhibit, where there was something for each of us. Alexis, an art director at a digital agency, was interested in the Gotham exhibit - a visual display and description of one of the most successful new typefaces, created in 2000 by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. The font is inspired by NYC urban signage. It was the font used in President Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign and also the identity of the new One World Trade Center.

and Brett found new folding chairs to add some modern style to his tailgates at the NY Jets football games, Meeting Chairs by Lauence Humier.

and for me, it was a great day finally seeing the de Kooning Retrospective and walking through MoMA with my two kids on a Saturday afternoon.