Fall Northampton Special Exhibit

The Wild Blue Yonder

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun.

– Robert MacArthur Crawford, The US Air Force

Blue has always signified a world beyond our own, of depth and endless space. The color blue represents both the sky and the sea and is associated with open spaces, freedom, intuition, imagination, inspiration, and sensitivity. In Western culture it represents masculinity, but in Chinese culture the color blue is feminine. It is also a word that is much more than a color; “the blues” is an emotion, and even a genre of music.

Blue used to be a rarity in art. At the end of the Middle Ages a bright blue stone became available in Europe named ‘lapis lazuli’, which was ground into the paint color ‘ultramarine’. The Church wanted to control artists’ use of this new-found color, so it was saved for the most divine parts of paintings. For a while, this blue paint was more expensive and rarer than gold.

Artists often choose the color blue when visualizing something of our imagination, out of reach, at a distance or divine. Blue is quiet, cool, deep, and meditative. It is a color often used in clay glazes, glass art, and enameling. Jewelers have always set sapphires, turquoise, and blue opals (and even those lapis lazuli stones discovered in the Middle Ages) into gold and silver. Fiber artists around the world dye cloth and yarns blue using the indigo plant. Woodworkers have discovered ways to inset blue resin into woodgrain and burls to simulate running water or provide eye-catching color. We are all familiar with the quiet, atmospheric paintings from Picasso’s “Blue Period”. Georgia O’Keefe’s stylized clouds floating in a clear azure sky were inspired by the blue skies and endless expanses of clouds she observed from airplane windows.

We didn’t know what the Earth looked like from outer space until the first space travel in 1968, when we suddenly realized that our world is truly the blue planet! The photographs just taken by NASA using the James Webb space telescope have fired our imaginations once again, turning our attention to the “wild blue yonder” and our blue planet’s place in it.

Blue days
All of them gone
Nothing but blue skies
From now on.

– Ella Fitzgerald

Pictured Artists: Donna Zils Banfield, Jon Berke, Juliana Boyd, Ellen Cohen, Allison Corbett, Maura Cronin, Roger DiTarando, Howard Hastie, Ginger Herbein, Peiliang Jin, Linda Kaye-Moses, James Kitchen, Susan Roston, William McCarthy, Meghan Miller, Ruth Odile, Linda Post, Ted Tatarzyn