Showing True Colours

Writer Jeremy Maggs comes out of the dark and reflects on the golden opportunity of paints, pigments, and tints.

Let’s all put on our rose-tinted spectacles, shall we? Not the ones shaped like hearts, sir, you look like a flamboyant Elton John on a Mardi Gras float on Fire Island. The other ones that make you look more like Tom Cruise in the
cockpit of aN F14 Tomcat. Those are the ones. Doesn’t life now look just a little more… colourful? The green trees are suddenly more emerald. The sun, a touch more xanthic, and the sea near where you’ve parked your car looks like the piercing glint from a Lapis Lazuli. Talking of the car, that bright red Ferrari isn’t red, is it? It’s Chilli Pepper. The engine, by the way, at full bore sounds like your stomach after ingesting a basket of them. But let’s not go there and ruin the moment.
Sir, please keep your glasses on. You bear no resemblance to Reginald Dwight at all, even if your wig shades are both the colour of golden honey dripped on a slice of bistered brown toast. I did not mean to insult you. But talking of Sir Elton, let’s take a stroll down the yellow brick road. Life is far too short to be lived in black and white. Our very existence is predicated on a constant infusion of colour. Whether we are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, drinking a Coca-Cola from a red branded bottle, or receiving a package from a yellow-branded DHL courier, we’re defined by colour at every moment. South Africa was a pariah state for 50 years because of the so-called colour bar where black and white were never mixed. We saw each other through a narrow, bigoted prism and only when we were dubbed the rainbow nation did we start realising how large our national canvas was, ready to be painted on. Interestingly, the concept of colour has only been with us for around 40,000 years – around about the time that Sir Elton started singing. I’m reliably told that artists invented the first pigments – a combination of soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and chalk – creating a basic palette of five colours: red, yellow, brown, black, and white.
Delving a little further into the past, blue was favoured by the ancient Egyptians, green was used in clothing in ancient Mesopotamia and cave paintings were made using yellow ochre as the dying agent. My favourite origin story is around the colour purple. Let me take you back to the Bronze Age when the city of Tyre began producing a distinct dye made from a shellfish found in the region. It is said that 10,000 shellfish were needed to make just
one gram of the stuff. So, spare a thought next time you are hoovering back a seafood platter at Ocean Basket and say thanks to our crustacean friends who gave up their lives for fashion. Colour language is also vital to those of us who attempt to write for a living. A red alert is so much better than just an alert. A blue movie says it all while describing a person of little courage as yellow-bellied is so much better than saying he is bellied.
Those of us who have an interest in outer space would be uninterested in just a hole. A black hole sounds so much more menacing. And if you covet something badly, is not it better to be green with envy rather than just envious? I had an uncle once, who was badly behaved most of the time. He was called the black sheep of the family. The description conjured up an image of a rutting ram with a nonchalant look. Had he been called just a sheep, everyone would have bleated with laughter, ignored his stories and only seen him once in a blue moon. And do not you feel immediately sorry for people who catch the red-eye flight? It seems they are making a real effort instead of just being cheapskates who won’t pay for a later flight. I am tickled pink by the world of colour. Distinctive brands tend to be more successful. A page without colour seems to be missing something. The more shades we have in our life, the happier and more engaged we are, and we all pass with flying colours.
This piece originally appeared in COLOUR CAFE. Click here to see the full issue.