The Power of Colour


Red is passion and lust, courage and sacrifice. Blue is happy, or sad, or - in German - drunk. In India, yellow is said to have been made from the urine of cows, force-fed mango leaves. Cindy Bisaillon looks into the history, psychology, art, music and spirituality of colour. She uncovers the mysteries of the purple tears of sea snails, the vibrant orange of a Stradivarius violin, and the green that killed Napoleon.

The Power of Colour airs on Ideas on August 13, 20 and 27.  The series originally aired on November 21, 28, and December 3, 2011.

colour-Van_Gogh_starry_Nigh.jpgRed. Crimson. Scarlet. Peacock. Cyprus. Blue. Aquamarine. Turquoise.

We're under the power of colour. It touches almost everything in the world around us. Ad companies bombard us with orange to excite, white to pacify.

Artists have always felt colour's power. Vincent Van Gogh went crazy for yellow sunflowers and electric blue skies.

 Left: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889


Mark Rothko painted huge canvases of black.

Over the centuries, economies, religions and ideologies have been ruled by red, beleaguered by blue. In mediaeval Europe whole towns rose on the profits from a plant that made a valuable blue dye. In the Renaissance the lips of wealthy women were painted a red with a mysterious origin. A red worth as much as gold.

Colour infuses our lives in countless ways, invading psychology, science, poetry, music, aesthetics, spirituality. In this three part series Cindy Bisaillon sets out to uncover colour's secrets, and paint colour fields of the mind.

Left: Mark Rothko's Black Form painting

Reading List

Colour Codes by Charles Riley, (UPNE, 1996).

Bright Earth: Art and The Invention of Colour by Philip Ball,  (University of Chicago Press, 2003).

Colour: Travels through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay, (The Folio Society, 2009).

All About Colour by Janice Lindsay, (McClelland & Stewart, 2008).

Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul, (Archetype Books, 2007).

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