Chromophobia by David Bachelor discusses colour and it’s historic association with “a Fall”. Bachelor explains western cultures fear a fear of corruption or contamination through color. he says that colour is “dangerous because it is secondary… The minor is always the undoing of the major.“
In this section he is discussing J-K Huysman’s hero, Des Esseintes, in his novel A Rebours published in 1884 and translated as Against Nature. I love reading this quote, looking at my monochromatic work, looking at the Naturally, Unnaturally show and plotting my FALL into colour.
“.. this is after all also a story of a Fall. But not before he has figured out the problem of flowers. For flowers, like precious stones, are both brilliantly coloured and often utterly commonplace. And flowers are also of nature rather than against it. Des Esseintes begins his careful selection by classifying flowers in terms of social class. He identifies the ‘poor, vulgar slum-flowers’, a middle class of ‘pretentious, conventional, stupid flowers’ and lastly, ‘flowers of charm and tremendous delicacy… princesses of the vegetable kingdom, living aloof and apart, having nothing whatever in common with the popular plants or bourgeois blooms’. Naturally, Des Esseintes admires only the ‘rare and aristocratic plants from distant lands’, and these mainly for their unnaturalness, as they are kept alive only ‘with cunning attention in artificial tropics’. This ‘inborn taste for the artificial’ in turn leads him – in an entirely post modern way, – to begin ‘to neglect the real flower for its copy’, which in turn leads him to cultivate an interest in flowers that are literally artificial, those ‘faithfully and miraculously executed in indiarubber and wire, calico and taffeta, paper and velvet.’ And yet he is still not satisfied, which is perhaps the entire point and dynamic of the book. Des Esseintes is never satisfied with his orchestrations artificiality, perhaps because even the most extreme artifice, once familiar, becomes a kind of nature to him.
So he turns his attention to another king of flora: ‘tired of artificial flowers aping real ones, he wanted some natural flowers that would look like fakes.’ On taking delivers of these naturally artificial blooms, Des Esseintes falls into a kind of delirium or conscious dream-state, which, in some respects at least, is not unlike Le Corbusier’s oriental delirium. Glancing from flower to flower and inspired mainly by the exotic plants’ intense colours, he begins to blur the distinction between flower parts and animal parts, between different types of flesh, between the vegetable and the mineral, between the healthy and the diseased. One plant ‘looked as if it had been fashioned out of the pleura of an ox or the diaphanous bladder of a pig’; another ‘seemed to be simulating zinc, parodying bits of punched metal coloured emperor green and splattered with drops of oil paint streaks of red lead and white’; another ‘flaunted leaves the colour of raw meat, with dark red ribs and purplish fibrils, puffy leaves that seemed to be sweating blood and wine.’ … Eventually Des Esseintes becomes exhausted by the ‘crude and dazzling colours’ of his ‘depraved’ and ‘unhealthy’ hothouse collection. Gradually, his conscious colour-delirium lead him to fall into a restless sleep and then into a colour-nightmare …