Monday, August 24, 2009

Complementary Colors and
those Pesky Buddhist Dualities

It's been a glorious summer in Minnesota— cool and green and lush. Our August is usually dry and miserably hot. The mallards stay down by the lake now. My fox visited yesterday dressed in bright red-orange shimmering against the greens of the lawn as only complementary colors can do. Such a delicate little thing she is! Two summers ago I chased her away, afraid Patchy the cat, in her elderly, weakened state, might be on the breakfast menu. Picture this crazed woman running through backyards in her pajamas shouting and clapping her hands as a fox dances just out of reach. Patchy has passed away now and though I miss her, I'm thrilled to see the fox has survived another winter.

I spent this summer working on smaller paintings after completing another large piece in the Hen & Chicks Series. In June I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and also stopped in Old Town Alexandria at the Torpedo Factory, a renovation filled with artist studios where I met artist Anna Shakeeva. I'm inspired by her imaginative, fantasy style of painting and her rich visual vocabulary.

Since my little red fox brought up the subject of complementary colors, I've been pondering oppositional relationships of all kinds. Opposite means positioned on the other side of something; facing something, especially something of the same type; being the other of a contrasted pair. Complementary colors are opposite each other on a color wheel. First we have the primaries: red, yellow and blue. Then we have the secondaries or complements of each primary color: green, purple and orange.
Arranged on a standard academic color wheel, red is opposite green, blue is opposite orange and yellow is opposite purple. To find the complement or opposite of red, you mix yellow and blue creating green; for the complement of yellow you mix red and blue creating purple; and orange, the complement of blue, is found by mixing red and yellow. You can create an infinite number of colors this way depending on which color dominates the mix. Pretty exciting! Huh? Endless hours of fun and exploration.

Our life seems to be built upon opposites or in Zen student parlance— dualities, the eight worldly dharmas of gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Short and tall, literal and figurative, subject and object, self and other. The list could go on forever. What is the complement or opposite of a self? It must be the other. Complementary is defined as completing; combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other's qualities. Duality is defined as contrast between two of something. Two complementary colors enhance one and other; each makes the other appear brighter. I'm wondering what happens when we view the opposites or dualities in our lives this way. How do self and other enhance or emphasize each other's qualities? Our idea of short is dependent on our idea of tall. Short cannot be known without tall to complement it. Does it follow that our ideas of self are dependent on our ideas about others? Colorist, Joseph Albers, demonstrated the relativity of color— how colors are perceived depending on the color of their surroundings. A color doesn't actually change, but is perceived as a new color when viewed opposite other colors. So how do two colorful selves juxtaposed in our day-to-day lives, complete, enhance and emphasize each other's qualities? In this me-first culture, I think it's worth a look.

While I'm saddened by the degenerate healthcare reform discourse portrayed in the news lately, I'm grateful that all views can be heard. Vile and ludicrous claims of Nazism and death panels, shocking as they are, cause us to look hard at how we relate to one and other. The complement to such fear-mongering is the inner voice that calls us to listen to the higher angels of our hearts. The call is to drop our self-absorption, open our hearts, and protect and care for each other. When we cherish the other, the self is transformed. That's how complements work. They make each other brighter.

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