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By Eve Gardiner
Gray is no one color.
As Derek Jarman wrote, “color sings in the gray”; from cool to warm, light to dark, gray is the perfect oxymoron, manifesting itself at the intersection of all colors. Gray is, as Meghan Flaherty explains, “the entire underrainbow of the world, the faded rose and sage and caesious. Liard, lovat, perse.” This chromatic complexity is reflected in our perception of the color. Gray is aligned with both banality and sophistication; it reflects wisdom, but is the color of boredom; it exists in the suits of success, but often tints the fabric of poverty; it is the mark of industry, and the enduring color of our geological foundations. Our dichotomous understanding of gray reflects the vast spectrum of color that this seemingly neutral tone holds.
For us to interpret gray, we must first understand the relationship between black and white: the opposing colors that all grays hold. Gray exists at the precipice between light and dark. Black is the absence of light; a deep shadow and true darkness we rarely find in the natural world, existing only in the darkest of coal, jet-stone and graphite. Yet, black is a staple in contemporary life; used to define our wardrobes, our feelings, and sometimes our humor. Though we are surrounded by both black and white in a physical sense, we actually encounter far more gray than we think. In digital terms, true black cannot be replicated or recreated, so our screens continuously show us the darkest of grays, tricking our eyes into seeing black. All black in our life is gray in a digital age; gray is always there.
And yet, gray cannot exist without color. Often the most overlooked aspect of gray is the colorful nature of its make-up. German artist Paul Klee understood ‘Graupunkt’ (gray point) as not only the heart of all colors, but the hinge between order and chaos. Gray holds within it a spectrum of light and dark, and is the median of color. Created by mixing black with white, or equal portions of red, yellow and blue, artists use gray to bring balance and calm to their canvas: “Gray is not a color then, but the expression of the principle of monadological construction of color”, explains Gregg Lambert. Gray sits at the center of our visual spectrum, showing that color comes alive in the shadows.
Nothing is ever black and white; and the entirety of human thought, of feeling and emotion, exists within this shadowed area. Our perception of the world is governed by gray matter, it contains the majority of the brain’s neuronal cell bodies, and controls our memories, emotions, sight, speech, hearing and decision-making. Every sensory experience sparks millions of neurons that allow us access to, and interpretation of, the world around us. While named ‘gray matter’, the brain’s living tissue is actually a dusky gray blushed by pink, yellow and brown. A fitting metaphor for the true nature of gray, a color that is no color and all colors at once.
Eve Gardiner is a trend analysis writer from the United Kingdom, based in Berlin, Germany
Berenice Golmann is a 3D designer, director and animator from Paris, and based in Portland, USA.
1. Derek Jarman, Chroma (London: Vintage, 2000), 51.2. Meghan Flaherty, “Ode to Gray,” The Paris Review, published August 21, 2018, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/08/21/ode-to-gray/.3. Gregg Lambert, The Non-Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (New York: Continuum, 2002), 59.