In Survival Mode: Red

“Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. 

The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

Quote by Wassily Kandinsky


Taj Majal ceiling: a mausoleum marking the death of a beloved wife (built 1631-48)

Jan Van Eyck “Madonna with Child Reading”, mid 15th century

Jan van Eyck, “Man in a Turban”, 1433

Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with the red hat”, 1665-1667

William Marlow, “Vesuvius erupting at Night”by 1768

Otto Dix, “Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden”, 1926 


Magdalena Abakanowicz, “Abakan Red”, 1969

Felix Vallotton "La Chambre Rouge" ((The Red Room) 1898


Dear All, 

After discussing Black and Brown, I will be going through each colour of the spectrum, one by one, linking them to their connotations and “emotional baggage”.

Even though I am now teaching remotely, I have noticed a lot of Red appearing in my students’ artworks during this pandemic. These intuitive colour choices are often spot on.

Of all the colours, Red comes up first with the urgency associated with survival and life/death choices. 

“Red is evoked in humans by radiant energy of specific wavelengths, which increase muscle tone, blood pressure and breath rate. For some animals it is sexually arousing. These effects occur also in blind humans and animals, so “red” is not purely an experience of the eye but something more like a bath. Symbolically, red is the colour of life. Its meaning relates to the human experience of blood and of fire. In “primitive” thinking blood was life. When blood left the body, it took life with it. At the same time, the red flow of of blood was a danger signal. The glow of fire was our great comfort and protection, but, out of control, a threat of annihilation. Red attracts us, conveying vitality, warmth, excitement, passion, but also warns of danger, calls for attention, says “Stop!”

(From the “Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images” by A.R.A.S pub. by Taschen).

So, apart from being one of the three primary colours (you cannot create it by mixing other colours together), Red also has a primordial quality: it has always been symbolic of blood and life. This universal colour of blood binds us all together, giving us a common point of empathy for anyone that’s hurting.

Perhaps because of that connection to pain, the colour red is also used as a warning. As the most intense and easily seen colour, our eyes and minds quickly become trained to understand that Red means danger—making us think before proceeding.

And, since Red is such an intense, hot colour, it’s often used to show passion. Emotions like anger, love, or shame can all lead to a rising inner temperature and a quickly beating heart, leaving us Red with anger, burning with love, or scarlet with shame.

All of that combines to make Red, by far, the most emotionally charged colour of the entire colour spectrum.

Artists’ Reds win the prize for the most names: vermilion, madder, scarlet, cerise, persimmon, sanguine, cinnabar, rouge, crimson, carmine, geranium, ruby and rose... 

In colour composition, Red is the most reliable colour surprise. Red has a strong voice. Red is extroverted; jumping forward to meet the eye. Red is assertive; effortlessly becoming the focal point. A “leadership colour”, one could say...

Practically every work of art can benefit by warming with Red. Red glazes, washes or scumbles give life to dull works. 

Red is charged with emotion and promise. Red speaks for the passion of revolution, heroism and bravery. 

And the passion of love; expressed with Red roses, Red lips and Red hearts. 

Red is also the warning of Red herrings, Red tape, flashing Red lights and corrections in Red ink.

Red means anger, fire, storms of the heart, love and war. More than any other colour, Red is loaded for action. 

Now you can use Red for what it’s worth! May Red bring your art making, and your lives, Bravery and Passion.

With love- always,