Sunday, April 27, 2014

'Color Bar' A Painter's Prison Experience

Breyten Breytenbach, 1962, gouache. (you can buy this on ebay)

I listened to an episode of This American Life while painting from 1999 last week.  One 'act' has really stuck with me titled Color Bar. It is about a man's experience of prison and how it changes your visual life and takes away your freedom in seeing.  He is a painter, Breyten Bryetenbach, who was imprisoned in South Africa and the way he discusses his experience is so poignant.

Here is an excerpt:

"It's like if you deprive somebody of colors for a certain time, and then you introduce color, however small the area of color may be that you introduce, there will be an intense sort of a pang of recognition of that color. A real experience of that color. We live in a surfeit of colors every day. We no longer even notice. We're sitting, looking at pink roses on the wallpaper, you know? The white cover over a bed, or the darkness of a shirt, or whatever it is. These are so much part, we are washed over with the richness of colors all the time. But in a situation like that, when all of a sudden there's this eruption of a toffee wrapper, for instance, or a leaf that got blown over the wall, or even a thread that somehow got blown into the wall, a thread of material, blue, something like that, you can not possibly imagine the intense awareness experience of that color, as if you'd never seen color before."

I had never thought of this aspect of prison before, the visual change.  He talks too about the depth of seeing only ever being a few feet in front of you and how as a person we are constantly being visual excited by different depths and colors and how that affects your interaction with the world. I would like to ask him if it helped his work or hurt it, looking back years later.  Listen here.


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