Yellow is a colour of juxtapositions. In the natural world, animals and insects cloak their bodies (often in conjunction with the colour black) to signify poison, danger. Likewise, it is the colour of death, the sallow skin of a sick person and the brilliant autumnal yellow of leaves before they fall to the ground. The colour is derived from a number of materials including some of the most dangerous in the world, cadium sulfide, lead chromate and the pigment named orpiment made from arsenic. Orpiment, or King’s Yellow/Chinese Yellow, touches upon other connotations of the colour, power and wealth. As the colour of gold, the pigment was used to paint the halos of angels and the garments of the Hindu god Krishna. In China, yellow robes were reserved for only the Emperors to wear, hence the name King’s Yellow. As the embodiment of sunshine, yellow was most commonly derived from saffron, the stigmas of the crocus. The deep golden hue was used to stain foods and fabrics alike and is still today, the world’s most expensive spice. There are a number of food connotations with regard to the colour, hues vary from maize to mustard – popular colours in the 70′s appearing on a number of goods including bell bottoms and retro lamps – to the vibrant tones of lemon and apricot. Generally considered a happy colour, perhaps it is the sunshine-like colouration of citrus fruits that in conjunction with the bright flavour, that help to dispel the dark days of winter.
Gustavo Montoya, Still Life with Bananas
oil on canvas, 80 x 119.4cm, Private collection