Repository 157: OYGBIV | Europe’s Pending Ban on Red

Image: Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Body Tracks), 1974, Lifetime color photograph. ©Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Image: Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Body Tracks), 1974, Lifetime color photograph. ©Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

It’s strange how deeply colors seem to penetrate one, like scent.” – Dorothea Brooke in George Elliot’s Middlemarch

Upon seeing the color red, the pulse rises 13.4 percent. It is the color of love, the first you see at birth and the last you see at death. You paint the town red, you put it on your lips, and it stops you in your tracks. Roses are red, violets are blue, if red is not on on my palette what are we to do?

The Art Newspaper last week reported that the European Union is considering a ban on artists’ use of cadmium in acrylic, oils and watercolors. The report claims that artists washing their brushes in the sink is causing cadmium to run off into sewage sludge, and subsequently spreads to agricultural land. If the ban is approved, in two years artists will be unable to use the color cadmium red.

Opponents of this ban site the real culprit is not artists’ use of cadmium, but Nickel cadmium batteries. While I would prefer this revelation, I’m not sure how the nickel batteries get to the sewage sludge. Perhaps the EU has not set up a true recycling system for its batteries, and this is where the cadmium is leaked. Or maybe they do recycle them – recycling takes an enormous amount of water (PSA: which is why you should not feverishly rinse your plastics before putting them in the recycling bin – a massive waste of water).

What would paintings look like without cadmium? They would be potentially very dull and lifeless. Some artists have pulled off impressive careers with chalky paintings (e.g. Luc Tuymans), though the reality is that colors like cadmium resonate more with viewers including the artist: truly fine paintings without hints of cadmium are rare. When I used to run a gallery I joked with artists to paint red paintings, and if possible make them shiny. These paintings sell the most. Are they the most lovely? Nope, just marketable. Think Coca-cola, Target, etc.

Crossing my fingers the red paint ban is off, and they realize the electronic waste is the culprit. Speaking of waste that is not yet successfully filtered out of the water systems anywhere, as far as I know, is all of the Xanex and psychopharmas of the world. That’s right, traces of antidepressants enter the sewage through urine, and they haven’t figured a way to remove it/dissolve it. So you could be drinking filtered water with hints of sex hormones or anti-convulsants. I’ll take the cadmium from watercolors paints thank you very much.

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