I don’t think I’ve ever liked the question: “What’s your favorite color?” As a child, I said: “Purple.” But what was closer to the truth would have been that I could not understand the need to have a favorite color. I understood it was a thing that people wanted to ask you and that “a favorite color” was something I was supposed to have. I also understood that there were certain colors that were acceptable to have as favorite colors and some that were not. In my world, I only had two choices: pink or purple. The question of the color I hated most was never asked. But that is a question I would have welcomed, and the answer would have been “pink.”
I hated pink then and I hate it still. But recently I have begun to work on my relationship with pink in much the same way that I made green my friend: I am trying to draw and paint with as many variations on “pink” as I can stomach.
So, first a word about my hatred of pink. I was a tomboy at a time in US history where that was a bona-fide category of gender identification. I was not ashamed of being a tomboy, although I likely sensed that I was supposed to be. I disliked being shoved into a taffeta or velvet dress and mary janes at the holidays and those butt-ugly and uncomfortable nylon Catholic school skirts every single day. Plus, whoever thought peach-colored Peter-pan colored shirts were a good idea should have been forced to recite about a thousand Hail Mary’s and at least a hundred Our Fathers.
So that was school and holidays: my childhood duties. But play was another matter. I dearly loved to play, and I loved to play in tomboy’s clothes. If we time-transported my seven-year-old self into the year 2017, my parents would likely be sending me to counseling for having gender dysphoria. In 1972, they didn’t seem to mind. Plus, there wasn’t a counselor at St. Frances Cabrini.
Pink was not a color in my tomboy wardrobe. I could bear pastels, but I think I probably reckoned that refusal to wear pastels was not a fight I could win. My favorite shirt, at age nine, was a cowgirl-style number in pale yellow, robin’s-egg blue, and pastel orange. I don’t remember any of those colors being an option when it came down to deciding on a favorite color. I also knew that not having a favorite color was not an option. So I made another strategic choice. I lied and told everyone that purple was my favorite color. The truth, as I said before, is that I never have had and still do not have a favorite color. The very idea is preposterous to me.
Now a word about the color green. I knew I was supposed to appreciate green because it was associated with life, or so I had heard in some vaguely pseudo-philosophical New Age context. But whenever I had to deal with green for any reason whatsoever, I was never pleased with the results. For example, I had bought a cheap but extremely comfortable green teeshirt on a clearance rack somewhere, but was perplexed when it came time to find something that I could wear it with. It just felt “wrong.” So that teeshirt was quickly relegated to sleepwear status. So I did not have a particularly emotional reaction to green, but I suppose I had what may have been a nascent and problematic aesthetic relationship with green. Then I took a 2-D Design class and I was forced to confront green. Within the first two weeks of class, I promptly declared to my professor that I hated green. She responded with complete disbelief. Hope could I not love green? It was so amazing . . . it was everywhere . . . how could I? And in her words I realized why I struggled with green. Green transcended the notion of “color.” Green was not a color. The natural world overflows with so much color that we would, for the sense of convenience, call “green,” that it was impossible to pin it down as a category. And while some artists might find it challenging to explore the vast distance between the notion of the color green and the appearance of green in the natural world, I was deeply frustrated. My initial response was to simply decide to dislike green because I found it as impossible to work with on the page as I had in my wardrobe. But after my professor laid down her challenge—how could I abandon such an important color so flippantly?—I decided to take green on as a friend project. And so green became, for me, a way to work through some of my creative frustrations. I broke green down to the definition that worked for me: green is the combination of blue and yellow. And then in every project I did that semester, I challenged myself by repeated using variations on the blue/yellow mixture in every single assignment.
So now, I am living in my mother’s house and there is pink in abundance. I hate every bit of it. Now, my mom often comments on her love of pink. It is a well-known fact that my mother loves pink. If you don’t know this, you know nothing. So for the last six weeks, I have just borne up under the pressure to comment or respond in any way to her exclamations of pink appreciation. But yesterday, on the way home from one of our excursions, my mom noted some small pink roses, declaring them gorgeous. They were planted beside a bed of red and orange flowers which appeared to be a daisy relative. I was finally able to broach the topic. Without having to say “I hate pink,” I was able to affirm that the pink roses were nice, but I really loved the daisy relatives.
On our way home, my mom appeared to continue to notice any pink object that we passed. Flowers, houses, bicycles, dresses. Clearly, my mother loves pink. And it felt to me, although I doubt she noticed it at all, like an attempt to draw me into some conversation about the color pink, or a reaction to pink, or a bonding over pink, or . . . something. I just let it be. The ride was pleasant enough, but near the end I felt my hackles beginning to rise.
Today, I woke up and realized that there was something about me, and my mother, and the color pink. Perhaps she is unaware of this. It doesn’t really matter. I can feel it like I can feel many things about my mother. It’s a thing. There is something there. And this afternoon, I made what felt like a very healthy decision. I decided that I would not resist in any way. I decided that I could explore this “thing” in a wholly different way. I continued work on a piece I had begun last week. The piece involved colors that were almost pink. And this afternoon, on top of my mother’s lace tablecloth (beneath which there is, of course, a pink cotton tablecloth), I laid out some old newspapers and brought my painting supplies into the dining room. I pulled out my tube of alizarin red and titanium white and I began to work.