"Let's think of some 'up' colors, some yellow."

"Yellow makes up the yellow." 

- Zachary Gilbert from "Colors" 6 minute digital video 

These Wittgenstein-esque remarks are from the mouth of my 4 year old as he smears red, blue, and yellow acrylic paints across a raw canvas. Trying to grasp what he intends in his speech provokes my own explorations of color terminology and art talk. What is an "up" color? What did he mean by that? Was it something to do with positional orientation, heightened emotion, or perhaps the color's correspondence to movement or music? This implies also there are down colors. Deep and foreboding colors? What about right and left colors? The yellow glare of the sun is overhead as he plays outside. Is this why yellow is an up color? Up colors: shiny, intense, bright, and joyous, evoking sky, warmth, and open space.

To make up the yellow, with yellow, the color is self creating: or imagining itself, or seeing itself imagined? Maybe he meant that yellow is what it is. Yellow is fundamental; it cannot be mixed from other colors. It seems to disappear into green as you mix them together. The green is made up of yellow and blue, but using lots of yellow to try to change it back fails to do so. Then, green makes up the yellow, and the yellow is gone.

Working alongside him, including his marks among my own, entering into a special (almost collaborative) relationship: my interaction with him becomes a double-sided exploration of color, language, markmaking, and intention. I study his use of words and language and compare it to my own, to see how he is becoming socialized. Over the years spent creating art with him, the recordings show how his personhood emerges and merges...

...like a yellow mixing into green, never to return to complete yellowness, but hopefully never completely forgetting what it was like to be an up color.


Decision made:

to share time, space, materials with Zachary

to include the marks of the child. 

to become something other than the traditional solitary artistic author as well as something different from usual modes of collaboration. 

to acknowledge the inherent inequality of a situation involving vast differences in experience, expectations, abilities, intentions, and desires…

to confront/ examine the romanticization/ idealization of children's creativity, namely innocence, naivete, energy, aimlessness, colorfulness,….

-from sketchbook notes, Michael Gilbert 2009-2010.



Colors 2011- Painting 1 

40 by 50 inches, acrylic on raw canvas



Colors 2011 - Painting 2 

24 by 48 inches, acrylic on primed canvas



Colors 2011- Painting 3

19 by 35 inches, acrylic on raw canvas.