It was around 5 a.m. on a dawning June day that I began to lift my leaden eyelids and behold the wonder of gray in all its obscurity. Starting with the dull silhouettes of branches beyond the half open shades, and moving to the almost black shape of the cupboard and the dark silver in the mirror, the drably draped clothes at the end of the bed, the not quite white sheets and bed cover, and ending with a noble cat- himself even several tints of gray by day, but in this moment epitomizing the divinity of this gray morning. The barely broken mist (and I do not say light, because it didn’t seem like light yet) of day filtered into my mythical world. Things separated in shade, but united in graydom. Demi-lucidity for my waning eyelids. It did not take me long to leave this dream for another. And when I awoke again, the world had reclaimed its colors.
How peculiar it all had all been! Night does not just turn to day, it passes through the gray first- through the shadows of yesterday, through a period of transition and uncertainty. Finally dawn rises from the ashes of the night and all is alight.
Curious to have had this experience when gray is so often associated with all the dreariness we would rather avoid. “Gray” connotes depression, boredom, ambiguity, neutrality, lifelessness, old age, fog, cold, storms, and industrialization- among other things. It seems a somber hue indeed.
In French one can even describe the weather as “Il fait gris.” Which translates literally to “It is gray” and generally denotes a dreary cloud covered day- not what one tends to look forward to.
So what sort of color is gray anyways? The mixture of black and white, or something more? And since black is not a color, but something that absorbs all visible radiation, then is gray a demi-color? Half man, half divinity so to speak?
Let’s back up a little. What makes us see a certain color? A red object is red because the properties of this object make it such that the object captures all the frequencies of light except red. So what about gray?
My father explained it very well to me: “Unlike our ears for sound the human eye does not separate the different wavelengths. Our ear does. You know when the piano plays a C while at the same time the flute plays an F sharp … White, gray and black colors are said to be achromatic, which means that they contain the same amount of different colors, zero for black, maximum for white and intermediate for gray. There is no dominant hue (frequency). I believe that a gray object is one that absorbs all colors but still re-emits some fraction of them all in a similar amount.”
I’m sure I had learned this earlier in life, but it had already faded into the gray recesses of my mind… now I can admire it anew.
Where else do you find gray beautiful? I think in the fur and feathers of animals, in the shades of black and white photographs, in the colossal slabs of mountainsides…