top of page


the symbolism of blue

A search for the symbolism of blue returns this simple and frequent result: Blue is the color of the sky and sea. 



Thinking about my favorite sea paintings I come back again and again to 'night sea' by Agnes Martin and the seascapes painted by Gerhard Richter. Two ends of the spectrum of representing the energy and feelings associated with this body of water.


night sea description and making

Watery field, inchoate and surging

swell and recession

actually layers of 3 different blues

no other work in lapis-like blue at this scale from any year

the ultramarine (beyond the sea) of the night sea is particular --trial and error in the course of painting, selecting pigments with the intense concern that underscored her approach more broadly

brilliant blue, intermediary blue and opaque blue-green


why square format?

Square format (something Richter also concluded to be important for his seascapes) offered permanence and stability making it a constant factor in a transient and corruptible world. Imposing order on chaos.



Also regarding the gold element of Night Sea, which is speculated to be gold leaf.

Gold contributes to a sense of flux. Gold is physically immutable but radically contingent to effects of atmosphere--both undefined and infinite. "notion of light radiating from behind a barrier forward into the eyes of the receiver."


night sea journey

water as a symbolic means of transformation

night seas must be crossed in solitude

disquiet and peace at poles

flickering alternation of figure and ground

limits of visible--incipient terror of unknown



Night sea was the last of Martin's process-based works. After this, the struggle to achieve a composition happened elsewhere, at a safe remove from the art. This is the last piece where the fight for form was in the work itself, and remained evidence of their becoming.


 "it was not a matter of representing nature, but of representing those sensations of exultation which nature commonly elicits--feelings of leaving the ego behind and merging into a field of vision without objects, interruptions or daily cares."


"My response to nature is really a response to beauty"



8781 (1).jpg

Agnes Martin, night sea, 1963

Gerhard Richter, sea-sea 1970

Once there were two lovers that had equal hearts.
One would pursue one,
the other would pursue the other.

Then the angels looked down and said:
“What a waste,” and made them perceive each other.
Their hearts melted into one.

They had no use for the world
so they leaped into the swift river.
This heart was always restless
and the only place where it had any rest at all was on the beach.

But even on the beach one said:
“I wish we’d never been made one.”
And immediately one half flew up in the sky
and the other half into the sea.
But they yearned for each other.
And when it rained the one in the sea said:
“This is a message from my other half in the sky.”
And when the water was evaporated from the ocean and rose
up, the other said:
“This is a message from my other half in the sea.”

The angels were stumped.
There’s one thing that God is not able to endure –
a suffering heart.
He felt one half in the sky and one half in the sea.

God thought what to do.
So the one in the sky fell down into the sea
and immediately both turned to sea water.
Ever since that time when the water is drawn up from the sea
and it rains this is not an ordinary rain. It’s the rain
that affects people and softens them.
I painted a painting called This Rain.


Agnes Martin. “Writings” published by Hatje Cantz, 2005. Painting by Agnes Martin, “This Rain,”

    bottom of page