top of page
  • Writer's picturesharonkingston

Tori Amos, Cezanne’s The Black Clock, Rilke’s 16 shades of blue and Turning 50

Thunderstorm Blue 12 x 16 inches, Sharon Kingston

This is one of those moments of serendipity.  I’ve been ruminating about how to approach a new series of paintings using color, the emotion of color and our relationship to color as the primary source material.  I’ve found myself reading up on the psychology of color, buying paint, collecting paint chips and indexing images, but hadn’t until today hit on something that stuck.  While wandering around online, I stumbled on the NPR story of Tori Amos (a fave 20 years ago when I lived in San Francisco) and her new album.  The featured song, 16 shades of blue, is a song written about aging (turning 50) and influenced by Cezanne’s The Black Clock and Rilke’s writings on Cezanne as expressed as the 16 shades of blue.  It is a marriage of ideas that is sure to inspire a series, Blue Musings is the working title.  The information below is a way for me to keep handy source material, words and thoughts.  It will all become part of my paintings, I’m sure.  I’m just so excited to wrap the concept up with another facet of Rilke, my muse.

From Tori Amos

For the first time, she found herself influenced by visual art, most notably Cezanne, who inspired 16 Shades of Blue after she had seen his painting The Black Clock. “Rhythms and music started happening in my head,” she nods. “Then I began reading that Rilke would say that he [Cezanne] would paint in at least 16 shades of blue at times. All of sudden, it just came together: a story about age, and what it means to turn different ages at different times. I was hearing from women about their different struggles with age, and quite frankly I wasn’t prepared for it. So as I was staring 50 straight in the eye, that then became the song.”  Read more.

Cezanne’s The Black Clock

16 Shades of Blue

are you telling me it’s over disintegrating lost and there’s nothing I can do before you drop another verbal bomb, can I arm myself with Cezanne’s 16 shades of blue as my heart is slowly ripping into pieces disconnecting from the circuits of my mind “you’ll get over it” you say “in time” in time? if the clocks are black absorbing everything but a remembering how we made it that clocks are black you say “get over it if 50 is the new black, hooray this could be your lucky day” but my cables they are surging almost over loading as you disengage could your heart be slowly ripping into pieces disconnecting from the circuits of your mind “we’ll get over it” you say “in time” in time? if the clocks are black absorbing everything but a remembering how we made it that clocks are black “that’s it you’re done. You’ve screwed up your life” before you’ve begun there are those who say I am now too old to play see over there at 33 she fears she’ll lose her job because they hear the ticking of her clock at only 15 I said 15, they say her future’s bleak she should have started this at 3 as her heart is slowly ripping into pieces disconnecting from the circuits of her mind “she’ll get over it” you say “in time” in time? stop Father Time   if the clocks are black absorbing everything but a remembering how we made it that how our clocks are black before you drop another verbal bomb can I arm myself with Cezanne’s 16 shades of blue 

Here are some things written about Rilke’s descriptions of Cezanne’s blues From an  NY Times exerpt /article on the book by Albers of Joan Mitchell Joan…discovered what proved to be an abiding passion for Prague-born Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke’s woundedness, yearning for transcendence, feeling that ordinary life is not real life, and love of trees and stars deeply moved her. So too did his vulnerability to the external world: witness the scene in Rilke’s autobiographical novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (which she read many times) in which the narrator remembers dining in his family’s banquet hall as a child:

You sat there as if you had disintegrated — totally without will, without consciousness, without pleasure, without defense. You were like an empty space. I remember that at first this state of annihilation almost made me feel nauseated; it brought on a kind of seasickness, which I only overcame by stretching out my leg until my foot touched the knee of my father, who was sitting opposite me.

Moreover, Rilke looked to painting, especially Cézanne’s, as a model for poetry. In late 1907, the writer visited the Paris Salon d’Automne nearly every day, seeking to memorize the work of the Post-Impressionist, whose discipline, nuance, precision, and chromatic emotion he emulated. Having visually devoured the blues that dominate Cézanne’s late work, Rilke wrote, in Letters on Cézanne (another Joan favorite), of “an ancient Egyptian shadow blue” seen while crossing the Place de la Concorde, of the “wet dark blue” in a certain van Gogh, of the “hermetic blue” of a Rodin watercolor, of “the dense waxy blue of the Pompeiian wall paintings,” and of “a kind of thunderstorm blue” in a work by the Master of Aix — fabulous stuff for the future painter of Hudson River Day Line, Blue Territory, and La Grande Vallée, among myriad triumphs of blueness. 

Perhaps this is best seen in a number of letters in which he produces a series or variations on the color blue. In these descriptions, Rilke moves beyond technical terms such as indigo or Prussian blue. In fact, the words are coming from an entirely new realm of language and description, one that appears to initially personify or reveal Rilke’s bias. There is a “good conscience blue” (50), a “completely supportless blue” (44). There is a “thunderstorm blue”(88) and a ‘listening blue”(87) in Cezanne’s work. To some, in the last image the overt personification of blue has gone too far, and yet there seems to be no better word for that type of blue which is in quiet accordance with other colors, which absorbs the noise of another color as a sound is absorbed by an attentive ear.  Source

There are also these descriptions of blue:  The color blue, for example, he describes in various “active” ways, attributing qualities to the color that aren’t normally associated with colors, let alone such nuances of the color blue: juicy blue, full of revolt blue, blissful barely blue, Egyptian shadow blue, etc.  Source

Much more is written about Rilke’s views on Cezanne and the color blue here.

And finally, the poem Blue Hydrangea as written about by VQR

230 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


    bottom of page