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234 × 156 × 20 mm
208 pages
59 colour illustrations
01 Jun 2013
  • £25.00

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Blue Mythologies Reflections on a Colour Carol Mavor

The sea, the sky, the veins of your hands, the earth itself when photographed from space . . . Blue sometimes seems to overwhelm all the other shades of our world in its all-encompassing presence.

The blues of Blue Mythologies include those present in the world’s religions, a robin’s egg, science, slavery, gender, sex, art, literature and contemporary film. Carol Mavor’s engaging and elegiac readings in this beautifully illustrated book are at once sociological, literary, historical and visual, taking the reader from the blue of a new-born baby’s eyes to Giotto’s frescoes at Padua, and from the films of Derek Jarman and Krzysztof Kieślowski to the islands of Venice and Aran.

In each example Mavor unpicks meaning both above and below the surface of culture. In an echo of Roland Barthes’ essays in Mythologies, blue is unleashed as our most familiar and most paradoxical colour. Blue Mythologies gives us a fresh and contemplative look into the traditions, tales and connotations of those somethings blue.

‘Julia Kristeva has said that “colour is not zero meaning: it is excess meaning”. Art historian Carol Mavor’s evocative and eclectic collection of essays demonstrates how true this is . . . Drawing on the history of art, photography, literature and her own memories, Mavor dives deep into an ocean of blueness . . . Sumptuously illustrated throughout, Mavor’s writing – inspired by Roland Barthes’s Mythologies – is rich with insights, both theoretical and persona . . . To quote Colette, Mavor is without doubt a true “connoisseur of blue”.’ — The Guardian

‘What is it about blue that prompts a precious kind of reverie, just a sigh
away (or maybe not) from whimsy? It’s surely the hue of bright modernity: blue jeans, blue-liveried liners on blue seas under blue skies, a blurry blue world seen from space. Of course, all those new blues are now old ones: 20th-century blues. There are blues and blues, chromo-culturally speaking, and Carol Mavor’s Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour is all about infinite or involuted meanings, the plunge into a blue that Rebecca Solnit, in her Field Guide to Getting Lost, calls the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in. Blue, in Mavor’s vertiginous essay, is not so much an object of art-historical analysis as an energy or atmosphere, the very mood in which [Mavor] thinks and writes.’ — Brian Dillon, Modern Painters

‘In Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour, Carol Mavor, moves between mediums and centuries, examining Paul Gauguin’s paintings, Marcel Proust’s writings, the films of French director Agnes Varda, and much more. Fifty-nine color plates add lush visuals and the blue ribbon marker is a nice touch.’ — Boston Globe

‘[an] evocative new book a work which wanders at will over a world of blue. Mavor’s book could hardly be less constrained by its divided subject. Hers is a stream of consciousness, illustrated by a lavish wash of colour reproductions’ — Times Higher Education

‘The color plates reveal an astonishing variety of shades, from the blue-tinged grey of Gauguin’s Little Girl Dreaming to the rich purple of Yves Klein’s painting People Begin to Fly to the foggy light-blue sky and cliff in Fred Holland Days photograph, Nude Youth in Rocky Landscape . . . This fine, multi-disciplinary work explores the color’s aesthetic and emotional resonances from a fresh perspective.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘Mavor offers an engaging and poetic exploration of the color blue. Like Joseph Cornell assembling one of his boxes, Mavor articulates this metaphorical exploration in a series of short chapters. As expected, the symbolic meanings and psychological effects of the color are introduced. Less expected is the wide range of media, including literature music poetry film objects places and individuals. Theory, notably that of Roland Barthes (whose Mythologies inspired the books structure) is integrated skillfully so as not to interrupt the reader’s progress. Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Describing a color is the challenge Carol Mavor takes up in Blue Mythologies, and more obliquely in Black and Blue, and she does it beautifully. These two books are the latest blossoms Mavor has cultivated, works that confirm the tenderness of her critical passions. She is a kissing cousin of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Susan Stewart, in her attention to touch and affect, in her sensitivity to her own emotions and sense perceptions in her apprehension of art. So, for an art historian in particular, her work is singular, unusually labile, sensuous, associative . . .’ — Critical Quarterly

‘In Blue Mythologies, Carol Mavor provides her own reflections on blue, as her subtitle reads, employing as a guide no discernible chronology but for the admirable compass of her own affective and intellectual sensibilities . . . Mavor has developed a style that marries the erudition of scholarly writing with the intimacy of a diary . . . illustrated throughout by lavish reproductions of everything from 14th century frescoes to 21st century contemporary daguerreotypes, Mavor is at her somersaulting best, moving effortlessly between disciplines . . . The success of her book is to coax us into having a less complacent attitude to our own contradictory investments, even when it comes to something as apparently innocuous as a color.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘An exciting literary treasure hunt that maps out the color blue as a pathway to experience and memory.’ — Shelfawareness

‘Carol Mavor’s work is the closest to that of Roland Barthes we are ever likely to have. What I like about it is that it is as artistic as the art which is its subject matter. Carol Mavor not only studies blue, she bleeds it.’ — Hayden White, Emeritus Professor of the History of Consciousness, University of California

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Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Manchester. She has published widely on photography, cinema, colour and childhood. Her books include Aurelia: Art and Literature through the Mouth of the Fairy Tale (Reaktion, 2017).

Introduction: Paradoxically Blue
1 Everything is Blue
2 Blue is Joyful-Sad
3 Unwrapping “Blue Boy”
4 One Cat, Four Girls, Three Blue-and-White Pots: Walpole’s “Selima” and Sargent’s “Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”
5 “A Thing of Blue Beauty is a Guilt for Ever”
6 Milk and Sugar are Blue
7 Timber, Timbre: Hearing Blue Again
8 A Bolt from the Blue
9 Semioclasm Cyanoclasm
10 Like a Stocking: Two Paths of Metaphor and Metonymy
11 Blue Lessons: A Patch of Blue, a Blue Cardigan  Buttoned and a Robin’s Egg
12 To Blue: Helen Chadwick’s Oval Court
13 “A Foggy Lullaby”
14 Words Fail
15 A Blue Fawn’s Eye
16 “Blue Albertine” and “Blue Ariane” (Marcel Proust and Chantal Akerman)
17 A Blue Lollipop (Krzystof Kieslowski)
18 “O Blue”
19 Venice is a Wet Map: Tadzio is Blue
20 Domestic Blues: Agnès Varda’s “Le Bonheur”
21 Aran is a Blue Place Where it is Hard to Find Anything Missing
22 In Lieu of a Blue Ending: Un-knitting a Cerulean Jumper
Photo acknowledgements