Monday, December 24, 2012

Variations on Red and Green

Early Production Mercian
Growing up, red was my mother's favourite colour. And my mother was a tirelessly creative woman back then. She sewed, she knitted, she made things. Consequently I was dressed in red sweaters and coats. I slept under a red patchwork quilt. You get the idea. I did not know how to communicate my dislike for this colour. When I was 3 years old, I was gifted a red tricycle and stunned my parents by breaking into tears at the sight of it. I loved riding that trike. But when no one was looking, little by little I began trying to scrape the paint off. My parents grew concerned and eventually got rid of it. They must have thought I was eating the paint. 

As a teenager, I gravitated toward all things drab. This was the '90s grunge era, so that was easy enough. Army-navy stores, denim, plaid, combat boots. I rode a matte black bicycle then, and even peeled off its bright decals. When asked what my favourite colour was, I did not have an answer. In college I wore black. I made large charcoal drawings. I took black and white photos. 

Sometime in my twenties I saw a weathered old bicycle locked up to a farm gate by the river. It was a lady's bike in the signature English shade of bottle green, and the weak East Anglia sunlight was hitting it just so. The enamel paint had a special quality to it that made it resemble an aged candy wrapper. I saw it and I knew right away that I liked it. As an adult, it was a thrill to learn that I had a favourite colour after all. I began to experiment, to chase after the perfect green. Somewhere between sage, chartreuse and olive, this ideal shade existed and was waiting for me. 

After that I relaxed about colour. Blues and lilacs began to sneak their way into my surroundings, mingling nicely with the greens. Accents of pinks and reds appeared.

A couple of summers ago, I was staying in Vienna and looking to buy a vintage racing bike to bring home. A friend found me the perfect one and took me to see it. It was a bright red Moser. I remembered the trike of my childhood and laughed. "I love the bike, but I hate red." I got the Moser anyway and rode it for two years. It wasn't just red, but an unusual shade of strawberry with a subtle golden sheen to it. Everyone complimented the colour, protesting when I revealed my plan to eventually repaint the frame. "But the red is great, and it's so you!" Soon I began to receive red articles of clothing as gifts. I remembered how, as a child, I hated being known as the girl in the red coat, the girl on the red trike. But now it just struck me as funny. I still dislike red, but I guess I no longer think that's important.

I talk to lots of people about their fantasy bikes, or bikes they are nostalgic for, or bikes that simply stick in their memory for some reason. Red bikes and green bikes are mentioned more than any other kind. The colours play an important role in the story, but for reasons the story teller cannot clearly express. They will just keep repeating that it was a red bike, or a green bike, stressing the colour as if this information is pertinent to how special the bike was. It's not always a straightforward, cohesive story, just like mine is not. I suspect a lot is left out, possibly the most relevant parts. Of course we could break it down to the basics. Colour, motion, emotion. Excitement, tranquility. Stop, go. Red bikes, green bikes. But who wants to see it like that.

29 comments:

  1. So, at what point along the way to liking color did you become a painter? My father is a sign painter and I studied painting as an undergrad. It's all about color for us.

    I also dislike red and have a thing for green bikes.

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    1. In 2005 I became a painter. This was about a year after the green bike experience. Before that it was it was primarily drawing and printmaking.

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  2. I'd like to mention blue bikes. My first real bike when I was 7 was a blue Schwinn. My current favorite bike is my custom Ellis....also blue w/matching blue fenders. Perhaps it was some memory of that first bike that caused me to pick blue for my dream bike.

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    1. My favorite bikes have been blue. The first "real" bike I got when I was 8 or so (a Schwinn--what else?), my college bike (Raleigh GP), my Kogswell (repainted from Kustard) and my VO Rando, which is the plainest, but I think the nicest, blue of all. But we can also associate colors with other things; I never see a celeste bike but I know it's a Bianchi; and Bianchis in other colors...? Just not right!

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  3. Green is a very important colour and it sets off something in our brains because green is the colour of nature. It comes from having to survive, and know what's edible, what's fres, what's ripe or ready to harvest and is incredibly calming. We respond to it strongly and I finally have that 'bronze green' raleigh sports I've been hunting for years. I've been stockpiling tweed coats from the second hand store that evoke verdant green fields. Red, just as elemental I suppose, but how....is it the lipstick the guys wear in Boardwalk Empire to make their eye colours pop or Nucky's carnation that glows freakishly? Is it the colour of passion, blood, fine red wine, and edible berries? Neuroscience studies and market research into neuromemory have been done on colours and visuals: red does something BIG which is why it is being used to much on Boardwalk Empire. Or, think of walter white's super lab with the red walls and floors! I too was forced to wear red as a child. Loads and loads of red. And wool. My dad being from Scotland seemed to think I had to wear bright tartan wool dresses from Marks and Spencer. I hated it. My younger sister was spared the red for some reason. I hated red, refused to wear it for years. I had a pink phase, but stayed away from colour, choosing blacks, olive....until I let colour back in. Red was the last straw and realized I look good in it. I was also given a London Fog vintage red wool coat, but have to fix it as it had been shrunken and is a lumpy mess. Soon, I will be ready for the red coat.

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  4. Green for me! Sadly enough, I do not own a green bike, though I have tried. Seems the next year the same model I bought is offered in green, if at all. I do not like red at all, but I have three red bikes......why? I am also not all that fond of blue bikes, but have two of those as well....blue being the color of all my childhood bikes, plus all the cars in the family during those same years, so....meh. I do also have orange, purple/black fade, turquoise and black. No green! Love green!

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  5. I've had a red bike for the last few years, as my only bike as an adult...never really been a fan of the color, but it's served me well. Like you, I've been all about all black clothes for the longest time, and have only more recently allowed more colors back into my wardrobe and life in general. I just a few days ago picked up an old Raleigh Sports, in an unusually dark emerald sort of green (as opposed to the more metallic olive color I see all over Boston), and it's pretty much my ideal color for...well, pretty much everything!

    I have some modifications planned for it, as well, so it's gonna look particularly sexy when it's done, even with some chips in the old paint.

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    1. I've seen variations of the Raleigh Green as well. I wonder whether it's a real difference, or whether the paint on these particular bikes just faded (or didn't fade) funny.

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    2. I read something on Bikeforums about how the green hasn't always been exactly the same time. Mine is similar in color to your old Pashley. I took this picture of it next to the Mystic River this afternoon: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v86/MetalWarrior/IMG_20121225_124148.jpg

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  6. I have difficulties with red (can't wear it for anything) but do well with burgundy and maroon. I like green but it is a difficult color for men to wear. I like some of the muted, jadey, grey-greens.

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  7. Have you heard/seen this song/video?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQSufbRx7E0

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    1. It seems it was written just for you!

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    2. Should I ever receive such an item by mistake, I will trade you for the Green Queen... (You're sick of it, right?)

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    3. Funny, same song with lyrics printed also on Dave Moulton's blog.

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    4. Definitely not sick of it, but if you are really interested, let's talk.

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  8. Happy holidays and thank you, I've missed the weird stories! ;) Really enjoyed the vintage bikes you featured last week, too.

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  9. what happened to the Moser?

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    1. A local woman rides it now. I have to admit that I miss it.

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    2. Over the past few years I've passed along nine customs or restores. Many a time I find myself wanting them back, but in the end it is good to know someone is riding them.

      Almost afraid to admit after reading the article last night, I went to sleep not sure of the point. This a.m. Getting ready for my annual early ride (thanks, Frazz) it dawned on me. Well done.

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  10. " . . . I suspect a lot is left out, possibly the most relevant parts." < But the color of the bike IS relevant, right? (My lodged-in-memory bike is a Rivendell Saluki. It was orange, but when the light struck it just so, it glinted gold.)

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  11. Until I retired I dealt with colors every day. It was my job in graphic design and illustration. I wore black and kept things simple at home - colorwise. Then color crept into my lifestyle with my renewed interest in bicycles. I love them in colors [pastels not being my favorite]. There is such a neutral, dull and black trend that I've had a problem buying a stock bike in a color that was beautiful to me in the past few years.

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  12. Wise you are to go in search of an oh so personal shade of green. Red is a rather inflammatory color, great for firetrucks, but an overstatment too often misapplied. The bikes of my youth were red, but adolescent and adult choices have been somber: blue for a Raleigh Grand Prix and black for my current vintage 3-speed and much loved Peugeot 10-speed, from which I, too, peeled the decals. In keeping with classic tastes, I also admire the lines of British sports cars like the MG A and XK series Jaguars. Just not in red! Merry Christmas from Biscuit, Leigh and Cameron.

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  13. red bike, blue jeans, white t-shirt. for going on 50 years.

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  14. i guess i'm in the minority for loving red. it's one of my favorite colors along with yellow and orange. i currently have a yellow brompton and a orange saluki frame. i can't help but smile every time i look at them. one day, i hope to have a custom red bike. i also have a surly lht in blacktacular to keep my love for warm colors in check.

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  15. A very smart guy I know once told me ( talking about no particular thing ) "Always get the color you want or don't get it, if you don't like the color, every time you look at it it will remind you it's not what you really wanted and life's too short for that."

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  16. I loved this post too! My favourite colour when I was a little girl was purple. I was indulged by family in purple 'stuff' to the point where I was overwhelmed with purple and sick of the colour by the time I was about seven. My Mum bought me a second hand bike when I was seven and to my delight, it was red - ie, not purple! The paint was scraped a bit and there was rust here and there but I loved it at first sight. Fast forward two days, when I was back at school, and Mum, as a surprise for me, had repainted it by hand while I was in class. It was now... you guessed it... purple!!! Sigh. A red bike would have let me fit in with the other kids who had red or blue bikes. My purple bike made me a laughing stock. Parents - so well-intentioned; bless my Mum for taking the time to do something she thought I'd like. BTW I do like purple again now, decades later. I was scarred for about 30 years though :-)

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