Rest in peace Cadmium Yellow, Orange and Red (c.1829-2014). Your vibrant, exuberant and reliable reign is about to be brutally terminated. Cut down in your prime by colorless legislators in the European Union.
Cadmium pigment for oils, acrylic, and watercolor has been an ingredient of artists’ palettes since the 19th century, and prized for brilliance, intensity, and lightfastness.
The EU believes that suitable alternatives can be made or do exist. But what is wrong with something which has been used all these years? If it ain’t broke–don’t fix it.
The relatively high cost meant that few painters could afford to use it until World War 1. (Strangely, J.M.W. Turner, an often reckless dabbler in new media, doesn’t seem to have tried cadmium yellow.
It was used to paint vehicles, and to color soap,glass, jewelry, toys and later plastics. The most famous use of cadmium yellow was for the New York taxi. Whistler, Monet, Matisse, Munch, Picasso, Warhol, (and Kayti Rasmussen) have all relied on it.
Granted that the paint is dangerous if eaten or inhaled, but it does come with a warning, like all the other things government has taken away such as DDT, Diazinon, etc. It may be dangerous to open a can of Pillsbury biscuits, they do have a habit of exploding.
Painters use a relatively small amount of cadmium. They argue that the problem is caused by the industrial use of cadmium in batteries.
Could there be a puritanical motive in banning cadmium paints? Barnett Newman’s most famous work was the series of 1960’s murals titled “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”. He was of course referring to cadmium red and yellow. The point he was trying to make is that people are afraid of large blocks of color, seeing them as hedonistic and frivolous.
For the past two decades the dominant color among designers has been gray (Fifty Shades of Grey), with black in the wings. Car manufacturers have had almost no need for cadmium yellow or red–practically everyone drives a black, grayish, or white car, often with dark tinted windows.
Mark Twain took a trip to India with his family who were dressed soberly in dark sensible colors. He was impressed to see Indian ladies in colorful sari, smiling at him as they passed by. Were they happy because they were wearing color, were his family unhappy because they weren’t? Who knows?
Looking around, I see that I am typing on a black keyboard, which is feeding into a black computer. I recently bought another pair of black pants to go with my other five pair of black pants. But I’m clinging to a bright cadmium orange top.