In Lovely Blueness: Adventures in Troubled Light

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In 2004 Colm Toibin curated an exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin called 'Blue' which consisted of blue objects from the collection. This is his introduction to the catalogue.

When no one was watching I lowered myself into the calm ocean. The snorkel hurt my nose and the goggles kept misting over. But I swam out and put my head down nonetheless, knowing that I was missing the real world down there, yards and yards down there, where I could be now, if only I was brave. Suddenly, I stopped thinking and gave up feling sorry for myself. Suddenly, I was looking down at the most astonishing set of colours. At first it was as though some of the great colourists had been down here before me: Yves Klein clearly had painted that plant his signature blue; surely Sam Francis had been here to paint a school of fish a most artificial set of bright blue stripes; certainly Titian himself had descended with brush in hand to paint the coral a great bright blue.
I came up for air, and removed the snokel, then I just held my nose and opened my eyes and looked down for as long as I could. There were no words for the variety of blues that were down there, the coral itself, the plant life and the fish that came and went in a choreography of indigo, ink blue, deep blue, Prussian blue, turquoise and many other shades of blue which seemed to take their colour from culture rather than nature. Nothing in nature could be that blue.
For an hour as the others sampled the blue panic of the deep, I skimmed the surface. So much of nature’s blue is reflection. It is easy to imagine that the sea is blue because the sky is blue, just as the sea is gun-metal blue when the sky is overcast. These colours at the Great Barrier Reef, on the other hand, just under the surface, were reflections of nothing, they were livid with brightness, more stunning in their vivid presence than anything above the water in the natural universe. No photograph could do justice to this beauty and no memory can capture its suddeness, its absolute urgency, the fresh coldness of its statement. When they came back, my companions said they had been invigorated by their journey down. I smiled and said that it had been interesting in the real world too. We signed our names to prove we were not still down there and then we returned to the banality of the shore.

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