It’s Friday night right before Pride weekend—just after a landmark Supreme Court ruling making equal marriage rights into national law throughout the United States. I just realized I am painting a rainbow mantis shrimp (as a part of one of my weird paintings). Tomorrow I am going to a children’s birthday party to paint faces. It occurs to me that maybe I should write about rainbows—the quintessential manifestation of color, joie de vivre, and liberation (political, sexual, spiritual, and otherwise).
Of course rainbows are really a meteorological/optic phenomenon which can be seen whenever there are water drops suspended in the atmosphere with sunlight shining through (from behind the observer) at a particular angle. The light is refracted into a prismatic range of visible wavelengths. This rote description however does scarce justice to the great beauty of the effect which has a transcendent glowing loveliness.
Thanks to this otherworldly beauty, the rainbow has many mythological associations in different pantheons: divine messengers use it as a bridge in Greek and Norse mythology, while the rainbow serpent rides it throughout the multiverse in aboriginal myth! In the Judeo-Christian Bible, the rainbow represents God’s covenant not to destroy all life ever again…by means of flood (a binding promise which always struck me as dangerously undermined by the appended clause). The leprechauns’ gold is hidden at the end of the rainbow—which is a place which can never be reached since the colors are an effect of light and not a real object (which makes it a perfect hiding place for the fantasy gold of mythical beings).
Rainbows have a long history as political symbols as well. The rainbow was the logo of the Cooperative movement during the German Peasant’s War of the 16th century (a profoundly unhappy social lesson which I will write about in detail as soon as I get some of that leprechaun gold). It has been used as a general symbol of peace after the World Wars (and even longer in Italy) and of racial cooperation in the sixties and, more especially, in post-Apartheid South Africa. Since the seventies, the rainbow has been the symbol of gay pride and the LGBT social movement—progressive trends which have made astounding transfigurative leaps within my own lifetime. The original pride flag was designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 for the first Pride parade (which took place of June 25th of that year).
Baker’s original eight stripe LGBT rainbow has been gradually pared down to six colors by marketers in their obsessive bid to make things more simple and iconic (a broader sales philosophy which seems to me to strip the beauty and meaning from many aspects of the world). Hopefully the rainbow—symbolic or real–won’t be further compromised by such dodgy principles! In the meantime have a delightful midsummer weekend and celebrate. Here in New York, it is supposed to rain and be beautiful at the same time, so perhaps we will get a real rainbow to compare with all of the flags and ornaments.