Every Color of Light: A Stunning Japanese Illustrated Celebration of Change, the Sky, and the Fullness of Life
A synesthetic invitation to dance across the full span of the spectrum within and without.
By Maria Popova
One of the most bewildering things about life is how ever-shifting the inner weather systems are, yet how wholly each storm consumes us when it comes, how completely suffering not only darkens the inner firmament but dims the prospective imagination itself, so that we cease being able to imagine the return of the light. But the light does return to lift the darkness and restore the world’s color — as in nature, so in the subset of it that is human nature. “We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness,” Loren Eiseley wrote in one of the greatest essays ever written. “We forget that each one of us in his personal life repeats that miracle.”
We forget, too, just how much of life’s miraculousness resides in the latitude of the spectrum of experience and our dance across it, how much of life’s vibrancy radiates from the contrast between the various hues, between the darkness and the light. There is, after all, something eminently uninteresting about a perpetually blue sky. Van Gogh knew this when he contemplated “the drama of a storm in nature, the drama of sorrow in life” as essential fuel for art and life. Coleridge knew it as he huddled in a hollow to behold “the power and ‘eternal link’ of energy” in his transcendent encounter with a violent storm.
The life-affirming splendor of the spectrum within and without is what Japanese poet and picture-book author Hiroshi Osada and artist Ryoji Arai celebrate in Every Color of Light: A Book about the Sky (public library), translated by David Boyd — a tender serenade to the elements that unspools into a lullaby, inviting ecstatic wakefulness to the fulness of life, inviting a serene surrender to slumber.
Born in Fukushima just as World War II was breaking out, Osada composed this spare, lyrical book upon turning eighty, having lived through unimaginable storms. I can’t help but read it in consonance with Pico Iyer’s soulful meditation on autumn light and finding beauty in impermanence, drawn from his many years in Japan. Arai’s almost synesthetic art — radiating more than color, radiating sound, a kind of buzzing aliveness — only amplifies this sense of consolation in the drama of the elements, this sense of change as a portal not to terror but to transcendent serenity.
The story traces the symphonic movements of a storm. The pitter-patter of a rainy day crescendoes into whipping wind and slanting rain as the blues grow darker and the greens deeper, suddenly interrupted by the electric kaleidoscope of lightning.
And then, just like that, the storm passes, leaving a shimmering light-filled sky in its wake, leaving the darkened colors not just restored but imbued with a new vibrancy as the setting sun blankets everything with its golden light.
The shadows grow longer, the birds go to roost, the Moon rises enormous and ancient against the clear star-salted sky, and the time for sleep comes like birdsong, like a moonrise, like a whispered poem.
Complement the subtle and staggeringly beautiful Every Color of Light with science-inspired artist Lauren Redniss’s wondrous Thunder & Lightning and artist Maira Kalman’s charming MoMA collaboration with author Daniel Handler, Weather, Weather, then revisit Little Tree — Japanese graphic designer and book artist Katsumi Komagata’s uncommonly magical pop-up celebration fo the cycle of life — and Georgia O’Keeffe’s serenade to the sky.
Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books. Photographs by Maria Popova.
Published October 13, 2020