« Now we are in love with each other. I think of her and she thinks of me. When she sees me arrive in the fields she is happy. » Pierre
As I begin this collection of Color Tales, investigating different artists’ love stories with one particular color, exploring its different stages: the birth of adoration, the expansion of passion, and the lifelong union, I shall begin with a peculiar story, Pierre’s Tale of Indigo. The story takes place in Marie Galante, a mystical island on the shore of Guadeloupe, composed on three little towns, and a floating sense of contradiction. In this abundant natural oasis, composed of the most opulent fauna and flora, urbanized areas clash with the harmonious landscapes, with the island's slaughterhouse and rhum distilleries leaving a morose and bitter stench of reality. This evident paradox is in fact a cruel remnants of Marie Galante's colonial past, depicting an atemporal clash between the magical and the commercial.
"Nature does not so much disappear as exist in layers of such histories, with each layer written across the one before so that the earlier layers continue to be visible in a smudged-out and sometimes surprising way." Taussing, Redeeming Indigo
Marie Galante's dozens of indigo factories which thrived in the 17th century, and symbolically formed the colorful tapestry of the island's local identity, were destroyed following a British and French invasion, replaced by cheap mass production of sugar cane. Now, the celebration and cultivation of indigo is singularly sustained by Pierre's heartfelt devotion to the plant, the color, and the magical dimensions it opens. Meet Pierre, a retired dancer, cultivator of Indigo, performer (I’d personally add alchemist, sorcerer, poet) and perhaps most importantly, a story teller.
‘La Maison Indigo’, Marie-Galante, Pierre
Tell us about your story with Indigo. Why indigo? Take us into your heart.
Look sister, before all of this, I didn't even know indigo existed. It’s fate, life. I was born here but didn’t think I would come back. And then I stumbled into this place, through a friend of something I read, I don’t remember clearly. What matters is that Indigo called, I answered.
Did you have any artistic passions before?
Dance. That world made me run away. It scared me, if I had continued I would have gone insane. I was a modern jazz dancer. I stopped dancing and that was a good thing. I stopped doing show business and bought a wood company. I decided to do show business with animals, the forest you know (laughs). It was much cooler.
Then I came to Marie Galante. I discovered that there was this plant (indigo). People talked about it so well. I met the sister who is in charge of the place (Anne, of the Indigo House) and she told me she needed a hand. Progressively, I became her apprentice. I learnt, observed, and realized that people from all over the world Japan, Canada, Argentina, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy... THE WORLD… They came here…
At the Indigo house, for the indigo?
That's it. For the indigo my sister. I arrived, was enchanted by the feminine that I saw. And finally I told myself that I loved the feminine but adored the plant. It has its own character, the devil. But I said to myself that we will get to know each other (the plant and I). Now we are in love with each other. I think of her and she thinks of me. When she sees me arrive in the fields she is happy. I am like the wind. I am at peace. This is thanks to the plant (indigo), she makes me discover incredible things. I am still learning. The process of transformation amazes me. You start from a plant, to make it become a liquor, and this liquor becomes a stone. And this stone is worth the sea, the sky, celestial.
And you say to yourself « but what is this delirium, how can a plant do all this, be all this, it’s so curious! »
Do You feel like an alchemist?
Yes, seriously. Especially since I read the book The Alchemist. I read that, and everything became so clear. You create living bacteria when you transform indigo. Live bacteria feeds your skin. So, for many reasons, this plant is extraordinary. In fact I have two women, Marie-Galante and the plant. And these women… I live for them. This is my mission. I live it really easy.
The color indigo is a mysterious color, we don't even know what it looks like exactly…But it is beautiful and melodic as a color. Tell me more about it.
Not long ago I was listening to the song of Nina Simone ‘Indigo Mood’. I thought to myself ‘how?’. How did this woman end up writing about indigo? The jazz... Indigo. How is it possible? Why is it such a phenomenon? And then you look at the sea, and you look at the sky, and you realize that it's all the same. It's all the same. It’s all indigo. Purple, blue. How is that possible? I said to myself, « take care of her ». The plant is big. The proof. You are attracted by the plant, what it gives off, its energy. This plant is crazy. I used to work in the forest, I admired the majestic plants, the oaks. When you burn the indigo blue flames appear. It’s other-worldly. Now, you have to know that at the beginning of it all my sister, blue was considered a diabolical color.
It’s interesting that you say that because typically in painting, blue is often associated to melancholy, coldness, fear. Look at the perfidious blue of Picasso, it’s beautiful, but it is sad, almost gloomy.
Before! Before! Before it was like that! Before we discovered the magical energy of the plant. The pharaohs called it the azure piece, it was considered to be so precious, so full of life. The Black Sea used to be the road of the indigo, where the turquoise was transported.
It's true that indigo is a curious color, we don't talk about it too much, it's like a myth… Isn’t it?
That's right. People who wore indigo before were often close to the spirits. The Japanese when they wear it, it's not just any way. Africa? Wow, my sister. The darker it is, the more mystical it is. Like the sea. You go swimming in the turquoise sea, but would you go swimming in the abyss? There's something a diver told me, when you're very deep and you can't see the light anymore, it's exactly like an indigo tank. And there are bacteria in it, for fish, plankton, just like in an indigo tank. An ocean of living bacteria. The big blue. How is this possible? That a tank of indigo is like the depths of the sea. A lot of people have even got their heads around this, sister. The Germans went to great lengths. They found the indigo molecule. Then they looked to see if any other plant had this molecule... None! The indigo has all the feelings that the human being can have. When you come here you come back different...I feel the stuff; I just feel, it's very strong in spiritual energy here. I don't talk much, it's the plant that brings out these emotions, these demons in people...
The way you talk about it, it seems to me that indigo is still a mystery to you... Am I wrong?
Ah yes yes yes yes yes. That's the mystery. When they discovered the indigo liquor they called it devil. Little devil. It has many secrets…
Is there a certain duality in the indigo? The goodness, the beauty, the love, the cosmic. Then also the diabolical, the depths under the sea, and the monsters that live there?
Definitely. Yes. It's a celestial color. It's THE celestial color. Celestial is the impalpable. It's like inside you, you're going to feel things. You don't really know what's inside. Indigo is the same. It has its depths. Look, the plant can give you a beautiful blue, but if it’s not in a good mood it gives you a horrible color. And you see before, the people who had blue hands, they were wizards. If you were in a war, you wore blue. Then it came to France because Louis 9 found the azure, celestial blue, and he thought he was a God, and from then on blue became a color that we like. The painters also painted the sky and the sea in blue, so people started to like blue. The blue sea, you realize, while we saw it gray suddenly it became blue! It was a revolution! The goal of this plant for those who are curious to stop for two seconds, is this... To be able to decide for us. I discover something in myself through it. That's why all the people who come to the workshop, to tint clothes or create art with the indigo, they leave changed... It is a magic plant... That's why it is called blue magic. Yet there are all the colors in it, yellow, blue and green. That's what's crazy. This color holds all the colors, it is the absolute color. And this plant is part of Marie Galante, of the identity of the island.
Blue is a bit like a house. I don’t think you can rank colors, they are all powerful. But everyone gravitates very strongly towards blue.
Already the blue is not the indigo. Blue comes from indigo. The blue comes from those who have synthesized indigo. But the BASE is always the plant. Then they manipulated it chemically, and instead of making a living bacterium, they (the scientists) transformed it into a dead bacterium. To be able to produce in mass. And that's where the blue loses its strength. You see with a bowl of indigo you make little pigment. But it's a pigment loaded with living bacteria, loaded with cosmic energy....And that's why we don't hear much about indigo anymore. Because scientists have found chemical alternatives... And now we create poor blue, not a blue filled with love. I am nothing but the beautiful speaker, the facade of the indigo, it is the spirit of the indigo which makes the masks fall, you cannot speak to me with artifice. We speak about things in depth. You dive in the indigo, you dive in the sea, you dive in your own depths, this plant asks you to go there. When you create black it's not the same. The black if you knew what they put in there you wouldn't wear it. And yellow is like indigo for example. It's not the same.
If you could give a word to describe indigo?
Love. That's what indigo gave me, unconditional love.
I was already in it. In the trees, in nature, so I am that. I am not playing, I am. I am the sea, I am the tree, I am the animal, I am even your shoes. Here I am at peace. Peace means in love. And with a big A. I can give you love like the ocean. That's why afterwards you need to regenerate. To receive love that will recharge you. When you transform indigo into a pigment in the tank, you mix and ferment the plant by making an 8. Why? Because it is the infinite, the cyclic. Love is a continuous and infinite cycle. The plant feeds me with love and then I can feed others with love. It is the infinite... All this is shamanism. Indigo is the plant of beyond.