Like marigolds in the desert

Published January 1, 2021, 8:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year, highlight hope at a time it is most needed

GRAY HAZE Morning in Salzburg, Austria

Stormclouds are gray. Thunderclouds are grayer, more sinister. Nobody looks up at drab, dreary. gray skies.

It might seem like a bad joke that Pantone must choose Ultimate Gray as a Color of the Year for 2021. After all, 2020 even as it has transitioned into 2021 has been a big stormcloud. It’s been raining on our parade, a no-no in this age of social-distancing because, like any mass gathering, it is a superspreader.

Detaii, Marigold by Bonnie Kelso

But Pantone knows what it is doing, which is why it has paired Ultimate Gray (Pantone 17-5104) with another color, Illuminating (Pantone 13-0647), a bright, cheerful, vivacious yellow, imbued with solar power. Describing it as “a marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting,” this is only the second time Pantone has chosen two colors for the year in its history.

WHAT’S ON THE COVER Pantone colors of the year 2021 Ultimate Gray and Illuminating

The duo is the color of our days at the moment. We are still reeling from what has proved to be the worst year since World War II even as we dust ourselves off for this new year that we hope will be better and kinder or at least safer.

It’s a poetic choice. Behind these gray clouds, even if we don’t see it, is sunshine. When there is enough sun, it clears the sky of these menacing clouds. The colors of 2021 highlight hope because hope is most needed, most precious, and most powerful when all odds are against it. Yellow shines bright against gray, like marigolds in a desert, like a flame in the dark, like hope in desolation.

In Europe and America and everywhere else in the world, hardly anyone picks gray when asked about their favorite color, only one percent according to a survey. An intermediate between black and white, it seems neither here nor there, neither bold nor timid, neither masculine nor feminine, neither intrinsically warm nor cold. Some people find it undefined or indecisive, like a fencesitter, the color of barbed wire on a fence, except that the barbed wire has a lot more spunk.

The truth is usually somewhere in the gray turbulent eddies set in motion by the mixture of black and white.

—Ken Poirot

Between black and white is a vastness we call the gray area, the realm of possibilities that could go either way, where lies a great opportunity to muster determination, to harness resolve, to build character. It is in the gray area, which is clearly not one thing or the other, such as between right and wrong, that we are prepared for life’s arena of impossible choices, that we are compelled to make a stand.

GRAY IS GREAT Flowers from Etsy

We are in this portion of the spectrum. It is here that we navigate our way between black and white, between the angel and the devil, between good and evil. It is in the gray that we are lost, confused, blinded, or misguided but, by so being, it is also here—and how—we have every chance to find the path best for us.

If our souls were visible, it will be free, unconstricted by shape, of indefinite size, and neutral as gray, dark like charcoal, light like silver, cool when mixed with blue, green, or violet, warm when tinged with red, orange, or yellow. Gray is the color of the vast unknown, like our souls, like our future, like the end of this pandemic at this point.

SERENE HOME House interior in this year’s pantone colors Photo from AtDeco

And so here and now, stripped of our armor, having survived over 10 months of a plague, ever more aware of our mortality and our weaknesses, we all of us are gray, revealed in the true state of our quest for the ultimate truth and our battle for survival.

But gray is great. It is the color of a firm foundation, solid as steel, piercing as a bullet, implacable as iron will. It is the color of fortitude in this win-some, lose-some life.

Gray is what brings out the silver lining hiding beneath the heavy clouds. Gray is the ash to which, in our final triumph, we return. Until then, gray is the wolf we try to tame, the faint glow of the moon in our darkest hour. Between clarity and doubt, everything that is true is gray.

This year, gray is what will keep us rooted to our truest nature, to that which is constant and unchangeable in us, immovable even in the storms of our time.

But choose gray with a pop of color.

Maybe that’s why Pantone chose not one but two colors for 2021, not as either or, but in combination, like yin and yang. This year’s dual choice, as the color experts at the company have put it, “is a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.”

Gray, compared to other colors, is nondescript, undefined, sometimes indecisive, so this year, pair it with sunshine, with Illuminating, the other color of 2021 that, against gray, is the unwavering color of hope.