16th Jan 2021
Colours and their associations are deeply etched into the earliest recollections of my 1960’s and 70’s childhood. The first being a turquoise oyster satin bridesmaid dress I wore as a five year old and the others too. Strangely textured pale teal Crimpolene, mint green crochet and acid yellow Easter dresses all in matching pairs worn by my sister and I. There was a red coat with black buttons (aged 6). A black coat with red piping (aged 12). Coloured ribbons to tie my long hair up into a pony tail, A pink gingham school uniform in summer, a maroon blazer for winter.
Growing up in leafy suburbia, the kind with rose gardens in front of the houses ~ colour was always somehow adjacent to concrete paving and partnered to that steady mix of boredom, stillness, safety and repetition. It was the was punch of manufactured colours in print, objects and fabrics that created an insistent response in me. Vinyl wallpapers, strangely lurid lithographic images in cookery books and magazines, squeaky cellophane sweet wrappers; the kaleidoscopic clatter of felt pens for colouring in.
The interiors of the homes we lived in were confidently and colourfully decorated by my parents.
Purple velvet bedroom curtains, a sunny yellow kitchen table,
Pale blue kitchen cupboards in one home, navy blue in another. These colour memories carry with them the quality of the surfaces, Shiny, tacky, smooth, woven waxy, cool. Glossy, glassy, leathery.
The experience of colour for me is intense and personal. It holds, repeats and initiates narrative; it recalls place, - it is material. I’m not particularly nostalgic about these references, I mention early impressions only to express the impact colour encounters have had on me.
The response is sensory, soft velvety brown is quiet and violet magenta sings like a tapped crystal glass. Orange looms in too close and I feel muffled around earth colours, the umbers and siennas of warmer climates. Lemon yellow rings clear and clean. Viridian, a colour one fine art tutor told me never to use, but never why, is as cool and deep as an eighteenth century plunge pool, and a favourite of mine.
As an art foundation student in the '80s I worked using gouache painted paper on the Joseph Albers inspired colour exercises, my first venture into understanding colour behaviour, and colour perception; colour magic. At the time I didn’t know that the these lessons as well as other exercises were lifted from and would forever connect me to the Bauhaus preliminary course. The aim of Albers colour course as detailed in Interaction of Color*, which often sits on the studio table, were Albers said,
'...for the student to develop an ‘eye for colour [...] this means specifically seeing colour action as well as feeling colour relatedness.’
Josef Albers, Interaction of Colour.
As anyone who has worked with theses exercises or observed colour relations in optical illusion books it is easy to see why Albers refers to colours as ‘deceitful’, they are not always what they seem..
A colour is not what it declares itself to be but how it is seen and how it is perceived and then , when, where and by whom it is perceived. subjective and beguilingly suggestive
In her lecture on colour given in 2014 at the
Whitney Museum of American Art Amy Silman says,
‘...this is what interests me the most about colour, it has its own problems, vexations and characters the fact is that colour theory is not a theory, it is merely a description for our protean world of our sensations or an attempted prediction of what might happen next.’
For SIlman colour operates
‘…as the engine of changes in my work and I work really slowly making radical colour overhauls as I go along.’
It is the process of change and changes that are where her paintings are initiated, scraped back and re-energised through paint
For me colour performs the role as a leading clue and I employ it carefully and deliberately as a positioning tool, I use the code and feel of the colour specifically to mark out an alternative place, a mixing of references to create a potential territory, to play with the associations of colour, to re-layer time and deal with the complexities of my art practice and ideas. The foundation of my own palette is industrial. I particularly like modern mineral pigments. I admire and enjoy the work of artists who’s references and pigments are rooted in nature. I start with something found on a page or in a building or chart. It's an urban rather than rural colour setting and palette; and always grey nearby
Albers in his introduction encourages us that in regard to colour, ‘what counts here - first and last - is not so called knowledge of so called facts, but vision - seeing,’ A seeing that is coupled with fantasy and imagination.’ He goes on to say.
'This searching will lead from visual realization of the interaction between colour and colour, to an awareness of the interdependence of colour with form and placement, with quantity (which measures amount, respectively extension and /or number, including recurrence); with quality (intensity of light and /or hue) and with pronouncement (by separating or connecting boundaries)'
For the last year I have been exploring the colour world that I can build and journey in from three tubes of paint that I found in a box that I had forgotten about for some years. A yellow, a violet and a blue. I am using these along with black and white. The arena that I find myself in with these colours has a couple of limitations, no pillar box red for example, this is ok there are other co-ordinates I can use. I am content to remain and push at the possibilities of these hues and their interactions for sometime yet.
Marion Piper - Studio table 2021
Josef Albers, Interaction of Colour, Yale University Press; -50th Anniversary ed. edition (31 July 2013), ISBN -10 0300179359
Podcast Instagram account @studiotable_marionpiper
The podcast can be heard here