With Anish Kapoor buying the exclusive rights to the Vantablack pigment last year, and Richard Nicoll recently being commemorated with his very own Pantone shade of blue, it’s a reminder of the significance of colour.
On 1 March, Waddington Custot will host Colour is, a new exhibition looking at the wide-ranging investigations of colour from the 20th Century to present day. The relationship between colour theory and art over the last hundred years has been complex, varied, and often contradictory. Here’s what we found out from the show.
In 1963, Josef Albers published his landmark text – The Interaction of Colour. His theories were based on decades of teaching at legendary institutions, including the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, believing that in order to make art of any type, his students (including Eva Hesse and Robert Rauschenberg) needed to understand the nature of colour.
Prolific in nature – an accomplished designer, photography, printmaker and photographer, alongside being a theorist and artist – Albers’ most famous works are the Homage to the Square series, in which he used disciplined compositional structure to examine colour relationships and visual perception.
Colour Is Material
Early work by the American artist Frank Stella pursues Albers’ ideas of ‘pure’ colour. In resistance to the expressive use of paint by those associated with Abstract Expressionism, Stella perceived paintings as “a flat surface with paint on it – nothing more.”
Stella’s smooth use of industrial house paint in his early work, kept “as good as it was in the can”. The non-representational stripes and patterns were a catalyst for Minimalism – the element of simple, bold colour worked in tandem with shape and composition in order to create the artwork.
Colour Needed Liberating
Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica’s unique and radical oeuvre was highly significant in the development of contemporary art. Oiticaca uncompromising desire to liberate colour from flat, two-dimensional planes occupied his career. In his 1960 theoretical text Colour, Time and Structure, he referred to colour as “a supreme order similar to the supreme order of architectural spaces.”
V6 Spatial Relief, Red (V6 Relevo especial, vermêlho) (1959/1999) has been composed as a folded construction, designed to hang in space, and enabling the viewer to experience colour and light from every angle.
Colour Is Spiritual
Beirut-born artist Etel Adnan, who recently had her first public UK solo show at the age of 91, is typically associated with colour field painting. Adnan works directly from the paint tube, applying pure planes of colour in order to convey the immediacy of beauty around her. Her work also references specific and significant places and landscapes, like her encounter with the landscape of Mount Tamalpais after moving to Sausalito in 1970.
Spirituality and colour are intertwined for Adnan, who’s also an accomplished poet, citing colour as the meaning for energy and inspiration; “My spirit is anguished by colour. Colour is the sign of the existence of life. I feel like believing, being in a state of pure belief, of affirmation. I exist because I see colours.”
Actually, What Is Colour?
The exhibition text, titled Colour…, is an ongoing project by the artist and writer David Batchelor – whose work also features in the show. The text cites divergent statements from a multitude of well-known artists. Matisse may have said that “colour exists in itself”, whereas Kandinsky believed that “colour cannot stand alone”. Clive Bell held that “colour becomes significant only when it is used as an attribute of form”, however decades later Carlos Cruz-Diez stated that “it is an autonomous event that does not require form.”
Main image: Hélio Oiticica, V6 Spatial Relief, Red, (V6 Relevo especial, vermêlho), 1959-1991, painted wood, 38.75 x 30.75 x 4 in, 98.4 x 78.1 x 10.2 cm, courtesy of Waddington Custot (1)