A few of us attended last night’s lecture ‘The Subjectivity of Colour’ at the Design Museum, chaired by Oli Stratford with Laetitia de Allegri, Ab Rogers and Adam Nathaniel Furman. The discussion used Johannes Itten, the Bauhaus colour theorist, as a starting point; his tests on students in the late 1920s revealed their own private conceptions of colour harmony. Issue 14 of Disegno (edited by Oli Stratford) gave an identical brief to eleven designers today – the image above is from Olafur Eliasson.
If nothing else, this exercise illustrated that – even for highly creative types – relationships with colour are highly complicated. However, prejudices towards the use of colour have stuck around since the rhetoric of Modernism: good, white, clean, masculine. Although arguably a superfluous reading of Modernism (Mies, Corb and other ‘masters’ certainly played with colour), it is still seen as not serious, even a distraction, resulting in a general weariness towards using it. The panel stressed the power and possibilities of colour in public and private space but gave no positive examples, with the exception of retail design.
There was a general consensus that liking a colour is not enough to use it, emphasising the importance of creating the construct. These narratives, based on research of the subject and context, produce justification. The example cited (with a giggle) was the ochre shade of taxis in Marrakesh that reference the desert sand. The discussion concluded with a reminder that our relationships to colour change throughout history and that colours do not have fixed associations; perhaps painfully obvious, but this can also be an encouraging reminder to challenge what we surround ourselves with today.
The lecture circled above ideas of how we understand colour; its use as functional element and how you build that body of research into practice, and what does it mean to have sophisticated use of colour. No doubt fascinating topics, although too broad in scope to address in one evening.