“Colour is stronger than language. It’s a subliminal communication.” Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
In Stella Paul’s Chromophilia: The Story of Colour in Art, the meaning and use of colours in over two hundred artworks from the Palaeolithic period to the present day are explored and decoded in an academic study of our favourite subject. By bringing together such a volume of notable and influential works from a rich variety of visionaries – Michelangelo, Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Georgia O’Keefe and Marlene Dumas among them – the author highlights attitudes towards, as well as the meanings behind colour throughout history.
Isaac Newton’s optics, impressionist theory, the philosophy of Josef Albers, the contemporary metaphysics of Olafur Eliasson – this is all covered along with revelations about the practice and process of hundreds of different artists and why they are or were passionate about particular shades.
Rather than following a timeline, the book is split into ten chapters, each one devoted to a single colour or colour group that you can dip into – Earth Colours, Red, Blue, Purple, Gold, Yellow, Green, White, Grey and Black – and each one opens on a relevant quote from an artist. “Green is a useless colour,” said Piet Mondrian, in fascinating contradiction with attitudes in 2017. Yves Klein’s words of wisdom appropriately appear in the blue chapter: “What is blue? Blue is the invisible becoming visible… Blue has no dimensions. It ‘is’ beyond the dimensions of which other colours partake,” he said.
“We must pardon the mad desire for purple.” Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79)
“There’s more gold in nature than we give credit for, because every day there are certain reflections where the sun rays hit and you get gold.” Louise Nevelson (1899-1988)
Chromaphilia: The Story of Colour in Art by Stella Paul is published by Phaidon.