This is a post about the use of colour: that magical ability to build a varied palette of colours that can be harmoniously blended or conversely work violently against each other in order to create something special.
And in this year celebrating the anniversary of the women’s vote, this post is centred on women’s unique contribution to the world of colour.
I was struck by two recent articles on designers seemingly treading the same path in applying decorative patterns and colour to environmental spaces.
Camille Walala started out as a textile designer. She now spends her time transforming environments with a vibrant mix of confrontational colours, patterns and shapes. She has done this on buildings in London, Sydney and New York, where her explosive mix of energetic colours blows people away. The work reflects the personality of this fast-talking, enthusiastic, self-publicising French national.
Morag Myerscough. You could be forgiven for muddling up her work with Walala’s: it has exactly the same simple, bold dynamic in its use of patterns and colours. It is applied to buildings and temporary structures and is much loved by children. She was selected to design one of the first exhibitions at the London Design Museum’s new home in 2016.
This got me thinking about the earlier trailblazers of the use of colour. Some well known and some not so.
The Amish community formed in the United States in the 18th century. They developed an astonishingly sophisticated use of colour and design in the making of their quilts. The sheer beauty of every segment of their quilts is profoundly moving. They adhere to community-sanctioned colours and styles. So one could say that they are an example of a committee decision. But what a remarkable committee.
Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) was a leading figure in early 20th-century Russian avant-garde abstract art. She came to prominence prior to the Revolution in 1917, producing her own approach in the Cubo-futurist style. Later she turned her hand to textile and theatre design. Along with her paintings, she left behind a substantial body of work. She died at the height of her artistic powers, two days after the death of her son, from whom she had contracted scarlet fever.
Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delaunay (1885 - 1979) spent most of her working life in Paris, where she collaborated with her husband Robert Delaunay to cofounded the Orphism art movement, noted for its use of strong colours and geometric shapes.
Her exuberant work embraced textiles, tableware, jewellery and even the decoration of a sports car.
She died in Paris in 1979 aged 94 and was buried next to her husband.
Carmen Herrera was born in Havana in 1915. Now at an amazing 103, she has spent a lifetime working with colour. Her abstract, minimalist paintings have had international recognition. She has lived and worked in New York City since the 1950s.
Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent (1918 - 1986). With thanks to reader Luke Tonge for bringing Corita to my attention.
As you can see from her photograph, sartorially speaking, she was strictly black and white. But outside of that, she exuded colour from every pour. She was a Roman Catholic nun, artist, educator and social activist.
She taught herself silkscreen printing and so began a deluge of hand-lettered and written messages centring on love and peace, much enjoy during America's social change in the 1960's and 70's.
After being diagnosed with cancer in the mid 70's there was an unstoppable urgency in her work.
Her largest environmental piece was rainbow swashes applied to a 150-foot (46 m) high natural gas tank in Boston. She also designed a special Love stamp for the United States Postal Service in 1985.
The flamboyant Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, born in 1929, is one of the wildest painters of colour working today and at 89 shows no sign of stopping. Over the years, there have been major retrospectives of her work held at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, Tate Modern and the Hirshhorn Museum. Her work changes hands for millions of dollars. One recently reached $5.1 million at a Christie’s sale – at the time the record price paid for a work by a living female artist.
Lucienne Day (1917–2010) was famous for her abstract pattern-making in the grim days of post-war Britain and was featured at the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain’, where her optimistic designs lifted the spirits of the many visitors. A large number of her textile designs are still in print today. Later in life, she designed wall hangings like those below.
Ray Eames (1912–1988), an American artist and designer responsible for groundbreaking contributions in the fields of furniture design, textile design and industrial design, was born in Sacramento, California. She worked with Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames and others on the display panels for the exhibition ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ at the Museum of Modern Art. She married Charles Eames in 1941, settling in Los Angeles, California, where they began an outstanding career in design and architecture. Examples of Ray’s work can be seen below.
The wonderful Bridget Riley is internationally accepted as the high priestess of Op-art. She studied at Goldsmiths College and then at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s. In the 1960s, she evolved her now recognisable style by exploring dynamic, optically disorienting forms in both monochrome and a myriad of colours. In the late 1990s, I spent a memorable afternoon with Bridget at her Holland Park studio. I had commissioned her to design a Royal Mail stamp. She had created eight variations of vertically striped designs. She sat me down with a cup of coffee and went into detail about the importance of black in the designs. She described it as the visual ‘event’ in the work.
Maija Sofia Isola
Maija Sofia Isola (1927– 2001) was a Finnish textile designer responsible for over 500 patterns. Her most famous for Marimekko was ‘poppy’ from the 1960s. The simple, bold, colourful designs that she designed for the home are still as popular today.
Pia Camil, a Mexico-based artist, is a more recent exponent of colour. In recent years, she has produced many wonderfully coloured hangings, taking inspiration from the Mexican urban landscape. Her work has been exhibited in many galleries and art institutions around the world.