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It’s hard to imagine a world without colour. Throughout history, colour has played an integral part in people’s lives. Along the way, we have attributed meaning, significance and emotion to different colours, allowing us to make sense of the world around us.
The latest exhibition at the Weston Park gallery at Museums Sheffield aims to explore this cultural phenomenon, looking at colour through the ages in both the natural and unnatural worlds, and what significance this has for us.
The exhibition, set in an intimate gallery space, chronicles everything from the primary colours of early children’s toys, to colourful tropical birds, to the work of the latest modern artists. It is a feast for the senses and one not to miss.
The first item on display at the exhibition is a replica of the now-infamous Red Blue Chair from Gerrit Thomas Rietveld. Coloured solely in blocks of red, blue, yellow and black, this chair is representative of the modernist movement in art and design. Gerrit wanted to strip away the conventions of traditional art history and create a bold, new art based on human abstract ideas (rather than on observations of the natural world which was commonplace at the time). Gerrit, along with a handful of other contempories including Piet Mondrian, did this by using only the most basic primary colours and shapes.
Following on from this powerful start, the exhibition delves into the fashion world, looking at how we use colour to express everything from power to femininity. A pretty lemon-coloured tea dress from 1956 is displayed, exemplifying how feminine pastel shades were abundant in the immediate post-war years as a direct reaction to the dark days of the war. Similarly, a blue blazer from Sheffield University is on display opposite, citing how color is used to denote importance, professionalism and prestige.
In a stark contrast to the fashion realm, the exhibition turns its attention to the natural world. There are illustrations of colourful marine life – puffafish who use their bright colours for camouflage – alongside taxidermy tropical birds who use their colour to attract mates, illustrating that the significance of colour stretches far beyond a human construct.
Whilst browsing the exhibition, you can’t help but notice the large-scale abstract artworks that loom overhead. From Brian Clarkes’ shimmering yellow ‘Site Plan’, a powerful abstract piece that reflects his experiences of light, to Brian Fielding’s ‘Ink City’, an imposing piece that explores our emotional response to colour, the exhibition aims to saturate, and stir, your senses via the method of colour.
The beautiful art on display does not stop there, however. Famed British artist Patrick Caulfield is represented with his screen-print series, ‘Some Poems of Jules Laforgue’. The painter, known internationally for his bold, linear work uses colour to initially attract the viewer. When we take a closer look, however, we are aware of the complexity of the subjects. A simple wine glass may be represented, but the viewer cannot help but think of the hidden messages behind the subject – whose wine glass is it? Why is it there?
While the whole exhibition makes for a stunning visual experience, the stand-out display for us came from current Brighton-based artist Ella Robinson. The exhibition is peppered with pieces from her collection from her rainbow ‘Drop it Like it’s Hot’ piece complied from found lighters, to her newest piece ‘Confetti Spaghetti’, a drilled piece of driftwood brightened with colourful plastic tubing.
Ella’s work is centered around her belief that colour has a powerful effect on people’s lives. She is interested in how people are attracted to, or put off by, bright colours and arrangements, and likes to mix natural materials with synthetic bright colours – creating a truly unique collection.
Here are a few of our personal favourite pieces from the exhibition.
From top these are: ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ (2012), ‘Mini Mistake’ (2012), ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ (2012); ‘Blue Hugh’ (2013), ‘Twenty Four Seven’ (2013), Death By Jumbrella’ (2011), ‘Confetti Spaghetti (2013), with a close-up of ‘Death By Jumbrella’.
To find out more on Ella, head over to her website where you can also purchase some of her unique items.
If you are Sheffield-based, the Colour Coded exhibition is well worth a visit - it’s free and runs until 26 January 2014.