ARCHIVE POST – Number 1: The birth of “Significant Colour” at the Aram Gallery 2009

In 2008 I was asked by Daniel Charny, at that time the curator of the ARAM Gallery space on Drury Lane, to co-curate an exhibition about colour.  In May 2009, SIGNIFICANT COLOUR was born and I have Daniel Charny to thank for the excellent name. Below I have posted the introduction and essay that was published to accompany the show. We were both determined to present colour as a deeply broad and challenging subject rather than a ‘decorative’ or superficial afterthought as it is so often considered. The result was an extremely diverse exhibition that spanned ART, DESIGN and ARCHITECTURE in equal measure.  A surprisingly rare combination…. how often do you see fine art and design presented side by side?

Significant Colour is an exhibition that will examine objects and artworks where colour is the first aspect that the viewer responds to, and the impact of colour, their most memorable feature.

 The multi-disciplinary show will include furniture, photography, textiles, jewellery art, (not design) graphics, lighting design, architecture and fine art, each exploring these principals in a unique way. These works are not merely about being ‘colourful’ but engaging the viewer to think more deeply about why they employ the colours they do and the implications behind their nuances of tone, shade, material, colour, surface and application. Some play with process and substance, others with scale and emotion but they all reveal and celebrate the significance of their colour. Participants in the show include Architects de Rijke Marsh Morgan and Sauerbruch Hutton who both articulate, quite differently, the intelligent use of colour on the external facades of their buildigs. Artist Sophie Smallhorn will be showing wall sculptures exploring three dimensional colour theories. Ori Gersht’s photographs reveal the beauty of found colour in our environments, designers El Ultimo Grito debut their GUAU lamp, scarlet disks of circular light floating and shimmering on the wall like a red moon. Cristian Zuzunaga who collaborates with Ligne Roset and Moroso, applies his eponymous ‘pixel’ textile designs to windows within the gallery. The jewellery artist Mah Rana, challenges us with her piece ‘Permanent Red’ the colour that, for her ‘polarises human emotion’. Ptolemy Mannis showing for the first time, a new series of three dimensional, free standing Monolithic Textile sculptures vibrating with saturated threads. Olivier Droillard has made a poetic ‘Mushroom’ console table inspired by a walk in the French alps exploring the de-saturated colour nuances of nature. The graphic designer James Goggin playfully tests the colour boundaries of ‘print on demand’ with his project ‘Dear Lulu’. Finally, the essential inclusion of the colour theorist, Josef Albers with a nest of gem like tables and his ‘homage to the square’ lithographs.


‘Significant Colour’                                                             

 Colour is a deeply emotive subject. For most of us it is also highly personal, we each have a unique response to colour that we develop internally through experience and association. How we feel about certain colours often has more to do with what our childhood bedroom walls were painted with than anything else. Experiences, good and bad, associated with certain colours affect our response. Josef Albers showed 100 people the exact same shade of red and the resulting descriptions implied 100 different shades of that colour. We all see and relate to colours individually therefore making it an almost impossible subject to predict and define with any certainty. What can be said is that colour is deeply significant for human beings. Our awareness in some cultures of how significant is questionable but our desire to place colour in and around our environments, on our bodies and the outside of our dwellings has been in strong evidence from the beginning of mankind’s journey into consciousness. In western thinking of the late 20th century Colour and its potential gravitas seems to have diminished, become secondary, decorative; deeming an object or artwork less serious or intellectual than it’s less chromatic counterparts. More recently there seems a desire to readdress this balance. Especially on the façade of buildings, a most visible renaissance is taking place where intelligent, serious colour is being use to serve form and function and take pole position. A more refined appreciation and understanding of colour as a tool is shaping how we use it. Recognising the importance of not just the ‘chroma’ (shade) of a colour, but its ‘saturation’ (depth and brightness) and ‘value’ (lightness or darkness) can enhance its role within art and design. Scientific colour tests reveal that often it is the saturation of a colour that we respond to rather than the colour itself. A very intense and saturated blue can be much more energizing to the heart and mind than a dark, somber red, defying the common notion that blue calms and red stimulates. The interaction of colours with each other; the myriad of combinations and effects produced by placing different proportions and spectrums together can take a lifetime to analyze. When you also consider ‘after-image’, the simultaneous contrast colour that we get a flash of when we look at white after a block of one colour, it then becomes not just about the colours we see visually but the impression they leave behind physically. Colour is a strangely infinite subject crossing emotional and scientific barriers in equal measure.  

‘Significant Colour’ is an exhibition that shows work that is not merely about being ‘colourful’ but engages the viewer to think more deeply about why objects and artworks employ the colours they do and the implications behind their nuances of tone, shade, material colour, surface and application. Some play with process and substance, others with scale and emotion but they all reveal and celebrate the significance of their colour.

Ptolemy Mann                                                                                             May 2009

For more pictures:



About Ptolemy Mann

Ptolemy Mann is a textile artist, designer and architectural colour consultant
This entry was posted in Architecture, Colour, Exhibitions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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