Breathing colour

The Design Museum, London – notes for other hardcore colour enthusiasts from Hella Jongerius’s exhibition and research. An object’s colour only becomes tangible through its material. Objects absorb, reflect and resonate colour and are influenced by the colours of surrounding objects.

A reflection throws something back into its surroundings. Gloss finishes reflect light, producing circles and shimmers in space. A strong colour reflection can fill a room and a transparent object filters and colours any light that passes through it.

The strong light at noon fully defines an object and saturates its colour. There are stark contrasts between it and its shadow, unlike in the morning light when hazy, translucent shadows gradually become opaque and the warm dawn light recedes to reveal soft, fresh colours. Then in the evening colours become flatter and a moody world emerges when shapes and shadows blend.

Folding a material such as paper allows us to see its colour in full strength as well as producing shadows, shades and tones of the colour. This is the foundation of the work; folding materials and observing the changes produced under different lighting conditions and through the influence of surrounding colours.

“The starting point in my colour research is a phenomenon called matamerism. This occurs when colours are viewed in different conditions, and describes the effect when two colours appear the same even when they are not. Some colours look dull in the morning but come to life at dusk.”

- Hella Jongerius

I like to remind my colour analysis clients that it’s not important to ‘match’ an item of clothing with another of identical colour but instead try to harmonise the colours. Because of the varying quality of light and the nature of material – velvet, silk, wool, synthetic, metal, leather, plastic or whatever else – the colours will look different in different lights anyway. They will not ‘match’ identically in every light and in fact may look a little off sometimes if their undertones differ. This can be especially noticeable with all black outfits.