Colour juxtaposition

One of the most interesting aspects of colour is the odd effects that arise from colour juxtaposition. Josef Albers put it as follows in the introduction to his classic work ‘Interaction of Colour’:

In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.

In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems.

First, it should be learned that one and the same color evokes innumerable readings. Instead of mechanically applying or merely implying laws and rules of color harmony, distinct color effects are produced-through recognition of the interaction of color-by making, for instance, two very different colors look alike, or nearly alike.

I’ve noticed this relativity a lot since I started to use so many different greys. It sometimes seems that it’s impossible to appreciate what grey really is, unless through placing it in a colour context. I was particularly struck by this when working on my cochineal piece, where I couldn’t quite believe the colour that I was getting. Here’s a detail of my piece: Cochineal detail in hoop

To the right of the slightly curved cochineal section and below the white, there are four lines of a greenish grey colour. I was really interested to see the greenish element emerging because I had no idea it was there in the thread. Here’s a photograph of the thread:Logwood cotton thread

This looked, and still looks, to me like a pale, very neutral grey, oriented towards blue if anything. But when you put it in context up against all the pinks, its essential greenness emerges. The extent to which you will be able to see this (if at all) depends upon the monitor you’re viewing it on. I’m seeing this on a monitor that seems to leach the greenness out of the grey. I have two monitors in front of me, and when I move the images across to the other one, I can see the green much more clearly. When I look at the actual piece and the thread, the difference is very striking to me.

This is just another, very small, example of the weird wonderfulness of colour. I have been looking at colour for some years now, and I sometimes feel that I’ve barely started exploring it.




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