Misfit was created by guest curator Louise Schouwenburg, who also wrote a monograph of the same name, which will be published by Phaidon Press to coincide with the opening of the exhibition. Below are extracts from ‘A conversation that might have taken place’, a hypothetical conversation between Hella Jongerius (HJ) and Louise Schouwenberg (LS) in the monograph Hella Jongerius – Misfit.
Limiting myself to industrial colours has been a wonderful challenge, but I have itchy fingers. I want to create a colour universe of my own, be able to experiment with the raw materials. It is a logical progression. If, for example, I want a lighter or darker tone, I do not just want a colour with titanium white or black added to it. That is an easy solution for industry. The effect is one of far more colours and gradations if, for example, you work with different white bases, contrasting colours or a combination of colours and colour layers.
That brings us to the third series of Coloured Vases, which you developed in collaboration with the experts at Royal Tichelaar, the Netherlands’ oldest ceramics manufacturers. At the very core of the ceramic world, you allowed yourself to work with raw materials made specifically for glazes, not with industrial enamels. It was a step back in time. What is innovative there?
The way in which we used old, as well as new raw materials. Innovations will also be evident in future applications, when the effect of this investigation will integrate itself into the industry. We began with a hundred traditional recipes for glazes and worked with colouring oxides such as cadmium (red), iron (brown), selenium (yellow), copper (green), cobalt (blue), mangan (purple) etc. In addition to the old recipes, we developed a hundred synthetic recipes for glazes. These are the fast-food colours of today’s ceramics industry. I apply these different types of glazes onto the vases in certain patterns, so that optically, they combine with one another in the same way that the duotones that I developed for Vitra do. It is a kind of pointillism on porcelain. Because of the patterns and the mixtures, as well as by playing with firing temperatures, we create new, polychrome colours that are irregular, handmade. Some of the colours look very different in the morning and the evening, are different in sunlight or shadow.
Since the Industrial Revolution, design has demonstrated the technological innovations we are capable of and the things that industry can do.
(But designers have not noticed) how industrial colour development drifted away from what happened in visual art. Painting has brought so much crucial insight into colours, the absorption of light, reflection, layered colours and the effects of colour juxtapositions. Painting investigates different ways that you can apply colours, with brushes, knives, fingers, by spraying, or the different ground surfaces. It reveals harmony, disharmony, the effects of colours on our psychological experience or how colour creates illusion.
Personally, I am utterly fascinated by the use of colour in Johannes Vermeer's paintings of interiors, how he produced light and shadow in the same colours! Designers can learn so much from that. I am currently involved in the ways in which painters created their colour palettes, and when I talk about my own research on colour, I am intentionally talking about paintings. I paint coloured vases that overlap one another, so the colours mix. Then I commit a mortal sin by cutting up the paintings. But it is clearly no sin when you look at it in terms of design. I cut colour samples from the canvases, which I use to go further. Recently, I have being referring to the series’ of colours that I make as ‘misfits’. That is beginning to become part of the signature. Colours clash, alienate, are slightly off kilter. Then other colours in the same series seem to compensate for that, or they cry out for a certain expression. Misfits. It is crazy to suddenly encounter imperfection’s little sister, when you never even knew it was there!
The works in the monograph Hella Jongerius - Misfit are arranged by colour, as they are in the exhibition. The monograph was written by Louise Schouwenberg, with contributions by the design critic Alice Rawsthorn and Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The publication was designed by Irma Boom and is on sale in the museum shop for € 39.95.