Drawing on 15 years of colour research, designer Hella Jongerius presents a series of installations that deepen our understanding of colour. She has created a collection of specially designed objects that demonstrate how the experience of colour and form is affected by changing daylight throughout the day. In addition Hella Jongerius has selected together with artist Mathieu Meijers artworks from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
A manifesto for unstable colours
The exhibition questions our perception of colour and reflects upon the history of colour research. Hella Jongerius: Breathing Colour is a statement about the strength, imperfection and versatility of colour as a reaction to the flatness of the colours produced by industry. Ultimately, Jongerius aims to pit the power of colour against the power of form.
A dialogue with the museum collection
Hella Jongerius has selected together with artist Mathieu Meijers artworks from the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. In this way, Jongerius’s recent research enters into a dialogue with the works of old masters and contemporary artists such as Francis Picabia and Jan Schoonhoven.
The exhibition 'Hella Jongerius - Breathing Colour' is developed in partnership with the Design Museum in London.
Exploring the museum collection
Drawing on 15 years of colour research, designer Hella Jongerius presents a series of installations in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen that deepen our understanding of colour. The exhibition ‘Breathing Colour – Hella Jongerius’ is on display from June 9th to August 12 2018. Her research objects are exhibited here in combination with a selection of objects from the museum’s collection, chosen together with visual artist Mathieu Meijers (Stein 1951). With this, Jongerius’s research enters into a dialogue with the works of old masters and contemporary artists such as Francis Picabia, Jan Schoonhoven and makers.
The research techniques of Hella Jongerius
Jongerius strives to employ the industrial production process to create products with an individual character. To demonstrate the – often underexploited – potential of colour, Jongerius has designed a range of objects that show how colour responds to form, texture and changing light conditions.
‘I want to make a plea for embracing metamerism, for the use of layered pigments that produce intense colours that breathewith the changing light.’ [Hella Jongerius]
The exhibition questions our perception of colour and reflects upon the history of colour research. Her investigation is driven partly by scientific theories and partly by personal observations and interpretations of Hella Jongerius and Mathieu Meijers.
‘Colour is a visual experience, not a scientific one. The fact that there is no objectivity in colour is a blessing.’ [Hella Jongerius]
The colour of an object is made tangible through its material. But objects also absorb, reflect and echo colour, and objects are influenced by the surrounding colour landscape. Colours are also reflections and reverberations of light in the space. Some colours reflect more strongly and intensely than others. Black absorbs the most light, whereas white functions almost like a mirror in reflecting sunlight. We see almost no reflections against a black background, whereas they come alive against white.
When we fold a flat sheet of paper several times, we divide its surface. Each of the folded planes has a different shade: they reveal a complexity in, and a bending of, the original colour. This effect can be observed in the work of Jan Schoonhoven in the museum collection: of whitewashed cardboard reliefs with a regular, grid structure. When a surface is curved, there is a gradual shift in the shadow colour, but these straight ‘folds’ create clear delineations, thus revealing the refraction of the white. On a curved surface, the colour changes gradually, making it difficult to see where the ‘original’ colour ends and the shadows begin. A straight fold creates a more abrupt shadow: the fold marks the shift in colour.
Just like colour, textiles are layered materials. In the mid-19th century, the chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul discovered that the colours of threads are influenced by their surroundings. He also discovered how coloured threads in textiles mix optically, just as painters mix their pigments. But whereas mixed pigments immediately produce a new colour, the colours of the threads are mixed only in the brain. Chevreul called this effect ‘simultaneous contrast’. This theory has influenced many painters, including the Impressionists, who placed dabs of pure colour alongside each other so that they are mixed optically in the viewer’s brain. In the exhibition the effects of this technique are illustrated by the work of Paul Signac. Below, some further examples from the museum collection are shown.
Works from the collection
There is light- morning
In the morning, as the sun climbs and the warm tints of dawn disappear, the cold morning light creates a crystal-clear glow with a hint of blue. The first colour contrast appears when the grey light changes to blue and yellow, shortly followed by the beginnings of red and green. There is colour. Below you find a few works from the collection, in which Mathieu Meijers and Hella Jongerius recognise these early morning colours.
There is light- afternoon
The afternoon sees the emergence of a bright, saturated RGB palette of red, green and blue light. Green reaches its most saturated point. Much of the clothing in medieval art is painted in the surface colours, red, green and blue, as is evident in this small Annunciation: RGB colours in their most saturated and material form. For Jongerius, it represents the fierce light that we experience at midday, when the sun is at its highest point. Later in the day, when the sun is low in the sky, the light is tinged with red. For Meijers and Jongerius, the works of Lucio Fontana and Bart van der Leck, among others, embody this intense, saturated colour experience.
There is light- late afternoon
Completely detached colours fill the space. The colours are no longer descriptive: the RGB palette has made way for cyan, magenta and lemon yellow, the secondary colours that occur when red, green and blue light overlap. Today, we increasingly use this CMYK palette: immaterial colours that, due to the ubiquity of monitors, are becoming increasingly remote from materiality.
There is fire
In the evening, after the sun has set, we make our own light. Greek philosophers saw fire (the sun) as the source of energy. In their eyes, the colour red had a power connected to it. In the evening, we enter the realm of the senses.
In the evening, the warm air creates an orange, red and purple light. The atmosphere can either make colours seem bleached out or saturated. Surface colours and spatial colours flow into each other. The sun travels its last few metres above the horizon, colour becomes less bound to objects as a physical characteristic. It detaches itself and emerges as an autonomous, atmospheric phenomenon. Below a selection of works is shown that relate to this realm of the senses and fiery colours of the evening.
Works from the collection
Industrial colours are made darker simply by adding black pigment. But painters know that true depth comes from mixing complimentary colours. It is part of the object because it reveals something about its position in space and about the time of day and the intensity of the light.
We can give a variety of names and attribute all sorts of (cultural) meanings to shadows - to darkness - but none of them can define it. It remains intangible and that is precisely what makes it so fascinating. The longer you stare into the gloom, the more fascinating it becomes. Or, as the writer Junichiro Tanizaki puts it: ‘Things live in the shadows’. We often attach psychological experiences to the darkness, ranging from temptation to fear. Submerge yourself in the darkness with the following works from the museum collection.
‘My ultimate aim is to pit the power of colour against the power of form.’ [Hella Jongerius]
Today’s industrial colours are stable and universal. The standardised colour-matching systems of Pantone, Dulux, RAL and others offer a wide range of hues, but they do not sing like the colours in Old Master paintings. Industry today lacks the ambition to develop recipes for intense colours.
‘I rebel against the flatness of the colour industry. There’s a significant difference between the way that colours are mixed for industrial production and the way that artists make their colours.’ [Hella Jongerius]
Jongerius strives to employ the industrial production process to create products with an individual character. With this exhibition Jongerius broadens the scope of her research and continues her quest for new sources and insights. 'Hella Jongerius: Breathing Colour' is a statement about the strength, imperfection and versatility of colour as a reaction to the flatness of the colours produced by industry. As a colour activist, she has mounted a campaign for a more intense experience of colour. Long live the instability of colour!