Colour appears to be one of those subjects that’s perennially interesting, at least for people working in design and the visual arts, with books and magazines constantly finding new ways to discuss this fascinating element of perception.
The latest addition to that collection comes from Neil Parkinson, the Archives and Collections manager at the Royal College of Art in London, where he oversees the Colour Reference Library.
His book, the History of Colour, draws on the nearly 2,000-strong collection of publications in the library, which carries books and other printed matter on everything from colour psychology to conditions like synaesthesia.
While the book plots how colour has literally been developed over time, the emphasis is less on colour itself and more on how our grasp of colour, and its possibilities and meanings, have evolved.
Chapters are themed around subjects including belief, where Parkinson traces the links between religion, spirituality, and colour, and commerce, where he draws a parallel between the rise of consumerism and technology in 20th century societies and the influx of “ever more showy palettes” filling people’s screens and shops.
Throughout the book, Parkinson relays the varying attempts to catalogue and describe colour, from theorists codifying colour to paint brands dreaming up extravagant, and “wildly misleading” names.
“Whether viewing the subject through the lens of physics or aesthetics,” Parkinson writes, “what shines through the books celebrated in this volume is the sense of colour as a force of nature, the proud main character rather than a supporting role, fundamental to art and science, commerce and design.”
The History of Colour by Neil Parkinson is published by Frances Lincoln; quartoknows.com