Tuesday, February 14, 2012

color palette

designing t-shirts has made me consider something that has, at best, been simmering on the back burner: color palette.

hirst and neon-pastels
in beginning a series of t-shirts, bags, dresses, and shoes, i must think about what i'm making in terms of a fashion INDUSTRY, which has a commercial palette.  and if i hope to sell a 'look' as much as an image, i need to have a defined idea of color palette.

these days it seems that damien hirst and his brightly colored dot paintings are the toast of the industry.  i call them neon pastels and they are everywhere.  they are all over the boutiques in soho and on 5th ave (some right across the street from galleries where hirst's dot paintings hang in the window).  they are on the runway.  they are in the malls and on their way to wal-mart and target.

these gridded, mechanized (assistant-made) paintings are created with commercial enamel paints.  but the white background is important to understanding how these colors effect the viewer.  it makes the colors very bright and cheery.  even the darker and more muted tones take on this 'neon' effect with the white background and space surrounding it.  many of these paintings have 'pharmaceutical' titles and one can certainly see the neon/plastic/spin-wash of drug commercials in these works.  the dots can even act as a metaphor for pills.  but beyond whatever sub-meanings these paintings do or do not have, the actual effect of these works is their assault on fashion and pop culture.

where do our color choices in clothes/home decor come from?  i've been in the market for t-shirts lately and i can't help but see hirst's color palette all over the stores and streets.  few of us dye, print, and develop our own color palette in our clothing.  most of us buy our clothes off the rack.  and that being the case, one's choice in color and style is very limited.  and that limitation in turn defines the 'look' of pop culture.  

why neon-pastels?  its not necessarily the return of the 80s, but a return to the washover.  the coverup.  the spin.  when shit looks shiny its smell is some how much less offensive.  and this is what commercial fashion tends toward.  dress happy.  dress fun.  dress colorful.  even if you can't pay your mortgage.  these colors look suitable for the office.  approachable with a good attitude and pleasant demeanor.  eventually these colors will go out of fashion and look cheap and kitchy, but for now this is the tacky gloss of cocaine commercialism coated in neon.

i most certainly hate damien hirst's color palette.  i feel like its cheap, shallow, and mechanically devoid of humanity, like commercialism itself (perhaps that's its intention and why it's so popular).  i aim to develop a stronger, more self-aware, hopeful, and honest palette.  and all i can do is hope that the next round of commercial colors will replace these tones with something richer.  grunge will come back.  or at least the muted colors of grunge will come back.  hopefully the flannels will stay in 1992.  

albers, psychological color, and my own color palette
Josef Albers' Homage to the Square series

josef albers is a huge influence on my color palette, not so much in the way he used color, but in the way he thought about color.  his scientific studies in paint taught me that color is, at least partly, defined by its surrounding colors.  and combinations of color are innately tied to emotional connections of place and identity (you'll have to ask mindy to delve further into the art history and philosophy here, she knows more of this than i).  however, with the idea that color is affecting in mind, i experiment with mixing, to create new colors, and combining colors, to create visual language that is indicative of the life i live in the place i live it.

i attempt to truthfully represent the midwest in my color palette and the muted colors of the place i live provide the background of the aesthetic i build.  the midwest has a deep, rich history.  it's written in the rusted tools and buildings, rivers and skies, barns and cities.  it would be shameful to make this place look gleaming in bright colors.  i try to develop a color palette as rich and deep, and as layered as the stories and the sediment in the flood plains.  here's a little poem about a midwestern palette:

                                            the midwest is painted
in muted tones of town heroes   
told in folktale stories
as deep as sediment
in the flood plains.

it is layered in
broken-down cars and barns
cul-de-sacs and city skylines
and quiet clouds
blowing dusted breezes
through hazy skies
a million miles wide.

putting it into practice
so in thinking through the colors and meanings, i tried to put the palette i made to work by trying to make something cute that's not princess slut pink or sparklingly annoying.  i printed this grey crinkle polyester dress we got for eleven bucks at old navy.  it's just a pillow sack dress, but dressing it up in these muted deeply rich tones gives it a lively vibrance.  it's fun and it's cute, and its color palette is not cheap commercial crap, even though the dress itself is.



Well I gotta say that this post is making my brain hurt about what I do and communicate with my own use of color. Haven't reached any conclusions, but thanks for the push.

Zach Medler said...

thanks for reading tom...this is mostly just my observation of damien hirst's assault on pop culture and my discovery that my idea of color and his are two very different things. he wants cheap, fast, and marketable. i want deep, rich, and meaningful. i presume it has more to do w/ our attitudes about living than our actual preferences for color. for more in depth info on josef albers' color science, read his book, 'interaction of color.' studying his paintings (which i must admit are, at first glance, boring as hell) really made me reconsider how color is perceived and how it affects.

Fliss said...

Wow all those coloured dots made me feel dizzy.

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