Author: Imogen Aldridge

The Power of Colour in Art

The connection between colour and emotional response is closely entwined, and this relationship is never more prominent than in a work of art. Artists such as Damien Hirst, Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly and Josef Albers harness this power of colour to create engaging artworks that delight the eye. 

There’s no denying the power that colour holds. From shades of yellow that lift your spirits to moody blues that leave you in a sombre state, the influence that colour holds is not to be underestimated. From Bridget Riley’s multicoloured optical illusions, to Ellsworth Kelly’s restrained and hard-edged colourful forms, the chromatic interactions of Josef Albers’ squares and Hirst's hypnotic compositions, colour is at the heart of each artwork.

Colour is a powerful artistic tool that can cause positive or negative emotional responses, all dependent on whether the colours chosen work harmoniously together. At Art Republic we celebrate artists that embrace the power of colour and use it to create eye-catching compositions that seemingly jump off the paper. From bright splashes of paint, to more refined colourful geometric shapes, the work of Bridget Riley, Damien Hirst and the other artists included here prove that the use of colour is an art to be mastered - a task that they have exceeded at. 

Albers, Kelly, Riley and Hirst are world famous for their masterful manipulation of colour. Constantly pushing boundaries, all three artists understood how colour is a powerful artistic tool that can cause a variety of emotional responses, depending on whether the colours are chosen work cohesively or conflictingly. The respect for colour that these artists have is echoed in Georgia O’Keefe’s statement: “I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for”. Colour alone can create an entire language within a painting; Albers, Kelly and Riley use colour to create unique stories.

The History of Colour

The awareness of colour’s importance can be traced back to prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux, France, where sketches of animals were rendered in colour up to 17,000 years ago. Colour theory was developed throughout history from Leondardo Da Vinci to the Impressionists, starting from observations of light and colour painting en plein-air. 

The way we experience colour is a major theme in Josef Albers’ art. He proposed that colour was superior to form in pictorial language and his highly influential analysis of colour in Interaction of Color (1963) emphasises the interrelatedness of colour. The Colour Field movement of the 20th Century, with which Ellsworth Kelly is associated, describes artworks that rejected subject matter in favour of flat areas of colour. Whilst this important theory continues to inspire many artists’ experiments with colour and their manipulation of human emotion, Bridget Riley refers to her own optical experiences. Riley’s use of colour in painting was preceded by a period of working exclusively in black and white, which she felt necessary before taking on the ‘instability’ of colour and the way it is transformed by neighbouring colours.

Artists inspired by colour

The Power of Colour in Art | Image

Measure for Measure, 2020 by Bridget Riley 

Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley lives and works in London, Cornwall, and France, and is well known for her artworks with geometric abstractions and optical art, Op Art. Having shied away from using colour in the first 15 years of her career, Riley gradually embraced the instability of colour and the challenges it posed. The artist says of her hesitancy to introduce colour into her practice: “If you think of a square, a circle, a triangle,  you know exactly what form you can expect to see. But if you say red, yellow, or blue you do not know at all what shade of colour you will be looking at. There is no certainty”.

Riley finally conquered her fear of colour, using it to her advantage when creating her optical illusions. We love the way she cleverly plays with colour and varied gradients to mimic movement and vibration within the artwork. There is no doubt that she is the master of chromatic colour.

 

The Power of Colour in Art | Image

Homage to the Square 3 by Josef Albers

Josef Albers

Celebrated for his abstract artworks and his experimental use of colour, Josef Albers is known as one of the most influential visual artists and teachers of the 20th century. For Albers, colour is all about experience. Deeming it ‘deceiving’ and ‘unstable’, Albers believed that an artist must learn to predict the behaviour of colour through practice. The artist’s mastery of pattern and intense colour shines through in his Homage to the Square series. Consisting of hundreds of paintings, we love how Albers was dedicated to his experimentation series, creating artworks that were pure appreciations of colour.

 The Power of Colour in Art | Image

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly was an American painter known for his colour field painting and love of minimalism. Often using only two or three colours in his artworks, Kelly instead focused on line, colour and form in his creative process. We love how Kelly embraced the ever-changing nature of colour - it too falls victim to time. The artist says of this: “Canvas rots. Paint changes colour. But you keep trying to freeze the world as if you could make it last forever.”

Kelly revelled in the power of colour, mixing paints to his exact specifications and placing particular importance in the primary colours of red, yellow and blue. Constantly creating new colours within the primary colour spectrum, Kelly was a true master of experimentation.

 

The Power of Colour in Art | Image

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst lives and works in London, Gloucestershire, and Devon, UK. He has created installations, sculptures, paintings, and drawings dealing with broad subjects such as the relationships between art, beauty, science, life, and death. We love the way Hirst’s artwork deals with such broad subjects such as the relationships between art, beauty, science, life, and death. He has said, “Art’s about life and it can’t really be about anything else … there isn’t anything else.” His vulnerability and curiosity with the human condition inevitably shines in his artwork, from his famous skulls to these iconic multicoloured spots.

This group of talented artists are true masters of colour, so now its your turn. Need some help styling your colourful prints in your home? Read our blog for top tips. For more inspiration, head to our By Colour page to discover your favourite colourful prints. 

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