Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Colour - A Critique by Robin Dutt




The appreciation of colour is autobiographical. It is, at once, logical and illogical too - or seemingly so - both mystery and mundane. The attraction or rejection felt towards a colour, perhaps can be divined through psychological analysis. But then, colour has its own unbreakable code of logic too. So, whilst a fruit pastille red traffic light internationally imparts only one command, the fresh softness of Spring violets say, may charm the soul with the thought of newness and yet that special hue elicit some certain repulsion. For it must be a given that colour triggers memory, memory emotion, emotion action. And synaesthesia - a combination of the senses conspired - is an attack on reason. And if not an attack, then surely a challenge to reason and voices of prescribed education. 


But colour almost always links everything.


Of course, the key is association. The fresh tint of a whipped cream hue might remind of crisp, country linen to some. That same freshness of that same cream hue, recalls to others, a shroud - and perhaps, always will - for both individuals. Colour can be as quietly contemplative as it can be vocal in its vivacity.


To cohorts of creators, the name Halima Nałęcz is legendary. Born in Vilnius (then still part of Poland)  in 1917, she came to England in 1947.  She became an inspired gallerist who, for some forty years, championed especially the works of young artists with dreams. Most artists one might say, have dreams. But the ones Nałęcz chose, she championed because she felt their dreams to be closer to reality. A reality that even they did not dare to dream.


Nałęcz was herself drawn magnetically to colour. She realised that, regardless of the boundless palette encompassing all colours known - and those to come - the power of colour is undeniable. Unless that is, if it is too much altered. I once interviewed Sir Hardy Amies, one time Dressmaker to HM The Queen, who said outright to me...'Dyed grey is a horror!.'  In another interview, Ultra Violet, an Andy Warhol studio girl, recalled complaining to the master, one day, that she had run out of lipstick and no one of the immediate group could afford any. 'Use beetroot, then',  he said. Colour - at least. She herself was famous for her own art in shades of vivid violet and so, unsurprisingly, the name he gave her in place of her aristocratic French one.


 It is worth remembering that artificial dye manufacture was not possible until the mid to late  nineteenth century and yet, colour has been centre stage to all peoples of all nations.


Colour, when matched and also juxtaposed, performs the same task.


Colour therapy is something which is dismissed - yet admitted  too. But Halima Nałęcz herself said, cogently... 'I believe in the medicine of colour'. It was a strong statement to make at the time and still is now.  Why, for example, do we call colours...Sunshine Yellow, Ocean Blue, Leaf Green...? We seem to need to give familiar names to hues - the better to understand. Eternal things, perhaps? Eternal hopes, perhaps? 

Nałęcz was so passionate about sharing the experience of art that for every painting she sold she bought one. By 1983, she was able to donate a staggering 565 works to Polish national museums including 80 of her own.

Nałęcz's bijou gallery in West London, close to Marble Arch was called, Drian - after the geometrically obsessed Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian whose work went on to inspire many including couturier, Yves Saint Laurent in his interpretation of the graphic verve of his 1960s cocktail shifts in exact blocks of Pillar Box Red, bright Prussian Blue - and indeed, Sunshine Yellow - framed by dark grey - not black - all the better to make the colour harmonically blend on geometric stages but not so much as the sharpness of black would have done.  And most would agree, black (like white) are not actually colours, per se. As Mondrian himself says,

'The rhythm of relations of colour and size makes the absolute appear in the relativity of time and space'.

A talented painter, Halima Nałęcz passionately painted bold flowers contrasting vibrant colour within the delicacy of petals. She transmitted the naturalness of these passing jewels of Nature. But she surely would have understood too, the artificially inspired as well. Consider Aldous Huxley who experimented with mescaline (ironically, naturally derived from cacti) in 1953 and experienced the effect of the power of colour.

'I took my pill at eleven. An hour and a half later I was sitting in my study, looking intently at a small glass vase. The vase contained only three flowers - a full-blown Belle of Portugal rose, shell pink with a hint at every petal's base of a hotter, familiar hue; a large magenta and cream-coloured carnation;and, pale purple at the end of its broken stalk, the bold heraldic blossom of an iris...the little nosegay broke all rules..I had been struck by the lively dissonance of its colours.' ('The Doors of Perception', Aldous Huxley).

The artists selected for this celebratory exhibition on colour, clearly show how their varied and variant passions -  figurative to abstract, plain colour fields to symbolist motifs - utilize its variance. The object of the curation was not to seek any kind of harmonic balance when it came to the use of colour. Rather, it was to present the energy of the synergy of colour 'clash'. And so, the effect is hopefully, exhausting - in a most constructive way. For here are colours as natural as Nature herself and to borrow the title from J.K.Huysmans' novel, 'Against Nature', too. The latter does not imply anything negative or discomforting in the case of this presentation. Petal pinks and Apple greens dance with Electric blues and Neon yellows. Earth and terracotta tones confide and compare with the shades of impossibly-hued vivid skies by airy day or sueded night.

In life, colour has many a tale to tell, spanning the real to the surreal - and often a mixture of both. One might instantly think of the rather eccentric and certainly musically talented Lord Berners who had his estate pigeons dyed candy colours, like sugar almonds, described by Nancy Mitford as 'fluttering like a cloud of confetti'. Or consider the grand Marchesa Lusia Casati who once drenched herself in deep, Imperial purple robes and the peacocks at her friend's country house, courted her. And, even now, in this 21st century, the ancient Hindu festival of Holi is still celebrated, where denizens of every town, rich or not so, pelt each other with handfuls of pure powdered colour, each becoming a living canvas for a day. And the message is hope and celebration.  And then, what of ancient Rome and other civilizations where colour was used as an indicator of status and then, consider the imaginings of the makers of such science fiction films as 'Logan's Run' where colour in clothes is used to typify the taint of passing age? The silence of colour is more than voluble. 

Colour is inescapable, universal and always, surprising - a source of inspiration and experimentation.

It is as eternal as thought.

ROBIN DUTT, Curator.

We’re delighted to share with you a critique by Robin Dutt in honour of the life and legacy of the iconic artist, Halima Nałęcz.