'Color Bound' Lecture Offers Vivid Depictions of Color Use in Book Art

On Wednesday Oct. 3, the library welcomed speaker Jae Jennifer Rossman, who presented ‘Color Bound’, a lecture on how book artists are influenced by the color spectrum and color theory. Rossman, a class of 1995 St. Mary’s Alumni, is currently the Assistant Director for Special Collections at the Robert B. Haas Arts Library at Yale University. In her presentation, Rossman combined an academic talk with her personal perspective on what she was presenting, to make it relevant to the exhibit she is creating on the same topic.

Rossman began her lecture to a full room of art students and interested attendees by describing how the presentation was separated into three parts, each describing three aspects of color theory that inspire artists: color systems explaining color relationships, color samples, and conceptual works of color. Rossman began by describing how color systems had influenced the work of artists Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen in their collaborative piece, The Temperamental Rose. Influenced by the color classification work of philosopher Johann von Schiller and artist Johann von Goethe as well as others, Hodgson and Cohen created a book that presents classical color charts, as well brand new ways of seeing color. In this way, The Temperamental Rose is rich visual history of color and color systems.

Other pieces explored the work of Anne Thompson, who has created own color system and attempts to codify human emotions with it, and Paul Heimbach, who has created a color system that corresponds colors to certain dates, and then creates portraits of famous people based on the color of dates that were significant in their lives. Several of the pieces, in addition to being enlightening about color, were also very humorous and lighthearted. These exploratory uses of color systems are, according to Rossman, part of a radical new way of thinking about color as representing and communicating abstract concepts in ways that images cannot.

Next, Rossman addressed artworks influenced by color nomenclature identification, or color samples. The pieces in this category explored the relationships of particular colors to each other, and how the names that represent certain colors can create an image for us of a color’s identity. A book by Hans Waanders entitled Colour begins with a picture of a bird. Every page after for the rest of the book has only contains small block of single-color text that lists a variety of colors, seemingly at random. It is only at the end of the book the reader realizes that each page has been describing the plumage of different varieties of kingfishers, the type of bird pictured on the first page. Going back, the reader can read these colors and visualize the bird in vivid, literally colorful new ways.

Rossman also discussed how color samples pose an interest to historians, providing examples of what kinds of colors were popular during certain eras. One interesting example of how color samples can create a history of an individual is a piece called Pink Story: Sinistral. This piece lays out a number of pink color swatches in a timeline, so that the names of colors like ‘baby powder pink’ or  ‘blushing bride’, are put in places relevant to that time in a person life. The idea is to create a color history of the life of a woman and the typical rites they may experiences, from birth to old age. Another piece in which color samples are used as a constructor is called Bologna Sample. The artist tried to recall from memory all the colors she could in the buildings of her hometown of Bologna, Italy; the ‘Red City’. Then, she walked the city and assigned the colors names based on the buildings on which she found them. Rossman examples were very engaging and interesting, demonstrating how color names are important to how we perceive color in art, particularly in the layout of book art.

Finally, Rossman briefly discussed conceptual bookworks, such as Green As Well As Blue As Well as Red. This piece, by artist Lawrence Weiner is both a book and an exhibition that explores an experimental concept of providing an audience with textual constructions and allowing them to create the colors themselves in their own visualization. Weiner explores the philosophy that when artists presents an image, they assert that their own vision of the piece is superior to that of the viewers, and that this image is unalterable. By allowing the audience to create the image themselves, Weiner feels the piece achieves greater meaning and potential to grow. The lecture ended here, allowing a period for questions. Rossman was asked where her inspiration for the lecture came from, to which she replied that it stems from the work she did as an art history major while here at St. Mary’s.

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