‘When we describe colour, we are poets’; an interview with artist and paint manufacturer, Michael Harding

Read about someone who creates colour, talk about its essence

Michael Harding is a paint manufacturer and handmakes artist’s oil paints. I met him at a launch for his new colour ‘Amethyst’ at Cass Art in Bristol. He manages to combine analytic knowledge of colour pigment, and how it affects colour vision, with a romantic perspective of our experiences of colour.

When describing the paints he makes, he explains how their colour intensity depends on how close the particles of the paint are. The paints are less rich when substances in the paint interfere with the reflection of light bouncing back into your eye. In bad paint, only 75% of light is reflected. It is a bit like a muffled note, instead of a clear, crisp sound: “more pigment means more BANG to the eye”.

It always amazes me how we have few words that describe colour yet our eyes can perceive billions of shade differences, maybe because our vocabulary would be so redundant if we attempted to use words. Music has greater order through the discipline of written material notes.

The way Harding talks of colour vision in comparison to music and language points to the idea that there is a huge range of colour experience, which we have no means to express. He references to Sean Scully who claims that even black paint is luminous.

Sean Scully, Wall of Light series, oil on linen. Sean Scully, Wall of Light series, oil on linen.

People who were blind from birth and [attain sight] after medical intervention are very interesting, they find the sky the most under described and taken for granted by those who are used to its colours and changes.

I briefly introduce Harding to the philosophical discussion on the nature of colour (for more on this see my previous post) and ask his opinion. I notice a resounding sense of subjectivity in his response. An individual, unique perspective on colour that is dependant on time and place. For Harding, it seems there are not so much ‘colours’ as there are ‘colour moments’. Perhaps these colour moments make up the phenomenon of personally experiencing a colour; incorporating your mood and anchoring it to that moment in time.

I know colour is there but I do not know how it exists for us, subjectively…. Colours I think change their meaning for us because our emotional state is changing constantly. Our relationship with a colour shifts even if the colour is constant.

The relationship between mood and colour might work both ways. It’s widely understood that colours can calm, excite and aggravate our emotional state. In fact, one can distinctly label moods with colours, blue with calm, red with passion and danger, yellow with happiness. But perhaps there is more to discover if our emotional states also affect how we experience colours?

2 responses to “‘When we describe colour, we are poets’; an interview with artist and paint manufacturer, Michael Harding

  1. Pingback: the filters; colour in a ‘techno-scientific world’ | Thinking Hatt·

  2. Pingback: The artist with an appetite for colour | Thinking Hatt·

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