The language of Japanese colour combinations

I love the pure experimentation of colour by modern abstract artists like Mark Rothko, Josef Albers and Bridget Riley. One of my favourite exhibitions, ever, was by Christina Mackie. Nine-metre-high silk nets hung in Tate Britain’s Duveen Gallery. The pastel, soft fabric trickled down into pools of dense, crystallised dye.

I’ve even interviewed an artist about the taste of colour.

It takes 90 seconds to subconsciously form an opinion of someone, something or somewhere and up to “90% of that assessment is based on colour alone”. CCICOLOR

Walking into a forest of colour


‘Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations’ is an exhibition by Japan House, Japan’s cultural centre in London.

Walking into the exhibition space, with ceiling-high, unravelling strips of naturally dyed silks, was a flashback to Christina Mackie at the Duveen Gallery, 4 years ago. Except, rather than a philosophical investigation of colour, the exhibition investigates a cultural meaning, one very closely linked to the seasonal transformation of the natural world.

Kasane Thinking Hatt

Talking to the seasons

The Japanese concept of ‘Kasane’ is used to represent the art of arranging colour combinations, layering them one on top of the other to capture the beauty of blossoms, autumnal leaves and frost.

Understanding the subtleties in the colours of the changing seasons was essential in ancient Japanese aristocracy. Originating in Heian-period Japan (794-1185 CE), Kasane was used in formal dress, the colour of a kimono’s neckline, cuffs and hems were expected to match the season. In courtship too, love poems were dyed to match the mood of the season and tied to sprigs of blossom or willow.

A colour dictionary of nature

Sachio Yoshioka, the mastermind behind the exhibition, is a legendary master dyer from Kyoto, Japan. He has revived the use of natural plant-based materials to produce beautiful bright colours, tracking down plants historically used in dyes.

On display at Japan House is a £5,000 dictionary of 260 colours, all produced by layering Yoshioka’s natural plant dyes.

Colour Dictionary

Thinking Hatt Living Colours Kasan Japan House

The exhibition ‘Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations’ 

Japan House, Kensington High Street


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