In a perfect world, Kassia St. Clair would be making the rounds on every late night talk show right now, delivering the important news that is this book. And it’s news that everyone can use: Color is more alive than we are. And if we look hard enough, we’ll never stop learning.
The Secret Lives of Colour has a dead simple thesis, but it’s one worth pounding away at for the rest of our aesthetic lives: Color has context. Color is history, color is manners and style, and because color is, in the very science both of how our eyes see it and how it actually exists as ink or paint or pixel, utterly elusive and constantly changing. And so for all of that, we cannot know where color is going, only where it has been and where it might seem to be right at this very moment.
To illustrate her point, St. Clair structures the book around first a brief (and very welcome) busman’s primer of color theory and science, followed by 75 profiles of different shades, each with its own (sometimes epic) backstory. On every page, you will find a different Google wormhole of sweet, good-for-your-brain delight. Her upfront about Yellow for instance -- rather, an exegesis on the very specific cultural context of the idea of yellow itself, in England in the second half of the 19th Century and its influence on literature and publishing and public morals of the time -- is now my running obsession for the next two weeks. And that’s just two pages. Elsewhere, we shall visit ancient Egypt, Michelle Obama and X-Ray Spex. It’s a truly thrilling ride, and I have no recollection of what my life was like before it. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it was something in the Lead White or Whitewash range.