Shades of Emotion

Colour is a fundamental element of art. Even monochromatic images derive meaning and create an impact from the way tones are selected, applied and combined. But where do you start on such an expansive topic? McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco, has struck a delicate balance with Colour Code, diving into the collection and commissions new works to celebrate the various ways pigments have been used to convey emotion, incite symbolism and connect people across place and time. 

In the show, Jackie Black’s photograph Last Meal of Charles William Bass, March 12, 1986 (2003) depicts a single sandwich on a small plate set against a stark black studio background. A strip of plastic-like cheese barely extends beyond the pale white bread, but it nonetheless reels in the viewer, contrasting with the other muted hues. The brightness conjures a surprisingly solemn feeling once viewers find out that this is a series about final food choices on death row.

A similar yellow appears in Spencer Finch’s (b. 1962) Study for Back to Kansas (2014), an index of swatches from the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In one scene, Dorothy holds a bouquet of flowers after defeating the Wicked Witch of the East. Here, the sunshine petals signify celebration rather than death. This is just one juxtaposition in the thematic exhibition that demonstrates how the associations made with palettes are always contingent and never universal.

Josef Albers (1888-1976) argued that colour is “the most relative medium in art” and that it “has innumerable faces or appearances.” To demonstrate this, the abstract artist placed various tones next to each other to see how they changed depending on context. The theory is represented with The Command All-Stars’ 1960 album cover, featuring a geometric design of overlapping blue and black circles. Colour Code serves a similar function, cataloguing some of the innumerable approaches used to provoke feelings from a spectrum of shades.

McEvoy Foundation for the Arts | Until 11 February

Words: Matthew Harrison Tedford

Image Credits:

1. James Welling, 0775, (2006). McEvoy Family Collection, Inkjet print, Courtesy of the artist
2. Jackie Black, Last Meal of Charles William Bass, March 12, 1986, (2003). Color photograph, McEvoy Family Collection, Courtesy of the artist