SUMMER READS #3: The Secret Lives of Colour

February 7, 2019

This is the third article in our Summer Reads series. One article every Friday, summing up what we’re loving to read at the moment. If you’re yet to get started, take a read of article #1 here.

Kassia St Clair

Image Source: Kassia St Clair

Inspired by my newfound love for pink through recent project forays, St Clair’s compendium of stories around the meaning & histories of 75 distinct colours was top of my (large) book pile this holiday.

Unravelling the journey behind how colours came into fruition, St Clair’s amazing art historical research forays takes you on an incredible journey through the visible spectrum. Making you think about how inextricably linked colours were to our development as nations and peoples, but also about the incredible enduring cultural value wrapped up in some of our favourite hues.

Did you know the strict girl-pink blue-boy divide only materialised half way through the 20th century? Or that at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, competitors who wore red won 55% of the time?

Colours are infinitely powerful & have strange potential to shape our mental and physical ways of being.  

So, here are my stand-out shade stories.

Acid yellow
Now the dominant colour signifier of Emojis, the very first smiley appeared in an American TV programme in 1963. Swiftly, it became adopted as a symbol for subversion in political protests of the 70s before evolving to be the literal face of late 80s pop culture (think Talking Heads, Psycho Killer). Its salience was then embraced as the signature shade of 90s rave culture and a dance happy generation – insidious, chemical and joyous. Today, it’s come down from its euphoric high to become the humble emoticon smiley that’s an innate part of how we communicate today.

Image Source: 909 Originals

Baker miller pink
Proclaimed in 1979 by Professor Shauss as a means to make people less aggressive through colour exposure, this pepto-bismol shade of pink was heralded as a way to subdue the strength of prisoners in the States. After reducing the reigning Mr California to barely being able to summon a bicep-curl after a minutes exposure, it became a bit of a phenomenon and swept through housing estates, drunk tanks and sports teams visitor locker rooms in the States. There was of course an academic backlash in the late 1980s that raised question over the sickly shade’s effectiveness – but whose to know if it will materialize again as a proponent in the Toxic Masculinity debate.

Image Source: Apartment Therapy

Who knew that one of the most prevalent colours used in food and cosmetic manufacturing actually comes from beetles, or Dactylopius Coccus. Fondly known as Cocci or E120 to ingredients labels, it’s in everything from red M&Ms and red velvet cupcakes, to red lipstick and cherry coke. This humble insect was one of the first currencies traded by the Aztec and Inca empires, formed the financial backbone of the Spanish Empire, and from 16th century it dyed Venetian blinds and clothed the Roman Catholic cardinals of Europe. So, eating all the creepy crawlies really isn’t that future forward after all. 

Image Source: Errens Kitchen