On colour mixing – without mixing colours

bezold effect yarn winding

Høgh-Mikkelsen, M (2020) ‘On Colour Mixing – without mixing Colour’ in Skibsted, A. ‘Vikleprøvemanifestet’. Aarhus: Astrid Skibsted

Take a look out your window. Maybe you’re looking down on an urban environment with asphalt, cars, and bricks. Or maybe you’re looking out -as I am -into a garden with trees and flowers. Everything we see here is colour. We can’t, in fact, see anything other than colour, because we perceive spatial depth and shape and materiality by gradations in colour. In my garden, the lawn is a lush yellowish green, the beech hedge is a murky green, the half-withered hydrangeas are a dry pink, and the brick wall is a light, matte orange. It’s September and all the colours have taken on a faint hint of something brownish. If I open the garden door and walk out -all the way to the bottom of the garden near the beech hedge -I can see that the hedge doesn’t have the murky green colour that I first experienced. It consists of shades of green, from a few new, bold, lime-green shoots to the crisp dark green leaves of late summer, plus a disturbing number of brown and orange-red leaves. On top of that come the deep gaps that open to the darkness inside the hedge; the shadows here contribute a dark, almost black colour. The murky green that I experienced from inside the house consists in reality of a long list of colours that optically mix when I observe the hedge from a distance. There are both the actual colours from the beech leaves, but also the colour of the shadows in the structure of the hedge. If I explore other colours in my garden, the same holds true. Also, in your urban environment. The asphalt has many shades of grey, black, brown, and blue. The walls also have surprising colours when we zoom in. The glossy paint of a car is perhaps the only strictly monochrome surface in the urban environment.

This blending of small colour surfaces into a single perceived colour was first described by Wilhelm von Bezold in 1874 and thereby named after him as the Bezold effect. In Bezold’s time, Impressionism developed in France and gave birth to a very distinctive style called Neo-Impressionism, and later, pointillism, which took advantage of the Bezold effect. Georges Seurat is known for pointillism, a special colour formation technique in which small blobs of different coloured paints are placed close to each other instead of the pigments being mixed on the palette. In this way, the colour is first formed optically, in the eye of the beholder. Just like the murky green colour of the hedge in my garden. Bezold describes small areas of colour that are adjacent to each other, but our world is more complex than small paint surfaces. It unfolds in a euphoria of materials and spatialities, the incidence of light, surfaces, and structures, all of which have enormous influence on how we experience colour. When the weaver creates colour experiences, she uses not only the colour, but also the material’s texture. That makes the colour experience complex and vibrant. For the weaver, the Bezold effect is a natural part of working with colour. A very elegant example of this is the Danish artist Nanna Ditzel’s textile Hallingdal, which is a simple plain weave in a blend of wool and viscose. The warp and weft make up the two actual colours, which optically blend. The structure of the wool and the gloss of the viscose contribute to the colour experience with deep tones, just like the shadows from the darkness of the hedge.

My point is that colours blend and unfold within us. Colour cannot be reduced to a physical phenomenon that happens outside of us. Colour is perception, which occurs in combination with light, materials, and our eyes and experience. It is not a factual and accurate reproduction of reality. On the contrary, we can manipulate reality and create intense colour experiences in a multitude of shades without physically blending pigments, but by placing colours close together. So, try looking out your window again. Play with the idea that you need to convert one of the colours you see into a yarn winding. There is the dyed yarn, there is the materiality, the structure. There are the gaps, the shadows, and the rhythm. How does the hedge look as a yarn winding? A solid murky green?

In 2018 Maria and Astrid met to explore the Bezold effect with yarn windings. That meeting resulted in a good-sized stack of yarn windings with surprising colour results and an inspiring dialogue about colour, yarn and immersion in the creative process.