“Colour might be one of those subjects that simply couldn’t be written about. But I can’t resist trying”. It’s a bold statement but also a challenge, to the reader as well as the author and this is a book that confronts as well as explains our relationship with the world around us.
For once, such a journey is not scientific – geological or biological – but rather cultural. Colour is entirely subjective and we have no idea whether what we see is what anyone else sees. Experiences are also cultural and what can seem garish in one will be scintillating and natural to another. Look, for example, at a piece of fine eighteenth century furniture. Marvel at the subtlety of the marquetry, but then remember that, in its day, those patterns would have been picked out in bright colours that have faded through time. Modern reconstructions come as a real shock.
Each chapter in this absorbing book is devoted to a single colour – seven of them, beginning with black, the primeval darkness out of which enlightenment emerged and still the place to look for ignorance, fear and evil. This is a history of culture and understanding that examines not just how we see the world, but how we have seen it at various stages of history, our view coloured by the prevailing attitudes of their times.
Cultural histories abound and new ways of interpreting the past are hard to find, but this is an original and thoroughly worthwhile journey from a genuinely original perspective.
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