Simply red

Paul Klee is well known for ‘taking a line for a walk’. I am talking the artist for a walk, and in doing so looking for the colour, lines, textures, shapes that jump out. I will concentrate on the same walk, but each time I go out, I will focus on a different theme.

For now, it is colour I am hungry for so currently I am looking at primary colours. They are found on a myriad of objects and signs, which put together will probably have nothing in common apart from the colour they are. The playful act of finding them is just the beginning. I want to see how my playful nuance of primary colours lead to my own cheeky combination. It is so enriching to let colour in. It certainly transforms my mood as I seek out colour.

Sticking with the red palette for now, if I look at the objects depicting red during my walk, there is a red no entry sign, learner plate, fire extinguisher, red phone and person signalling help on the defibrillator sign, red reverse light on the car and SALE sign. They symbolise here a warning, an important sign, they demand attention.

I collaged some of the red icons I gathered from my ‘red walk’ to create my own playful composition. I realised that in centralising the ‘stop sign,’ I emphasise the importance of being alert. In using the red man from the pedestrian crossing, I stress his role to protect pedestrians. The smaller red man and his red phone indicates the vital importance of calling for help in danger.

I thought I would dive into what the psychologists say about the colour red. Red is the colour of heightened emotion, it’s invigorating, intimidating and is used to show power and strength. Why do we feel so strongly about the colour red? It is seems to be associated with blood, war, sex, love, passion, danger.

I have been looking at various academic papers regarding Carl Jung’s The Red Book, whereby he wrote down his unconscious thoughts. In 1980, a Munsell-type wheel representing emotions was created by emotion theorist Robert Plutchick and he assigned ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ to red.

In an article in the August issue of The Psychologist entitled ‘Seeing Red’, G. Neil Martin (2017) reviews the evidence regarding whether exposure to the colour red changes behaviour? He highlights various evidence to prove that red can alter perception and quotes academic research backing this, in the field of sport in particular. Hill & Barton (2005) discovered that combat sport contestants such as in boxing, tae kwon do and freestyle wrestling, who took part in the 2004 Olympic Games, were more likely to win if they wore red as opposed to blue. Martin quotes other examples, but raises issues of his own. The key ones are that context is important as red is not a universal signifier of an exclusive trait and does not only represent romance or a danger/threat. Another issue is this: that red is not always red and can vary ‘according to hue, vividness, sharpness, lightness and other chromatic dimensions.’ Martin states therefore that ‘it is unclear from the studies using red whether there is consistency in the kind of red stimulus used.’ (2017, p. 52).

I decided to see just how many shades of red I could see in my own walk. I thought it would be fun to highlight the shapes where the red was prominant.

Seeing red in shades
Red walk deconstructed
Red against blue

Many of Wassily Kandinsky’s most famous works portray various shapes and coloration which evokes different meaning to those who view them. His painting MIT Und Gegen, created in 1929, represents his own personal experiences according to Kandinsky. It features heavy amounts of red.

If I am to look at playfulness, I think colour has to come into this. Are there more playful palettes? Why is this? In order to understand this, I have to unpack the evocative power of colour and what it means. It is a field which has been well researched and covered, but in order to play with these colours, surely I need to understand and appreciate what it might provoke in people and indeed myself? How can a colour be playful?

For now, these are some of my playful experiments with the red walk. I tried to pick out the shapes and colour to express something different – may be showing my own playful attitude and personality in the way I have mixed and matched shades of red and shapes.

Hill, R.A. & Barton, R.A. (2005). Psychology: Red enhances human performance in contests. Nature, 435(7040), 293–293

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