Weston Park will be blaze of colour over the next few months thanks to its latest exhibition.
Colour Coded looks at how our perception of colour has evolved through history from early attempts to replicate the hues of the natural world to modern times when thanks to technological advances we can synthetically match almost any shade imaginable.
It explores the history, science and symbolism behind the remarkable spectrum now at our disposal.
Through objects drawn mostly from the city’s Social History, Natural History, Decorative Art and Visual Art collections, the exhibition celebrates the emotional power which colour continues to hold over us.
“It’s an opportunity to get some fabulous things out of the collection and colour is such a great way of doing it,” says Kirstie Hamilton, curator of the show. “There are objects with great stories behind them we haven’t shown for a long time.”
One striking example is the Beefeaters uniform that belonged to Cyril Taylor, a Killamarsh miner who joined the Army and after the Second World War ended up Chief Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London. After his death in 1983 his son, Ronald, presented the uniform to the city of his birth.
Next to it in one of the red display cabinets is a child’s dress which was in fact worn by a boy back in the 1870s when male and female children dressed similarly and before blue was associated with boys.
The items in the exhibition are themselves colour-coded, mostly grouped together by colour.
In the yellow corner you will find a teenage dress from the Fifties, a tin of mustard, a bar of coal tar soap, a Meccano set, a pair of satin shoes from the 1700s and a pineapple-shaped ice bucket.
“Weston Park is about connecting with all the collections and this is a multi-discipline exhibition with everything on a par - the decorative arts, natural sciences, social history and visual arts,” explains the curator.
The use of colour was once reliant on expensive natural sources for dyes and pigments which, for example, prevented only the rich getting their hands on purple - hence its assocation with royalty.
A scientific breakthrough, the development of the first synthetic dye, Perkin’s Mauve in 1856, created a craze for purple in Victorian fashion. Twentieth century innovations in plastics made vivid colour very inexpensive to produce.
Colourful things became commonplace as demonstrated by the range of household objects from the city’s Social History collection including fashion, textiles, toys and homeware.
Kirstie Hamilton points to a humble orange Thermos flask which she says epitomises the 1970s, an era which embraced that colour more than any other. It takes its place alongside a flamingo and an ibis.
“Some of the most interesting things in the exhibition are stuffed birds and mounted butterflies,” she observes, exhibits that there is rarely a context to display.
The exhibition will also look at the breadth of cultural interpretations of different colours, as well questioning what influences our personal preference for certain colours.
Colour Coded will also showcase several works by artists for whom the use of colour is central to their practice.
Alongside Patrick Caulfield’s striking Jules Laforgue series of prints, there are works on show by Brian Fielding, Richard Rayner and Brian Clark, all artists with a connection to Sheffield.
Contemporary artist Ella Robinson was commissioned to create work for the exhibition. The Brighton-based artist’s practice revolves around found objects and detritus washed up on the beach, which she transforms into intriguing sculptural objects using a range of vivid and vibrant materials.
There’s a collection of plastic lighters lined up like a paint chart and pieces of driftwood implanted with plastic discs.
“It all adds up to a joyful look at the diversity of our collection and the diversity of Sheffield,” concludes Hamilton.
Colour Coded opens at Weston Park on Saturday and continues until January.