25 Mar

Sophie Smallhorn: Colour, Chaos & Order

By Justine Fox:

Colour understanding is at the forefront of my work with Clarity InColour. It defines the projects that we engage in for commercial clients whether it's in branding, retail or product range building. But colour is an evolving science, something that as humans we constantly explore and challenge and it's this relationship between 'us' and 'it' that keeps me fascinated.


Ahead of last weekend's opening of her first solo show in over 10 years, at Galerie Wenger in Zurich, I spoke with London based artist Sophie Smallhorn about her relationship with colour.

Component Ledge

Component Ledge detail - Sophie Smallhorn


After graduating in furniture design from University Of Brighton, Smallhorn's interest in colour and the endless possibilities it presents saw her move completely into practice as an artist. It is perhaps because of this experimentation in hue and saturation rendered in defined graphic elements that led to her work on projects such as the 2012 Olympic Stadium and recently opened in summer 2013, London's Buckingham Gate by architects Swanke Hayden Conell.


When asked how these grand scale applications of colour differ to her own practice, Smallhorn explained that often these smaller pieces inform the larger projects. Speaking about the 2012 Olympic Stadium, she explains how working within the constraints of a brief, in this case to include brand colours as well as reflect a sense of the Olympic spirit requires a more conservative approach. Her ethos in this respect was that colour, as a universal language, was the perfect vehicle to relate to the many nations involved. In a sense the Olympics themselves are such a colourful event that to use this medium seemed like a good way to bring the stadium together.

 Component Cube

Cube - Sophie Smallhorn


The challenge in London's Buckingham Gate for Smallhorn was to master new parameters of colour mixing moving from opacity to transparency. She explains how frustrating it was at times to accept certain colour limitations of the printed glass product that formed the 800 square metre canopy. What became more exciting about this project was that the canopy sat 10 metres above the ground and the subtractive colour interplay of the reflection on its surroundings as lighting conditions change.


Having enjoyed the interaction and practicalities of life within a design team on these grand schemes, Smallhorn returned to the solitary environment of her studio to focus on her own thought process. Back within the realms of colour, space and proportion, she's been continuing to explore chaos and geometric forms within formal frameworks.

 Component Cube

Cube - Sophie Smallhorn

Component Cube - Sophie Smallhorn


Her new three-dimensional work Component Cube, Component Ledge and Cube studies colour interaction, how placing one colour behind another alters the impression of both as they're viewed from different angles. Asked about planning the colour collections within these pieces, Smallhorn explains that although there is a background idea (she's a great collector of prosaic colour inspiration like sugar packaging), her selection is intuitive. She works closely in colour families with gradations, painstakingly mixing paint until the weight feels right. Colour is very much the lead, often with one hue giving the directive to the next. Intentionally each piece houses a rogue. That colour we find uncomfortable, that jars, that keeps us on our toes and that, Smallhorn admits, challenges and fascinates her through the process.

 Component Ledge

Component Ledge - Sophie Smallhorn


And what about a favourite colour? Yellow has been quoted in the past as Smallhorn's favourite and yes she agrees, it still is. This red/yellow area is obviously where she is most comfortable but within her new screenprints Yellow, Wine, Pale or Colour Wheel she focuses on overlay, intensity and possibly more important than the colour itself, proportionality. This seems to lend itself to more complex and interesting types of colour with undeniable confidence. As Smallhorn herself says, 'Form is secondary to colour. The colour must always come first.'


Sophie Smallhorn's solo show runs from 22nd March - 17th May 2014 at Galerie Wenger M├╝hlebachstrasse 12, CH-8008 Z├╝rich.


Justine Fox is Creative director of Clarity InColour, a London Based colour consulting service. More by Justine Fox.

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Color Objects encourages you to get a better eye and appreciation for colors and characters. To get a special selection of pics and info for you, we find designers and artists that make colorful work from all over the world. There's a lot of character in colors, and having a closer look will change your view of the world and people around you. So we share a host of pics and info from design, art, cultures and the natural world. All about colors.

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