The Weight of Colour

Liz Michael on seeing and feeling

On Seeing and Feeling

Gris explores colour within three colour fields: grey, white, and blue. It is a study of contrasts that explores monochrome tonalities and the ongoing dialogue of repetition within them. Within these colour fields I seek to understand the relationship between seeing and feeling.

When you walk into a space, you see it first and then you feel it. The spatiality, the light, the colour. Colour changes the mood of an environment. It can be so subtle you don’t notice it, but it can create lightness and an open feeling, a sense of calm. Or you can immediately feel the impact and silence of a dark room—colour is emotional, whether one realises it at the time or not.

On Light

Understanding the effect of light is key to everything. Each colour reflects differently in each environment, in different lightning conditions.

I learned about the interplay of light in my previous work as a make up artist while working on sets. Shooting in natural daylight versus studio light and different lighting set-ups for film on location. I studied light and what it did to the skin, how it changed the way that skin and colour appeared. Observing the effect of shadow, light and tone, then making adjustments on set to get the balance right.

This remains how I think and work today, as I apply that understanding of light and colour to a different medium.

I watch what happens to a colour as the light shifts, because what is important to me is seeing the colour in all lighting conditions. Cloudy skies, the murky light of rain, and then sunlight— to understand the tonalities and achieve the perfect colour balance.

On Creating Colours

When developing a colour, I usually know where I am going and what I want to achieve, but there is also something that can happen in the process—it can go somewhere else. That somewhere else can sometimes be more interesting.

I begin making several versions of a colour with miniscule variations of tone and paint onto large swatches. I leave the swatches out for a week or two to watch what happens as the light changes. To understand what happens to the tonalities. Then I gradually eliminate one version at a time. Sometimes starting over again from the beginning, other times finding the right tonality in one of the versions. It can be difficult to get a colour right, taking weeks or months of development and ideation.

I work between the laborious struggle of trying to get a colour to where I want it, while staying open to the somewhere else it might go, and hope that this process leads to the perfect colour. I am always in pursuit of the perfect colour.

On the Collection

Monochromes feel pure to me. Timeless with infinite possibilities. All the colours have a subdued quality to them. Nothing shouts. There is a quiet depth, a weight to them all. A new colour is a commitment. It has to say something I haven’t already said. It needs to fit in, be consistent and offer something to the collection as a whole. It needs to carry its own weight as an individual monochrome.

On White

Cloudy whites are what interest me. For me to love a white there needs to be complexity to it, which is why a stark white does not appeal to me. N.16, the palest white in the collection, feels perfect, I don’t see myself imagining anything else that could say as much as this white. It is cloudy, but luminous. The barest hint of grey holds back the brightness but does not deaden it. It is extremely subtle, and months in my head before I attempted to create it.

Adding more tone and nuance to a pale colour can add softness and feel calming and more poetic. N.1 is very much this. A classic Scandinavian white, muted and greyer in tone with a slight warmth, appearing cloudier and neutral as light changes. N.17 is an ashy grey/white, cool in tone but in a certain light, you can almost see the slightest suggestion of pink—so carefully muted, yet delicately adds the tiniest lift to the ashy tone.

View on colour

On Grey

Grey makes a statement without making a statement. It is neutral, but also has the most tonal variation, I could go on for a long time exploring grey. I love the androgynous feel and the contrast from light to dark, the warm greys, the cool greys, and the inky.

From the palest milky grey of N.10, which is inspired by modern Australian architecture and the look of bleached concrete. Soothing to the eye with its softness, it is the most subtle colour in The Architectural Series. Australian architects have a very specific take on modernism which I imagine might be influenced by the sun and hardness of the light. At the opposite end of N.10 comes the depth and darkness of N.12. A deep charcoal grey with rich blue undertones. Beautifully androgynous, inspired by modernist colour field painting and the work of monochrome painter Alan Charlton.

On Blue

The blues are a very specific type of blue. Dark blue, navy, grey blue, inky blue that is also smokey. Deep blue has a mysterious quality, but if not executed with restraint it can look crass and too trendy for my liking.

N.9 and N.11 are deep blues. N.9 has a dusty denim like feel, while N.11 being only slightly deeper and more inky. N.21 joins these blues to create a mini series within The Inky Series. Greyer and more stormy-like. It appears grey in certain light and more blue, as brighter light comes in. N.13 a smokey navy and the darkest colour in the collection and one of the most special. It is the most silent of all the colours being deeply meditative, almost melancholic, yet at the same time, sensual. There is something deeply relaxing about being cocooned in a dark colour. Dark colours can have depth and dimension and feel reflective and peaceful.

View on colour 5

On Modernism

Modernism, abstraction, and minimalism are the veins that permeate the language of Gris. The aesthetic thread that runs through the photographic imagery, essentially creating a mood and visual interpretation of how I see and feel a colour.

On Paint

Paint becomes the skin that holds everything together. It surrounds you. Colour can transform a space and make you feel something. All colours create an experience, spatial awareness and the relationship between seeing and feeling. This is what I am seeking to do: create those experiences.