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We live our lives in colour. Each one of us perceives colour differently, and how we react to colours might depend on our eyesight, our mood or where we are from. Artists often use colour to explore their thoughts or feelings on their place in the world. Artists in the 20th and 21st centuries have tried to expand the way colour is used, from paint to photography to new materials. This display shows art from a range of countries, cultures and times, linked by a focus on colour.

Henri Matisse - The Snail (1953)
Henri Matisse – The Snail (1953)

When Henri Matisse was in his sixties, he wanted to make art but ill health made it difficult for him to paint. Instead he started “painting with scissors”, cutting painted paper into shapes. His assistants moved the paper pieces according to Matisse’s directions, pinning them to the walls of his studio. Matisse has arranged the paper in the spiral shape of a snail’s shell, placing colours next to each other to create a vibrant effect: green and red, orange and blue, pink and yellow.

William Eggleston - Chromes (1970-3)
William Eggleston – Chromes (1970-3)

American photographer William Eggleston takes photographs of the everyday world he sees around him. The intense colours in the prints of his photographs make ordinary subjects look extraordinary. He uses a highly complex printing process called ‘dye transfer’, where the colours are separated and printed one at a time. Eggleston was one of the first colour photographers to have their work displayed in an art gallery. Before this, to be take seriously as a photographer you had to shoot in black and white.

Gerhard Richter - Cage
Gerhard Richter – Cage

Since the early 1980s, Richter has frequently made abstract works by applying layers of paint, and then wiping a squeegee across the surface. As the upper layers of paint are dragged across the canvas, earlier moments from the painting’s creation are allowed to resurface. The Cage paintings are the outcome of several layers of painting and erasure. Their surfaces are animated by lines where the squeegee has paused, by brushstrokes, other scrapings, and areas where the skin of oil paint has dried and rippled. The paint seems delicate and fluid in some areas, and more solid in others.

Jean-Pierre Yvaral - Ambiguous Structure No.92 (1969)
Jean-Pierre Yvaral – Ambiguous Structure No.92 (1969)

Ambitious Structure No.92 is an abstract paintings in acrylic. It comprises of a series of geometrical shapes in blue, light grey-blue, red and orange tones which are combined to produce a 3D effect. Ovarial began to experiment with colour compositions in 1968, after working exclusively in black and white from 1960. This is one of his first optical paintings in colour. It exemplifies the colours and illusionary movements that characterises Yvaral’s colour paintings and screen prints.

Bridget Riley - Nataraja (1993)
Bridget Riley – Nataraja (1993)

Although her works do not appear to be based on any particular patterns from the real world, Riley is nevertheless influenced by the effects of nature on the human eye. Early in her career, Riley would primarily work in black and white, exploring the startling visual effects produced by the contrasting tones. Around 1970 she turned to colour, which she described as being “closer to our experience of the real world. Unstable and Incalculable, is also rich and comforting.