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Cromorama.
Riccardo Falcinelli

How colour has changed our perception

Why is it that these days when we think of yellow, it’s the Simpsons’ yellow? Why did Flaubert dress Emma Bovary in blue? Why did Mondrian never use green in his paintings? And why did Hitchcock go wild with it? 

Colour is not just a sensation, or a mere attribute of things for people these days. Colour is often a concept, or an expectation. Some shades merge so completely with objects that it becomes difficult to think of them any other way. It’s not surprising that when we (or Google) look for a pencil, in our mind’s eye it’s a yellow one. A yellow pencil is more of a pencil than any other. It’s an archetype. A mental model that all the others draw on.  To misquote Plato, one might say that the yellow pencil is the idea of the pencil itself, while the red, blue and green ones are but pale imitations. 

In the world of images, colour informs. It seduces, as in advertising. It narrates, as in film. It grades, as in weather forecasts. It organises, as in infographics. It valorises, as in cosmetics. It distinguishes, as in food. It forbids, as in traffic lights. It highlights, as in samples. It conceals, as in camouflage suits. It is admired, as in works of art.  Basically, it gives pleasure to us all. All this is owed to technology. First and foremost, the mass media, which communicate and amplify chromatic behaviours. The general public observes, chooses and learns; to the point at which these habits cause our perception to become standardised and colour starts to speak for itself, which in turn seems perfectly natural. 

All this and much more comes out of CROMORAMA by Riccardo Falcinelli, one of the most highly regarded visual designers on the Italian graphics scene. It is cultured and structured journey in search of the symbology of colours in the contemporary world – from the black of mourning to the red of communism, the yellow of the Simpsons to the blue cloak that, traditionally, envelops the Virgin Mary; each colour has a meaning, both in cinema and in the field of figurative arts, painting and photography, and in daily life. 

Interweaving story after story, object after object, illustration after illustration (a good 400 of them!), Falcinelli tells us how modern perception was formed. While all the generations before us built symbolic systems in which colour played a central role, something new and extraordinary is going on today: technology and industry are changing the way we look at things – training us to see things differently. Seen on a smartphone, a fresco can seem as luminous as a digital photo. The intense, bright colours on the screen have become the parameter by which we assess the purity of every chromatic phenomenon. Basically, anybody used to colour television can no longer see the world through the eyes of the past. Cromorama shows us how colour has become a filter through which we perceive reality.

 

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