The Postmodern Palette

Vibrant and fantastical use of colour is modern. Vivid rainbows and lively kaleidoscopes can be seen everywhere in our world these days. Colours attract the eye; they stand out in peripheral sights and persuade the viewer to turn and take in the visual. Sepia tone feels vintage, the dusty brown and beige palette imparting a sense of days past, a retrospective reminiscent of old photographs and aging, weathered pages. And then, of course, monochrome, the classic lack of colour. All shades and tones of grey and black, everlasting and ever-employed, but rarely futuristic.

These understandings are inevitably opinion, but it is this digital environment from whence they spring. Essentially every colour can now be achieved through tweaking the comparative tallies of cyan, magenta, yellow, and key. Add that to the seemingly limitless functions that design and illustration programs offer, and a skilled graphic artist can sit at a glowing monitor and conjure any colour, any vibrance they desire. In this world any hue is attainable with an experienced click of the mouse and a knowledgeable keystroke. This sometimes dream-like use of colour is evident in branding, fashion, cinema, the list goes on. However, with this eclectic use of colour being the current climate, the question is begged, what is the post-modern colour palette? What will our steps tread upon next?

One possible more than modern manifestation of colour could be demonstrated here, in this drawing by an endlessly talented friend of mine named Veronica Neufeld.

If the image is meant to be metaphorical, it could represent the individual’s struggle for self-realization. In the balloon child’s hands rest an eccentric array of colors and patterns, a possible representation of emotions, all of which are given expression at one time or another. However, none of these individual emotions, nor even the qualitative sum of them all, offer a complete image of the individual from whom they burst. Thus, the individual largely lacks colour, holds only fringe splashes on its edges, as with the standing child, whose thoughts spray a swirling phantasmagoria of tones, and hues. All is within us, all we’ve experienced and felt and known, yet self-definition remains an intensely difficult task. This use of colour could represent that.

On a more surface level, the lack of colour at the image’s focal points is inherently intriguing. The colour within the individuals is located in the same manner as it is within the whole image, there is far more colour in the fringes than there is in the center of the visual. Despite this, the eye is still drawn to the two humanoid characters, and their facial expressions still communicate emotions we can speculate at, if not recognize. This use of colour feels natural for this image, an intentional stylistic choice that effectively creates a specific tone for the visual. It lacks no legitimacy as an artistic avenue, but could also be employed in alternate ways.

It has become common place for businesses and organizations to incorporate artistic creations in their branding, employing a more involving and invigorating method of marketing. Specifically speaking of visual identities, brands can go several different ways when establishing logos, colour palettes and the like. The question is, what opportunities does this visual style present from a branding perspective? For a brand to employ this style in its creation of a visual identity, the inherent themes of the style would have to reflect the brand’s identity, that understanding which it wants to translate to its audience. A lack of color in the focal elements could be understood metaphorically as the a lack of substance in the empty subjects, but of course this is an unfavourable attribute to bear. Any brand employing this style would have to find the inherent positive in this style, a specific perspective that makes the lack of colour in the visual center not just an endearing positive, but indicative of what the brand is, does, and endeavours to be.

To achieve such is certainly not unfeasible. Already humanitarian intentions spring to mind, a company which intends to enrich the surrounding community could bear a logo in this style, whatever form that enrichment takes. It could be economic invigoration of a community, or, perhaps more fittingly, an artistic co-op that incorporates people in a community in large outdoor pieces. This visual style has specific applications that it suits sublimely, they simply would need to be found. This image takes it in a whimsical, enchanted direction, which works very well, but the basics of this style could be taken in different directions, and yield intriguing results.

This artistic style may not be the post-modern palette, it may never see prevalence the way intense and vibrant colour is now. Only time will tell the next palette to be embraced en masse and overtake our environment. The one certainty is that it will be inventive, out of necessity. We haven’t seen it all, far from it, but we have seen. Perhaps there is no postmodern palette. Perhaps aesthetic innovation in terms of tones and Pantones has been exhausted, and all coming revelations lay in re-imaginings and reconstructions alone. A somber notion, certainly, but one worth entertaining. The world has seen colour used in endless ways, from the inane to the inspired, instinctual to insanity. What stone sits still unturned? I ask you.


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