The artist with an appetite for colour

An interview with Margrethe Odgaard.

Imagine a rural Scandinavian farmhouse with a dreaming, dark-haired girl lazing in long grass. Without a TV in the house and far from popular culture, her creativity sculpts her into a classical pianist. She practices her musical talent until she turns sixteen. As a young adult she attends the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and travels across oceans to Rhode Island school of Design, to specialise in printmaking. After a career in fashion, her desire to create for the purpose of longevity anchors her to interior design.

Margrethe Odgaard now runs her own design studio in Copenhagen. The winner of two Danish and one Milan Design Award (amongst many others), her talent has been repeatedly acknowledged. Her designs are practical and simple. Practical in way that ingeniously transforms unconscious thoughts into conscious features of her objects; and simple enough to let colour, shape and texture work in aesthetic harmony.

As I try to hide my shyness with a few stumbling questions to start the interview, Margrethe takes the opportunity to philosophise:

“Design is communication. There is a dialogue that is passed on from my creation to the person who buys a product from me and it becomes a functional part of their life.”

I first discovered Margrethe’s work from her collaboration with IKEA. She produced a range of textiles featuring an identical grid pattern. Each piece repeats the pattern with slight variations in colour, which forges a completely different feel to the design. Margrethe has a special relationship with colour, epitomised by her unique Colour Index. 310 popsicle sticks coated in gouache, reactive dye and acrylic paint help her to plan out colour combinations in a way that appeals to the sensation of taste, as well as sight. Research into the essence and existence of colour has dominated my final year at University, so I quickly turn our conversation to the project.

Margrethe explains how the standard Pantone Colour System is not good enough because it doesn’t communicate the richness of colour; she compares the Pantone squares to the notes produced from an electronic keyboard- lacking the authenticity of a real piano. Thinking back to herself as a young pianist, Margrethe notes that “in a way, I still do what I did then, only instead of playing the piano I play colours as keys and notes.” She uses her personal collection of hand-painted wooden popsicle sticks to test an instinctive attraction to harmonious colour combinations.

Magrethe

The label attached to the Colour Index reads, “if the colour appears edible, if you are willing to put the colour in your mouth, then it successfully relates to the body.” This synesthesia set her up to collaborate with high-end chef, Jakob Mielcke. Margrethe started to really explore the relationship between colour and taste at More Than Eating Roskilde Festival (2014 & 2015).  She created a version of the traditional painter’s wooden colour palette as a plate for each dish. Each plate resembled the five tastes of the dishes: salty, bitter, umami, sweet and sour. Accompanying the dishes, the waiters were suited in matching overalls to envisage the relevant taste-bud button about to be pressed.

I ask how the audience reacted to such a blitz of senses and she responds vigorously, “people really appreciated someone brave enough to uncover the link between taste and colour. Colours are a lot more broad than just temperature or communication, they affect us in lots of ways.”

When I finally ask Margrethe my metaphysical question- “what do you think colour really is?”- she seems to curb my analytical influences (talk of light waves and photoreceptors) with a romantic idea.

“Colour makes a lot of sense as light waves but it is more than mathematics. It is the way light appears to us. The way we react on a sunny day with a blue sky is because of the light. Our mood lifts and it’s a bodily reaction. A plant dies without light and we are very complex plants, we need light. Light is life.”

We continue to talk about colour’s appearance to us as a subjective, emotional phenomenon, or at least a relative property, until she has to rush off to a day full of meetings. Five minutes after our phone call, I receive an email from Margrethe, enthused to talk to someone else as passionate about colour as her, with a web link to ‘Why Colour Matters’. It’s an inventory of facts emphasising the importance of colour but tailored specifically to marketing research for product sales; I’m a little deflated.

It takes 90 seconds to subconsciously form an opinion on someone, something or somewhere and up to “90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.” (Source: CCICOLOR)

It’s taken a long time to write-up this piece. On one account because I’ve been writing my dissertation on colour properties. On the other, I’ve doubted my ability to write about the exciting, whimsical idea of colour that I idealise in Margrethe’s work. Collecting my notes together, I realise that her project isn’t over and I can’t end on the statistics attached to her email. Margrethe has now produced her own colour diary and an interactive colour refraction window. Both pieces of art continue to show the relativity of our colour experiences.

Here are sketches from Margrethe’s two-week stay in Japan; an abstracted memory of her cultural exploration.

“Colours can reflect our delicate feelings, and Japan has a rich tradition of using colours as a language of attraction… Biking around in Tokyo and Kyoto, I painted colour combinations found in architecture and objects on-site, which I found especially appealing or intriguing… The number of three colours refer to the musical chord, a harmonic set of three or more notes that is heard simultaneously.”

Margrethe’s art installation piece transforms a window into an interactive display of colour. The unique combination of colour reflections hint at Margrethe’s continual investigation into our body’s relationship with colour.

“RITE is a site-specific window made for Reform Design Biennale 2016 in KinfolkGallery, Copenhagen. The window activates the natural light in the room with an optic play of colour, transparency and reflection.”

 

For more ideas regarding colour, take a look at my interview with paint manufacturer Michael Hardin and an exploration of Christina Mackie at Tate Britain.

Instagram
@HattieBottom & @Thinkinghatt

All photos from Margrethe’s website and Instagram.

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