Hmmm… don’t colours in a box seem like birds shut up in a cage? The poor creatures don’t know where to go, they know nothing outside their cage. So let’s free them, and see where they go”. Beautiful analogies like this one are part of The Colour Book, a new children’s book by Sophie Benini Pietromarchi. Published by Tara Books¸ The Colour Book is an imaginative foray that invites its readers to step into the world of colours.
An artist and teacher, Benini Pietromarchi’s latest creation lets “colour speak for itself”. The Colour Book is a sequel to The Book Book, another Tara publication where the artist delved into the art of bookmaking and encouraged kids to become authors. “The seed for this book was in my previous book, The Book Book,” said Benini Pietromarchi, over email. “It’s a chapter called ‘Falling in love with colours’. While I was writing it I realised the subject had lots of potential for further development. So when I had the joy that Gita Wolf [Tara Books co-founder and publisher] asked me for a new book that could be done after The Book Book, it became The Colour Book.”
In the book, the artist first takes a walk down memory lane looking for colour associations by remembering her own land of childhood colours. She describes eating half a large tomato that was deep red in colour and when she sprinkles white salt over it, the salt turns transparent. The artist then goes on to liken this magical process to how you can make colour transparent by adding water to it. Benini Pietromarchi grew up in Paris and went on to study graphic design and literature in Italy. “One of my strongest influences is 1920s and ’30s Paris, where my grandfather was very active in the artistic community,” revealed Benini Pietromarchi, who now lives in Rome.“He wrote surrealist poems and was a jazz musician. On my Italian side there is Tuscany, with its beauty and its light. I’ve always lived between these two cultures without truly belonging to either, my home is in the in-between.”
The book is meant for children above the age of eight, a time when budding artists begin to take painting more seriously. However, the book will be a collectible for pretty much any artist. Lavish and endearing, The Colour Book is one of the most interesting books to have been published in 2013. The writing is evocative and the collagestyle layout makes it a fun read. From understanding the basics of colours to mixing them and maintaining a colour book, the ultimate guide to hues and tints.
In one of the chapters, the author asks the readers to become a colour explorer. “You need to be a sort of collector butterfly (as opposed to a butterfly collector),” said Benini Pietromarchi. “That is, you need to have both freedom and curiosity, and to look, look and look some more. You need to collect photos, words and objects and organise them according to your own very personal system.”
Putting together The Colour Book wasn’t an easy task though. “I started with an ambitious research on the literature of colour, and I read Goethe, Wittgenstein, Brusatin and so on and also the writings of Klee, Matisse, Kandinsky, Bacon, and so on the subject of colour,” recalled Benini Pietromarchi. “The scientific approach fascinated me but it did not work for the type of book I had in mind. So I started again, and I thought of colour as a stain, as a rebellion against the neatness, the cleanliness that mothers demand of their children. Colour as discovery, as individual awakening and as surprise.”
Children are curious and it’s that curiosity that Benini Pietromarchi feeds in her book. “Children like to poke at things to see how they behave, they like to play with food, to see how a punctured egg yolk spreads out on a plate,” she pointed out. “Those are the first experiments with textures and colours, the first instances of making magic potions. So I had the intuition that to make magic potions is similar to creating a colour. In a magic potion we confer magical powers to the elements that compose them and the result is a one-of-akind potion with a specific property. That’s what a colour is, it’s a mixture of different forces that yields its own property. So that was the begining of this long journey on colours.”
Apart from the novel concept, what sets the book apart is that it encourages children to think outside the pencil lines. There’s a red-and-white striped zebra, a blue Chihuahua and an orange rhino in the book. This becomes more relevant when kids are often rapped on their knuckles by art teachers for painting different colours on to a tree or a dog. “The book starts from the premise that colours in their colour boxes are like caged birds that must be freed,” said Benini Pietromarchi. “I insist on saying that I cannot ‘explain’ colours, they are for every person to subjectively discover through their own colour dance. It’s essential to learn to see and observe the colours around us, so as to be able to create them anew, to recreate the atmosphere they convey to us.”
When not writing books, Benini Pietromarchi conducts children’s workshops. “I don’t have a favourite colour, what excites me the most are colour combinations. I feel as if I lived inside a colour book. In fact my studio's walls are covered from floor to ceiling with colour combinations. They're of an ongoing exploration, it's a necessary game where I match colours I need to gaze at eventually will end up in a book of colours, but for now it is as if I was working in a giant nest of little colours combinations.”
The Colour Book, Tara Books, R700.
By Bijal Vachharajani