Colour Theory

Finding beauty in the everyday with artist-designer & author, Edith Young

The writer, designer and multi-disciplinary artist Edith Young has made cataloging color her calling card. Ever since she created her first print, ‘The Reds of the Red Caps in Renaissance Portraits’, while studying photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, Young has continued to develop a humorous and recognisable visual language that picks up on the nuances, idiosyncrasies and uncanniness which surround the way color has been used in art, and the world beyond.

‘The concept for a palette usually starts with the recognition of a hyper-specific typology within art history or the broader visual culture: noticing a pattern and following those breadcrumbs,’ says Young, of her knack for spotting common threads. ‘Sometimes it’s prompted by the discovery of one curious thing that leads to an inquiry like, “Are there more out there like this?”’

Not to be contained to just art, Young’s approach extends to equally significant eras in contemporary history, be it the hues seen on figure skater Tonya Harding’s costumes, or the various shades that basketball icon Dennis Rodman has dyed his hair. Young’s first book, ‘Color Scheme’ which was published in 2021, gloriously zigzags between the past and present and challenges what traditionally constitutes as highbrow, or lowbrow for that matter.

‘I had been working strictly with material from art history until I saw the biopic I, Tonya in 2017. That got the wheels turning,’ she says. ‘My mother reported on the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and the greater Tonya/Nancy saga for Sports Illustrated, so as kids, my brother and I heard a bit about these two characters. The appeal of the personal anecdote coalesced with the vivid colors, which were very evocative of the mesh and spandex of the ‘90s. Tonya was a bootstrapper. She couldn’t afford to buy costumes, so she made them at home, fashioned in the colors of her choice, much to the dismay of her judges. Considering what sort of themes in visual culture could apply to the greater palette project, I chose to approach Tonya’s figure skating costumes as cultural artifacts as worthy of investigation as Renaissance portraits’ red caps and David Hockney’s pools.’

Unsurprisingly, Young’s astuteness towards colour pervades her everyday life as well. She shares her affection for specific hues in her newsletter, ‘Powers of Observation’, which inadvertently tracks unique aspects of New York City, her home base. These experimental visual essays venture everywhere from analyzing the shades of greens spotted in Manhattan’s Flower District, to the specific shade of red on the Roosevelt Island tram car. Such observations are accompanied by endearing musings that capture the very essence of being in the Big Apple.

‘The series is very concept driven. My favorite pieces feel very multimedia, emulsifying language, illustrations, historical research, photographs I took myself, photographs found in public domain archives, and photographs scavenged from my family archive,’ she says.

‘Color makes my sense of intrigue with the world around me more pronounced, and in small, visceral ways,’ she concludes. ‘In the evening, I’ll feel lucky if I catch the color of the New York sky from my window after the sun has set: it’s the last gasp of pigmented hyperlink blue glow before nightfall.’