Francesca Valan is an industrial Designer. People call her colour designer, but she doesn’t agree – she doesn’t like the concept that colour is something to be added to an object, an artifact or a building. She works with colours, as one of the most recognised colour experts in the world: her job is to define, understand and give colors the right shape and form, changing the perspective that generally considers colour as something added to an object as a finishing touch.
When I met her, I immediately wanted to interview her, not only because she is responsible for the current shade of green of our LEGO bricks, but because I really had no idea of what colour was.
She accepted – being a curious and creative person, she couldn’t resist the idea to explore the subject she devoted her career to in a new way. When we sit down, she pretends to be comfortable – we’ve been talking a lot of my idea and knowing how things proceed, she was getting ready for the unexpected.
I put the bricks in front of her and simply ask her: What is colour?
She knows how the process works, and she builds.
‘Colour is a link’ she says convinced when she finishes building. ‘ It’s an emotional link that relates all things. it’s a visual link too, but it’s mainly an emotional connection. If you have a blue at your mother’s home and you recreate the same blue in your new home, every time you’ll watch that shade of blue, you’ll connect to someone else’s emotions.’
‘You see’ – she goes on – ‘you have all these elements which are detached. You see them as detached, but colour connects them. You are looking at them separately, as an architect would do, but the visual path is different: follow at the yellow, and you’ll see that elements are linked… Look at the green, and elements are linked… The visual path does not follow the form… colour doesn’t care for forms…’ she says proudly, showing me with her fingers the visual path and the connections.
So, there’s no colour without shape? I ask her.
But she reverse the challenge: “If we take the colours out, where the shapes are? Between colour and shape, colour is stronger. Colour can destroy a shape, colour wins over the form.”
She can do better, and I keep challenging her. “So, what’s the opposite of colour?”
“The opposite of color is… Nothing! Either we have colour or we have nothing…”
“…and what is the role of materials then?”
“Materials support colour” she says.
I am not satisfied yet. I take her model and start moving the bricks around. “However, the parts are still not connected… What if I move them and set them apart?”
“No matters where you move the parts. You can even have one part in Rome and one in Milan, but if you know that the colours are the same, this is enough to link them.”
“In this case we are talking about colour as a cognitive experience rather than a perceptive one.”
“Cognitive and emotional experience” – she points out – “colour is an emotional factor. Perception comes first, then what’s left is the emotion.”
“Is colour subjective or objective then?” I ask her.
“Subjective. Perhaps it’s even objective. But I care for the subjective aspect. Colour’s objective description has been explored for more than six hundreds years, now we need to explore colours subjective dimension.”
Francesca is determined. Her voice is firm and the tone is that of someone who really means what she is saying.
“the objective part of the model, you see’ – she goes on -‘ is in the volumes. The subjective aspect lies in the interpretation that you can attribute to the volumes. Colour creates a subjective visual path. I would not be able to build the same model again’ – she says looking at the LEGO bricks that she combined there -‘ colour makes not only a subjective, but also an extemporaneous experience. Subjective and effimeral.’
‘Then’ – she goes on – ‘there’s the material in between, the tactile or the visual tactile aspect, which is the ability of materials to evoke physical tactile experiences without experiencing it directly with our hands. But even if you are not using your hands, it’s a perceptive experience. The eye recognises the surfaces’ properties.”
I take Francesca back to the model: “However, in your model, some parts are not linked… Why does it happen?”
“Because everyone focuses to much on their own. We see things separated, none links things… Perhaps we are selfish… To connect objects with colour and materials is really easy. If I try to connect all these elements, I get a mess…” she says while playing with the bricks and building a model made by the single parts of her original model. “You see… I think they were more connected before, because colour linked everything. You see… this is a negative example.”
And she goes on, looking at the bricks “I’d say that colour, as a quality of materials, can be used to create emotions, to connect contexts – to destroy shapes when needed, and to design visual and emotional paths…”.
“You’ve said that colour is a quality of the material. So there’s no colour without material?”
“No. There’s no material without colour” and by saying so she takes a white transparent brick and she shows it to me “we can see this as achromatic, but it has many other materic properties: it’s opaque, glazed, smooth, we can always find a way to describe it. Colour is also a property of a surface, it can either be achromatric, though it always carry emotional qualities. It’s said that black and white have no colour. Achromatic means that something has no chroma, but this has been written in every book since the 17th century!’ – she gets excited -‘ it’s time to change! What has no colour it does not exist!”
Francesca is relaxed and ready to go further: “Can you build me a model of what is no-colour?”
She smiles cheeky. “Sure!” And with a quick gesture she takes away all the bricks from the sight and shows me an empty space. “Here you are!”. Her action was delightfully spontaneous and instinctive. So unexpected, that we both laugh.
“Do you like it?” she asks proudly “you can see here whatever you like. If you’d asked me an achromatic model, I should cover your sight and prevent you from seeing the colours, you should touch it. All I could give you is this transparent brick – she says pointing out at the same brick she was playing with before “achromatic is a surface which does not elicit any emotions…”
After Francesca’s coup de theatre, it’s time for me to challenge her even more.
“You keep talking about emotions, but there is not subject in your models...”
“You are right. But people are not ready to accept colours’ emotions… therefore there are no people now who can understand colours’ emotions. There’s no such a thing as a colour culture. We are not used to collect colours’ emotions. The public is not ready yet to experience colours on the emotional side. But we can learn, by doing, through we learn late. My daughter has learned to play the violin now, but if I give a violin to an 18 years old, he won’t ever learn. And should I give colours to someone aged 18 then? or 21? it’s too late. They can somehow learn to play the colour. If they learnt colour earlier, at 18 they would be ready to write and compose…”
Francesca is passionate, is immersed in her colourful dimension.
“How can we learn colours? what’s the way?” I ask.
“You have to look, to learn how to see. Colours are out there, but people are not able to see them. And actually there is not even a school to teach them… We need to introduce the idea of a colour culture. We can learn. Everyone can learn by doing.”
“So, what could we do?”
“Look’ – she says taking the bricks and starting to build enthusiastically – ‘I am building you a colour school as it were a music school, I would build it achromatic, so that we can see people’s inner colours. It would be useless a colourful building… it’d be like building a music school with music on the background. How can you play music if music is already there?”
“But in a music school you listen to music and you study the theory…”
“Sure, but to listen to colours you do not need to have colours on the walls. In a colour school there should be classes for 1 year and for 3 years old children. And resits for those over 18! I have learned because I had been rescued by great masters, but I know I should have begun before. I have been working on colour for 25 years now, and at the end, I have learned by doing. But people should start earlier, we should make a school, a course…”
“Do you mean that the sense of colours is not innate?” I ask.
“No, it’s not a natural instinct. It’s like drawing or music. You learn it by doing. You can have a better predisposition, but if you do, you learn. And I’ll tell you more: this is something that you learn by and for yourself, none can force you.
I teach children to see the colours, to choose them, because later in life they will be able to chose everything. This is my revolution. Those who choose colours, those who begin to choose colours, they learn to choose everything in life and do not allow anyone to impose their views over them.'” She is passionate and enanging. And at this point she just looks at me, and simply admits:
“This is my utopia… I start from color to build revolutionary minds!”.
The Lego-interview had been recorded at University of Ferrara, Department of Architecture Studios. A big thank you to the guys!
The Complete audio and trascription of this LegoInterview is originally published and available in Italian on B4Bricks.org. A thank you to the transcriber!
This interview is part of a larger project aiming at exploring Art, Creativity, Innovation, Architecture. The project is in the making, if you want to know more or suggest artist, creative people, individuals who experience a creative life – get in touch!