In each installment, a guest writer chooses one Pantone color they find particularly meaningful, intriguing, or just aesthetically beautiful—and tells us why.
By N. Elizabeth Schlatter, an art curator, writer, and museum administrator.
Pantone 438C is one of those fascinating hues that eludes taxonomy. It's not quite brown or purple or gray. Dark puce comes to mind or maybe light raisin. Add more gray and it slides into a greenish territory, dowse it with white and it resembles pasty flesh.
In his unfinished treatise "Remarks on Colour," (1950-51), Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein interrogated the imprecise correlations between color and language: "Look at this color and say what it reminds you of. If the color changes, you are no longer looking at the one I meant." With these two sentences—a simple command and a clarification—Wittgenstein reveals the complexity of our perceptions of color, perceptions we often mistakenly consider to be objective. In his series of prints titled "If the Color Changes..." (2003) American artist Mel Bochner complicates matters further, adding the friction of seeing versus reading color, achieved by layering the original German and the English translation of Wittgenstein's quote on top of one another, with a background of multi-colored blobs of ink on paper.
In my 20s and at the start of my career working at a contemporary art museum, an artist having a solo exhibition requested a color much like Pantone 438C to cover a wall of an installation. I recall at the time thinking, what a terrible color! It can't commit to being one thing or another – it just hovers over these other colors but won't settle in. Then, to my slight horror, the senior curator announced that she absolutely loved this color and requested that her office and the hallway nearby be painted the exact same hue. Her office was right next to the employee entrance to the building, so from then on my work day started and ended with this annoying, perplexing color, which I soon took as a personal affront.
Like many things that get under one's skin, over time that color became a fascination. I started thinking about other colors that don't "fit"— a mental challenge that found resonance as I aged, frequently realizing that little in one's experience actually "fits" with expectations. I'd like to say that as I've matured my comfort with subtlety and complexity, with messiness and incompleteness, has grown, due in large part to life's predictable unpredictability. I'm far from perfect in this regard. Nor can I say that I've become fond of this color resembling Pantone 438C. But at least now, to follow Wittgenstein's lead, the color is not the color I saw decades ago. It is an altogether different color, and yet, exactly the same.
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