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Colour and culture in affordable art by The Colourist

May 04, 2021 1 Comment

The Colourist blog of Helen Trevisiol Duff artist of Skylark Galleries

Skylark Galleries artist Helen Trevisiol Duff writes:

Across the world colours have different meanings in different countries. In many cultures certain colours are very important at life events such as births, weddings and other rituals, so I look this month more deeply at what some of these colours mean.

I remember visiting Japan for the first time in blossom season and being really excited about seeing people celebrating under the cherry blossom trees by gathering and having a picnic. Japanese people were celebrating Spring and the colour pink. What an impact this had on me, as the beautiful powdery blush of blossom gave me a feeling of warmth and wellbeing. 

Blossoms acrylic on canvas by Skylark Galleries artist Helen Trevisiol Duff

by Helen Trevisiol Duff
Acrylic on canvas


Japan is a country steeped in tradition and they use the unique language of colour in their rituals, kimonos and art. Pink denotes spring, youth, femininity and wellbeing across most cultures.

It's the colour of universal love, friendship and nurturing. Pink is the sweet side of the colour red and denotes “sugar and spice and all things nice”.  Even though in western cultures associations with colours over the years have changed, across the world many colours are considered “lucky or auspicious“ by nations historically. Much of this has resulted from symbolism steeped in culture. Across the world pink is linked to romance. “Tickled pink“ means being content or happy. Rose quartz is associated with healing.

In western cultures pink has been associated with the birth of a baby girl and femininity. This is changing as diversity in equality, gender and sexuality, is also affecting our thoughts about colour.  What's considered acceptable and equal in 2021 has resulted in many years of living with social boundaries where colour choices were not being challenged.

Blue for boys and pink for girls has been the norm in the UK. Parents now have more of a choice of dressing their little ones in other colours particularly a neural colour palette such as grey, white or natural.  Nowadays it's acceptable for men to wear pink shirts, suits and not be judged whereas even 50 years ago it would have been thought as curious. Before the 20th Century pink was considered a boy’s colour.

The talented artist and teacher Nicolette Carter works in the colour pink. She has a multicultural background being part Welsh, with relatives including an American-Chinese background. Nicolette loves travel: Istanbul and Eastern Europe have influenced her work. She has just published a book written and illustrated by herself called, 'The Pink Peacock'.

She says, “I chose pink because, when I wrote the story, my daughter was at the age when everything aimed at my female pupils aged 5-7 had a bias towards pink. It felt like pink had a power and a significance and was actively shunned by boys through learnt behaviour.”

The Pink Peacock book cover by Skylark Galleries artist Nicolette Carter



Red is the most powerful of colours in Indian cultures, meaning power and wealth, love, beauty and fertility. Worn at weddings with rich gold embellishment it signifies a special time and place in a woman's life.

I worked and lived in India when I first graduated from art college for two years designing fashion collections and fabrics for an Indian-based company selling to the UK market. I attended two Indian weddings and loved seeing the brides in their rich red saris. Many of the guests wore light colours and my lovely design studio manager encouraged me to wear her black and gold sari which was regal and rich. In the UK, at that time, not many people wore black to a wedding. I realised how different our cultures were.

In South Africa, red is associated with mourning. And you only have to look at the flag to see red as the colour that denotes independence and the violence and sacrifices that were made during the struggle to attain it.

In Thailand red is the colour for Sundays, linked to the solar God Surya who was born on a Sunday. Many Thai people wear red on their birthday paying respect to Surya. In China red is associated with the New Year, as well as weddings and funerals, representing luck, happiness, celebration and wealth and long life.

In Japan red signifies strength, passion, blood and self-sacrifice. It's the colour that gets the blood going. White on the other hand is considered a peaceful colour in the west but in Japan it can also denote death and mourning. In the west black denotes mourning.

Red is the colour chosen by artist Vivien Phelan from Wallonia in Belgium in her ‘goody two shoes’ sculpture. Vivien says, “red is a happy upbeat colour “.  This shines through here as it makes the viewer smile. The red shoes show a flamboyant and fun side to her 3D character.

Goody 2 shoes by ceramicist Vivien Phelan

Goody 2 shoes 
by Viven Phelan


I find the colour yellow the most interesting of all across diverse cultures.
When I visited the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at the Tate last year I was fascinated by the Yellow Book which was a quarterly periodical published from 1894-1897. Beardsley was the first editor and his idea of the bright yellow cover had its association with the saucy, illicit French fiction of the time. This representation of Parisian decadence caused a stir. Yellow was the colour of paper used for wrapping pornographic books to alert the reader to their lascivious content. Oscar Wilde was said to have been arrested for carrying a ‘yellow book’ as it was considered immoral. The contents were not radical but the colour suggested indecent content.

In Chinese culture yellow is associated with pornography. ‘Yellow book’ is used to discuss any type of publication and has references to pornographic images. In African nations yellow, because of its close connection with gold, is reserved for those of high rank. In many African nations yellow is associated with money, wealth and success. This is similar in Egypt where it was used in mummification and embellishment on tombs making it a symbol of mourning.  In western cultures yellow is considered upbeat and happy. It's on trend with Pantones yellow and grey combo seen in furnishings, home interiors and print across Europe and USA this year. Yellow denotes sunshine and nature across the West. It is used to denote warning in Japan.

Multi-generational views of colour

It's interesting to see how colour is perceived also within the generations of a nation. Younger generations who are more widely influenced by the multi-media society in which we live are more open to embracing colours in a non-discriminatory way.

Joel Sydenham uses yellow in his artwork showing illumination, wisdom and intuition. His paintings show connection to people on an emotional level. His art is influenced by his two cultures (British/Nigerian).

Your light by Skylark Galleries artist Joel Sydenham

Your light
by Joel Sydenham
Mixed media

Diversity in colour at contemporary art galleries London, however means that artists are stretching these historical boundaries and reinterpreting colour in a new direction. Anything goes! And embracing culture, respecting others beliefs and backgrounds, doing what feels right and celebrating our differences is all important. ‘Diversity’ is the buzzword of the moment.

Nicolette Carter says, “As an artist I'm interested in the huge range of colours encompassed by a few words. Developing tolerances to, and awareness of, differences is important.”

At Skylark galleries we celebrate the diversity of our artists who have heritage from all over the world. Colour is part of our vocabulary in original artworks where you can buy art online, meet the artist, and see originals by landscape artists, British figurative art, abstract art paintings and limited-edition prints.

Helen Trevisiol Duff The Colourist blogger

1 Response


May 13, 2021

This is such a fascinating article, Helen! Thank you for posting. I hope you’ll be posting similar about more colours.

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