Colour octa-gone: Liz West’s 3D pointillism is hiding something

21st June 2018

Kirsten Geekie and Terri Chen writing for

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND – If you’re at all familiar with Liz West, the first thing that comes to mind when you see A Subjective Mix, her installation for the Festival of Making at the Cotton Exchange in Blackburn, is – ‘Where’s the rainbow?’ Light and colour are two key aspects of West’s experiential installations, with the artist distinguishing her fascination with ‘luminous colour’ as very different from a painter’s work with ‘surface colour’. Her site-specific installations are environments that immerse the visitor in pure colour, from architectural intervention Through No. 3 to Your Colour Perception, both in Manchester, the UK, to the shattered-church-window floor installation Our Colour Perception in St John’s Church that took the internet by storm in 2016.

The 700 jewel-toned acrylic mirrors in Liz West’s viral work Our Colour Perception dapple the buttresses, vaults and rafters of St John’s Church in the UK with a kaleidoscopic rainbow, amplifying the immersive effect of stained-glass windows.

Now, in collaboration with wall covering company Graham & Brown, West designs what appears to be a plain grey, octagonal horseshoe structure housed in a raw, unfinished room. The ceiling is a deep teal, but where’re all the other colours? Appearances are deceiving however, as the bespoke wallpaper covering the 3.5-m-high structure reveals itself to be a modern-day-pointillist optical illusion, comprising multi-coloured dots that deceive the eye at a distance.

In designing A Subjective Mix, West looked to the location for inspiration, taking colour samples from the Cotton Exchange’s windows and observing the octagon motif in the ceiling, the window bays and the shape of the foyer. The ‘true grey’ of the wallpaper was created from multiple experiments with the colour samples West borrowed from the windows, the light source of the space.

The multi-coloured structure pulls people in with the optical illusion, congregating visitors in the centre of the installation – echoing the building’s function as one of exchange. A pair of violinists have even been seen testing the acoustics of the octagon in A Subjective Mix, as recorded by the artist on her Instagram account. Despite appearing at first glance to be a departure from West’s vibrant and exuberant colour environments, the work proves its parentage in creating a space for visitors to come in close contact with colour.

A Subjective Mix by Liz West was commissioned by creative practice Deco Publique and arts programme Super Slow Way for Art in Manufacturing, part of the Festival of Making in Blackburn, Lancashire on 12 – 13 May 2018. West has recently opened Colour Transfer at London Paddington Station, a mirrored rainbow composed of vertical prisms and her first permanent installation in London.