This is a small painting that demonstrates the huge power of colour. Look closer and the central square intensifies, almost glowing as it appears to recede into its dark surround. The work took me straight back to my first year at art school and Albers’ studies in colour theory. I have kept my own screen prints from that time and can still recall the sheer enjoyment of layering colour and learning about its relativity and spatial effects. I know this detailed investigation of colour influences my work as a clothes designer today, as does the discipline of those art school life drawing classes – training in looking, measuring and proportion. There are also other influences, but I see little point in analysing their respective importance, even if that were possible. Much of my work is instinctive: knowing when a colour, a fabric, or a detail is right; knowing the importance of edit. I use an edited colour palette in my work. This is largely determined by the essential nature of the fabric used in a piece and the function that it will perform. I want to be true to its texture, tradition and character while finding something fresh to say. Also, a strong colour can easily dominate one’s look and constrain it into an ‘outfit’. I generally prefer a modest, relaxed style and I like that people who wear my clothes decide on their own look to suit mood or occasion. Albers reminds us not to take colour for granted: context is everything.
Study for Homage to the Square: Beaming was presented by the artist’s widow, Anni Albers, and the Josef Albers Foundation in 1978. It is on display at Tate Modern. A retrospective of Anni Albers’ work will be at Tate Modern in the autumn.
Margaret Howell designs clothes for men and women. She is currently guest editor of Tate Edit, Tate’s range of art and objects for the home, available at Tate Modern’s shop and online.