The Color Field painters of the late 1940s and 1950s exploded many ideas about what art should and shouldn’t be, but one of their greatest and most enduring influences was the assertion that color has its own power, one apart from and even surpassing that of figurative representation. Mark Rothko, for example, wanted viewers to stand close to his paintings, to be enveloped by their hues, to have a mythic, transcendent experience with his work. In the words of critic Calvin Tomkins, the painter sought to depict ‘‘color itself, color liberated and breathing within the alternative world of the picture.’’
At the same time, in a different realm, the decorator Dorothy Draper was also positing that color could elevate the spirit: She counseled against what she called the ‘‘will to be dreary,’’ and maintained that theatrical color combinations, like flamingo pink and forest green, caused the pulse to quicken and the mood to lift. Valentino Garavani, too, has long insisted on the magnetism of color. A gown in his signature red has always been ‘‘synonymous with style,’’ he has said, and when a woman arrives wearing one, ‘‘everybody looks at her.’’A bold, passionate shade, Garavani knows, can alter the ecosystem of a room, and perhaps the fate of its wearer.
Color carries an emotional charge; it telegraphs feeling. In recent years, scientists have found evidence to suggest that we may indeed have hard-wired emotional responses to certain colors. A 2011 Dartmouth College study of rhesus monkeys, for example, discovered that they avoided humans wearing red (perhaps offering an evolutionary explanation for why the shade often signals ‘‘stop’’ or ‘‘danger’’). And babies, who are prelinguistic and haven’t a clue about cultural symbolism, have shown changes in brain activity when exposed to different hues.
Artists, of course, have long understood this instinctively. Here are four — designers of jewelry, lingerie, flowers and interiors — who incorporate color in their work with particular imagination and verve, and who believe in color as an alchemical force: one with the ability to change a space, a mood or even a mind-set.
When Araks Yeramyan was a child, her father, a chemist who’d set aside dreams of becoming an artist, allowed his daughters only toys that stimulated the imagination, such as wooden building blocks and drawing…