The Art of Sharing


I visited the Sydney Moderns exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week.
The exhibition has almost 200 works by Australian artists who were “keen to explore innovative ways of using colour, light and abstraction in their interpretation of the new world around them”.
I was particularly interested on Roy de Maistre‘s work in this exhibition.


As a young man, he had studied music and art in Sydney. In 1919, he used his Colour in Art exhibition (with Roland Wakelin) to explore colour-music relationships. Deborah Edwards wrote of this relationship in the Sydney Moderns catalogue:

The didacticism of de Maistre and Wakelin … and de Maistre’s continued synaesthetic exploration, speak of their sense of a portentous challenge to accepted colour wisdom in their new envisioning of modernity: one forged through the shared capacity of music and colour to evoke deep emotion, even provide a gateway to the spiritual, and yet respond to mathematical and logical formulation to create harmony …

colourwheel small2_5Roy de Maistre’s colour-music thinking was exemplified in the creation of a Harmonising Chart. This Chart was seen by him as a scientific device for producing colour schemes for dress, furniture and interior design. Niels Hutchinson has written in great detail about de Maistre’s use of colour. Anthony Springford has provided a fascinating account of his reproduction of a de Maistre colour wheel for the Sydney Moderns exhibition.
I learned about synchromies at the exhibition too. Synchromies “are based on color scales, using rhythmic color forms with advancing and reducing hues”. I take the aim of these synchromies to be the stimulation of multiple senses and a celebration of synesthesia.
In synchromies, colours relate to notes, depth of colour to pitch and saturation of colour to volume.
This set me off thinking about how visualisations of performance data might use these insights to share the impact of data and have their own narrative.

The Art of Sharing

Roy de Maistre’s synchromies took me back to choropleth maps. These maps use colour progressions to present data. One form of these progressions is single-hue (from a dark shade of the chosen color to a very light or white shade of relatively the same hue). This led me to isoplath (heat) maps too.
I wondered how visualisations might use colour wheel principles to aspire to two of the main aims of de Maistre and Wakelin’s 1919 exhibition:

  • “conscious realisation of the deepest underlying principles of nature”
  • “deep and lasting happiness”

I wondered too about how to meet some fundamental principles in thematic mapping.
Gregory Aisch took me further into the discussion of colour and representation in terms of choropleths and HSV colours.
My task now is to explore these possibilities. Roy, Roland and their Sydney Moderns contemporaries are a great catalyst for this exploration.

Photo Credits

Art Gallery of New South Wales in the Domain (CAHairy Bear, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
De Maistre colour wheel device (Anthony Springford)



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