Heather Boxall Collaborations

Words for Colours – 2018

Judith Willson

Heather Boxall and Judith Willson published a selection of postcards referencing the 1951 British Colour Council Dictionary of Colour Standards. The Dictionary is a compilation of colour silk swatches adopted as the standard within the textile and other colour using industries. Judith Willson’s poems speak back to Heather’s series of paintings, creating colour swatches of language.

I first saw Heather’s Colour Standards paintings in a small gallery in Leeds. I climbed the stairs on a grey February afternoon and walked into a room full of colours, each distinct in its own space, but chiming with the others. A blazing pink; a damp misty blue and a blue saturated in darkness. A ripe yellow. Black that glinted silver. I was all eye, greedy for each one.

And then there was the Dictionary of Colour Standards itself, displayed alongside the paintings: each page a palette of silk swatches, hundreds of shades and tones for the eye to linger on, each with a name, and a caption that was both precise and idiosyncratic:

Green Beetle: The colour of a beetle found in the Malayan Islands. (Chrysochroa andamenensis).

Saffron: A colour matched to the orange-coloured stigmas of the Autumnal crocus used for colouring and flavouring confectionary and liquors.

Heather’s paintings engage the viewer directly in the experience of colour itself. But I am a writer: I need words. Many of the poems I had been writing when I first saw Heather’s Colour Standards paintings came from my own fascination with qualities of light and colour. I was interested in finding ways in which language might express something so elusive and transparent, which only exists as the eye perceives it at that moment. Looking at Heather’s work, I began to think more about how it might be possible to respond to these paintings that have no explicit subject matter – to write colour. The Dictionary’s text suggested a way in.

I see my Colour Standards poems as swatches made of language, after-images of colour names and associations. There is no fixed order in which they should be read and, like the paintings, the poems create changing patterns and resonances as the reader/viewer moves between them. I like to think that the poems in their postcard form will be shuffled, colours reordered for the pleasures of contrast and shifts in tone. I hope they will invite readers to look again at what the paintings hold, and to re-imagine their own dictionary of colour.

Judith Willson

Judith Willson’s poetry has been published in magazines and anthologies. Her first collection Crossing the Mirror Line (Carcanet Press 2017) was praised as ‘a taut, meditative, richly imagined debut’ (Eborakon Magazine). Her second, Airy Transit Circle is forthcoming from Carcanet in 2021.

The postcards are available in sets of 7 colours and poems. There are two sets altogether, a total of 14 works. For details of Judith Willson’s poetry publications or to purchase postcard packs, please use the contact details for further information.