THE COLOUR YELLOW CALLS TO MIND THE SIMPLICITY OF THE NURSERY: A TIME WHEN EVERYTHING WAS PAINTED IN PASTELS, OR SUNNY AND SHINING. YELLOW REPRESENTS VITAMIN D AND HOPE, THE BEATLES AND THEIR YELLOW SUBMARINE IN PSYCHEDELIC SWIRLS OF COLOURS. THERE’S AN INNOCENCE TO IT, A RELENTLESS OPTIMISM THAT CAN LAST LONG IN THE MEMORY.
In Fashion, yellow is a colour that lends itself best to iconic moments that stay in the memory. Think of Beyoncé and her baseball bat, in a ruffled yellow Roberto Cavalli gown, walking in slow motion in the video for Hold Up. Or Kate Moss’s vintage off-the-shoulder lemon yellow party dress, worn to a party in 2003. It later was reconstructed as the standout in one of Kate’s thoughtful homage collections for Topshop.
Yellow is bold, but not overly so, with personality and character for the wearer. Or it might just be a superb look that stands out while also lasting the test of time, as Michelle Williams proved at the 2006 Academy Awards in canary yellow Vera Wang, often mentioned as one of the best red carpet dresses in recent years.
It might not come as a surprise that Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin used the same Paris paint supplier; though Gauguin managed to choose more stable yellows, so that their pigments have lasted with more integrity down the years than Van Gogh’s familiar sunflower yellows.
It’s hard to know if the yellow light in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, currently a spry 75 years old, will last well into the future with the same warmth and hope. The electric light of the diner offers the characters a bright spot in the night, for both their romances and their miseries. Yet it’s the goldenrod door on the far right that holds the most mystery: it seems to be a promise, or a clue.
Yayoi Kusama has made pumpkins throughout her career, often casting them unusually large or else showing them in bulk form. Her 1994 sculpture, Pumpkin, resident on Japan’s Naoshima island, sits on a pier by the water. Its yellow glow, dappled with black dots, makes it appear otherworldly, like an accident or an abnormal growth. In recent years she has also crowded many yellow pumpkins into a single space, as in the mirrored room of All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, at Victoria Miro in London in 2016, where the effect becomes one of infinity and multiplicity for the viewer, who is lost in their spread.
Yellow is a sterling choice for memorable costume in cinema – think of Emma Stone’s swishy canary dress in La La Land, or Belle’s famous buttery ballgown in Beauty and the Beast. But outside of dresses and gowns, the colour has an important role to play in how films are lit. Wong Kar-Wai is one proponent of yellow lighting, and his 2004 film 2046 is particularly saturated with yellow light, in hazy interiors and scenes that can feel like memories.
For years, the yellowish glow of Los Angeles streetlights gave the city a unique edge on film: director Michael Mann moved the filming of the 2004 picture Collateral from New York to LA to avail of the strange, almost sinister glow of the city’s yellow sodium streetlights.