ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color

ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color

by Jude Stewart


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ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book about Color 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A gem of a book. Jude Stewart basically use one of culture's greatest "commons"—color—to radically re-invent the genre of the commonplace book, that volume of idiosyncratic, idiosyncratically compiled knowledge par excellence. The knowledge here is perfectly proverbial, a vast expanse of fact, anecdote, legend, myth, and wish from countless cultures and epochs. It's the kind of knowledge which, regardless of time and place, tries to pin down otherwise slippery and unknowable phenomena: how a color comes to feel "natural" to its subject, how it sutures itself to the silliest and gravest things in life; how the abstractions of light-waves come to actually mean, and mean so differently depending on when and where. Fastidiously researched, Stewart's book is a kind of meta-compilation of such knowledge, and like any author of a good commonplace book, she appears to compile, connect, and curate from a depthless, almost obsessive love of the topic. She also clearly loves language, and the visual focus ought not conceal the fact that Stewart writes as well as she sees. Her pen is swift, salty, and often hilarious. The compact, aphoristic structure of the text, one of her most important conceits, often pressures the words into prose poems full of sensuous felicity: on one page, brown "prunes sweat in hot water"; on another, "the queen's power sweeps pinkly across the globe". For all the fine books on design and visual culture out there, very few are actually so well-written, and savor language so deftly. Apart from the prose, probably the most striking aspect of the book is its visually driven style and structure. Stewart clearly worked closely with the fabulous graphic designer Oliver Munday to produce a fine, intensely collaborative piece of design: the book *works*, just like a well-designed lamp or chair, and is similarly thought-through down to the finest detail. The meticulously executed cross-references, filling the margins of every page, may be the most impressive device. They're also the coolest updating of the commonplace genre: the book's contents, otherwise torn from a thousand sundry sources, are being constantly knitted back together, into configurations alternately fateful and absurd. This anarchic playfulness nicely counters the book's patient tour through the rainbow. Pink bleeds into red of course, but also, through "Nantucket red" and the "crisp aggression of the office", into the "gray queens" of Wall Street eight chapters later. At any given point, Stewart explodes the obviousness of the inherited categories, and keeps color unruly. A last point: as the hard copy becomes an ever-rarer bird, one comes infrequently upon a book which is so unabashedly, satisfyingly ... booky. "Roy G. Biv" is a beautifully crafted object, inseparable from the pleasure of feeling its weighty squareness in your hands, turning its pages, scanning the subtle shifts in hue and font and topic, flipping upon the witty, minimalist full-color spreads. At the same time, this is not one of those scene-chewing kitchen-sink picture books, desperate to cram in every stock photograph it can. Munday is a disciplined stylist here, and Stewart's equal. Both registers, word and image, thrive not on noise but on exactitude and elegance; Munday's skewed icons harmonize perfectly with Stewart's eccentric classifications. The result is a lovely device for opening, reading, and wandering. Let's hope they pair up again, and soon.