Inside Job | The Colour Artist for Architects.

Colour block artwork.

Sophie Smallhorn_ Olympic Stadium Installation

Photo: The Wrap consisted of 363 blades holding a range if 56 colors that changed every sixth blade.

Sophie Smallhorn is still radiant with the after glow of success at having finally seen her color wrap in action on the 2012 Olympic Stadium earlier this month. And so she should be. Thanks to her life-long dedication to chromatic relationships the nation watched a kaleidoscopic coloured stadium host some of the best of the British Olympics.

A lengthy two year  project – a personal record for Sophie – was eventually completed in 2010 when she handed over the reins to the construction team. Since starting out in 1994 her work has jumped from paint perfect wall mounts, to intensely hued installations for Comme de Garçons and is now master colour in the built environment.  

 Photo: House in Basel, Switzerland 2011.

Tell us about your childhood influences.

I grew up in Hertfordshire where my mother was a textile designer and my father was an industrial designer. There was always a pot of pencils on the table.

 Where did you study?

At Brighton to study something called wood metal and plastic ceramics. It’s a course that doesn’t exist anymore but was great way to spend three years figuring out what you wanted to do. I worked mainly on furniture, and even then it was overgrown sculpture with little function. Looking back, I guess it was it was always about ‘making’ something that would be a vehicle for color. I made my first ever wall mounts here using off-cuts. I didn’t really know what they were at the time but just knew that’s where my interests lay.

Trained in design she now communicates chromatics relationships for the built environment.

And, after you graduated?

When I moved to London I was fortunate enough to work for the owner of a studio whilst still being able to do my own thing from making wardrobes to color blocks.

Sophie Smallhorn Artwork

When do you recall deciding to become a colour artist?

Actually, I don’t ever remember that decision, I was always just into color. I did an exhibition and gained an art dealer who told me my work was fine art. Until then, I was always a bit unsure of this rather scary and wordy fine art world but he legitimized it for me. After that I then knew where my work sat and began making less wardrobes and more wall mounts.

 I actually like an edge to work form ….I find a constraint strangely liberating.

How does background in design inform your art?

I find myself in an art world without having ever trained in fine art yet able to straddle both areas. The creative thinking is definitely design led but also very intuitive. As a process I tend to consider the form first, questioning how will it communicate color’s chromatic relationships. Most artists don’t like working with such constraints but I actually like an edge to work from, be it a brief, budget or timescale. I find a constraint strangely liberating.

Sophie Smallhorn Sculpture at Goodwood Number 43 1999

Photo: Sculpture at goodwood, Number 43, 1999.

How did you progress from wall mounts to the colossal wrap for the 2012 Olympic Stadium?

Well, knowing Populous really. I knew them from the Emirates Stadium VIP area project, which a project commission through someone owing a pice of artwork. Populous believed my work could take the industrial leap in scale and we began thinking about how to add color to a then monochrome stadium. They were incredibly free, and brave!

To my mind, the wrap and all its folds was the perfect form to hold the spectrum of colors. It was the way that color was partly exposed without being too literal,  instead you got little moments of color. Also, as you walk in through the wrap you and into the bowl you were then ‘in’ that block of color as it carried on in the walls and glass balustrades. The wrap also held the color in a big statement way without permanently embedding it the build as it was a non-legacy part. It’s an extraordinary thing to work on something for so long for a few weeks.

 Tell us about the chosen colours.

The only stipulation was the Wolff Olins brand colors (logo of pink, orange, green and blue) had to be included which we rooted at four entry points. After that brief became my concept as to how it connected.  The chosen spectrum moves softly and continuously in small step by step transformations rather than a visual stop-start.

Stadium_Wrap by Populos Architects, colours by Sophie Smallhorn

 Photo: The Stadium Wrap. 

 And, the process?

Initially the sheer scale was quite overwhelming, so one of the very first things I did was make a model. I had to abstract it and reduce it to something that might hang on a wall and then I could re-apply to a large scale. Previous architecture projects had taught me its best to start working in the ral colour system straight away, otherwise you can get into a pickle with paints.

 Biggest career takeaway lesson?

The biggest takeaway lesson was the politics (in a corporate sense) involved. There was layer after layer of approval right the way up to Lord Coe, and that whole process was a very steep learning curve, but a good one.

It wasn’t until the actual opening ceremony that I looked at the wrap, watched people using the space that I said to myself, yes, it’s worked!  It was just amazing to see.

 What’s next?

Another artist and architect collaboration with Swanke Haydon Connell. This time color is used between an existing and new building to create a public walkway and seating.

Ambition or Talent?

Hmmm, I don’t think I am driven enough to be ambitious. Maybe luck and yes you do make your own luck but to recognise what’s being handed to you is important.

Thank you Sophie  for helping others craft and create their own career story.
 This YourStoree interview was edited for the web
 All Photo Credits: Sophie Smallhorn unless otherwise stated. Profile Photo: Angela Moore.




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