Mark Wentworth has been studying and working with colour for more than 30 years. As a global colour ambassador, Mark is the creator of The Colour Path and the Colour PsychoDynamic method, both of which integrate colour with Jungian theory to help enrich the worlds of both individuals and organisations. He is also Valspar’s ‘Director of Colour’. Here, he tells The Colour File about how colour has permeated all aspects of his life…and even earned him the reputation as the man who uses colour to get women pregnant…
Martha: Can you describe your first colour memory?
Mark: One Sunday morning when I was around five or six we went to visit my Nan. On the lounge windowsill was a beaded glass necklace, which she had put there in order to ask me to give it to the little girl who lived next door to us. It was a bright sunny morning, full sun shining in through the window, and there it happened. The glass beads created the most amazing rainbows on the ceiling; I was totally mesmerised, they all looked so alive and filled with magic and mystery. It was as if within each rainbow there were hundreds if not thousands of stories waiting to be explored and told. Who knew, firstly, the little girl next door never got the necklace, I took it home and carefully unstrung the glass beads so that I could create even more rainbows, and secondly, that this defining moment was the preview and doorway to my future life vocation.
Martha: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years?
Mark: Indigo is definitely in my favourite top five colours, it’s a colour that invites you in but where you end up once you cross the indigo threshold is anyone’s guess. Ruby red and varying shades of pink have been a constant when I look back on my life, although both were not obvious until I purposefully looked to see if I had a constant colour(s). The final colour is gold, from sunrises and sunsets through to the palest metallic gold, this colour gives me a confidence from within, and it is my go-to colour.
Martha: What is your favourite colourful object and why?
Mark: It’s a lamp that was a birthday present from my Turkish students. They knew what my favourite colours were so they had the coloured beads put in specially. It’s a lamp that brings joy to wherever it is. In my last home it was in the window so was more like a beacon of colour to all who came to visit. The gold angel wings again were a birthday gift from a close friend, she said: “I saw them and knew immediately they were for you”. I love them because they are a constant visual affirmation of how I sometimes feel that I do have wings because I travel for work all around the world. As for angel wings, let’s just say it’s a “work in progress”!
Martha: How does colour make you feel?
Mark: Where to start? I would say I’ve had a relationship with colour for 30 plus years. It is part of my life and can never imagine a time without it. It is my work and yet it would be more correct to say it is part of my being: colour is a way of life. Over the years I came to understand that colour can literally take you anywhere at anytime, just like a certain song on the radio or a specific smell, you are back there reliving the moment as if it were happening right now. Colour is no different except it’s more subtle. I sometimes introduce myself as the spokesperson and defendant of colour: colour is always innocent, it is us and our experiences that blames colour and makes it guilty.
Martha: Have you or anyone you know ever had a strong reaction to a colour or a scenario involving colour: tears, intense joy, anger, irritation or something else?
Mark: I’ve witnessed the full spectrum of intense emotional reactions when it comes to colour. Once, at a presentation, I showed the audience the colour turquoise. One lady loved it because it reminded her of a holiday in the Maldives but another lady was in tears because it made her feel so emotionally cold and alone, even though she couldn’t place a turquoise memory anywhere in this life. I later found out that her great-grandmother had had to leave her home, possessions and country very quickly in order to survive invasions happening at the time on the Greek/Turkish borderlands. One of the few possessions she managed to take with her was a silver and turquoise necklace that had belonged to her mother. In the end she used it as payment for onward passage into France where she settled, later married and raised a family. Whilst the turquoise necklace in a way saved her life, the experience left her with the traumas of war and separation from her homeland and these stories were passed down to her granddaughter. Sometimes our dislikes of colour actually belong not to us, but originate further back in time.
Martha: Do you have a colour you could happily do without?
Mark: There are colours I wouldn’t want to decorate my home with. Whilst lilacs and lavenders look lovely in nature and I love my lilac shirt, they wouldn’t be welcome on my walls. Up until a few years ago I would have definitely said I could happily live without green. I love nature’s greens but there was a certain kind of yellowy green that made my skin itch anytime I was near it. Even with my eyes closed I could always pick out that itchy green. Funnily enough sitting behind the colour was the time I had chickenpox and having, yes you guessed it, that same itchy green covering me as a blanket, except it wasn’t the blanket that was itchy!
Martha: How does colour get involved in your day-to-day life? Does it permeate your life from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep?
Mark: Colour is with me day, and night, and has been for more than 30 years. Sometimes I dream about a colour and the colour is so strong that I’ve learnt to take notice and see what kind of adventures it will take me on. For example I’ve been dreaming about a specific shade of a colour on and off for four years, I’ve got photos and collages of the colour and only now do I know where and how to use it, all of which will be revealed in the coming months. Colour has its own right time for all of us, maybe there’s a colour we have never been drawn to before but all of sudden we see it everywhere, it then has meaning and purpose in our life. If we trust our colours as well as love them I truly believe we will never be disappointed as to the journey they take us on.
Artist, Paul Klee, sums up perfectly my relationship with colour.
“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it.
That is the meaning of this happy hour: Colour and I are one.”
Martha: Tell me a colour story.
Mark: I used to do a monthly Sunday morning radio phone-in for BBC Three Counties, where I would answer people’s colour questions. One morning a lady called in, her opening line was “I hate Green”, I know the feeling I thought thinking of my itchy green, I enquired why. Her reply had us all sitting open mouthed in the studio, she said “I hate green because every time I wear my green coat I always get arrested for shoplifting, with which she named the store and the store detective! Before I had the chance to reply she continued, “The thing that annoyed me is that I didn’t even like the rolls of wallpaper they accused me of stealing” the images that were running through my mind as to how and where she concealed these 6 rolls of wallpaper was not yet prepared for her final sentence. She said, “So I went home and threw that damn green coat in the bin” and with that hung up. We went to traffic update!
Martha: Is there more to colour than meets the eye?
Mark: Colour has a kind of magic about it. Some see it as just a colour, something to decorate the home with, or to choose to wear. It is all of that but oh so much more. I tend to describe colour as a sign language of the soul. In fact, in its beauty and simplicity colour could be termed sacred. Since the very beginning of studying and working with colour I always knew it was so much more than just something to look at. I sensed it had story, movement and action, and over time I started bringing colour to life through drama, expressive arts and storytelling.
Martha: Can colour ‘heal’?
Mark: Colour has such healing potential in so many different ways. That was certainly put to the test when in 2011 a friend and myself went to work in Southern Bangladesh in a small village where 43 boys had been killed in a bus accident whilst travelling home from winning a football match.Throughout our time there we used art, colour, drama and story to help start the grieving and healing process. Colour allowed parents to express pains that no words would ever be enough for, colour drama and stories gave space for unspoken goodbyes and for creating colourful imaginary spaces to keep memories of fun and laughter. If we learn to trust colour in this healing context it always knows exactly the right place to take us to, as it did during our time in Bangladesh, colour knows the way.
Martha: Has colour ever got you into any funny situations?
Mark: For a while I did have a reputation in some parts of London as the man who could help women get pregnant! In these pregnancy stories, colour showed the way as to which colour best represented pregnancy for each individual and which one didn’t. In one case colour worked the very same day, the lady later reported she was convinced that that very same night after our meeting was the night she conceived her son, with the help of her husband of course! Three years later the lady introduced me to her son, she introduced me as “The man who helped me get you…”
Martha: Where’s the most colourful place you’ve ever been?
Mark: There are so many. I spend some of my time in Dubai, which is colourful on so many levels due to the melting pot and meeting of cultures and experiences, I love it. When I come back to the UK, the green of England is always so welcoming. I also spend time in Oman where the gold and silver shades of the earth make it a magical place for me. I lived in Portugal for 14 years; the light is amazing there which makes the colours seem even more alive than they already are. I think I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunsets in Portugal, especially in autumn, than I’ve seen anywhere else so far. The Amazon was pretty colourful, yes a lot of green, the river itself has a lot of dark blues, going into almost black at some of the deepest points. Again the purity of the light makes this a place which is very much alive with colour. Even the red fire ants live up to their name!
Martha: Tell me about Valspar’s Institute of Primal Colour event.
Mark: The Institute of Primal Colour was a two-day event in central London, run in association with Bompas & Parr. It explored our relationship with colour through different multisensory experiments that were developed with help from Oxford University. Members of the public took part in ground-breaking experiment developed by Professor Charles Spence to discover the colours we truly love, based on the senses.
Martha: I hear you were the ‘Director of Colour’ there. What does this mean?
Mark: I met people at the end of the event to interpret their individual results and help them determine the primal colour they are most drawn towards. From here, I could show them their ideal paint palette so they could go away and try these schemes in their own home and create a design that works in harmony to their senses.
Martha: If you could give people advice about colour, what would it be?
Mark: My first piece of advice would be to get people to look around and pay close attention to the one colour (at least) that is flirting outrageously with them, wanting to capture their attention and imagination. I believe that if you dare to trust colour and add it into your life, be sure that life will never quite be the same again.
Martha: How does this relate to how you do your home up?
Mark: When decorating start by considering the main activity happening in the space, followed by how you want to feel in that space. From there start imagining what colour and shade of colour best expresses that combination. Tester pots∗ are wonderful because you can experiment. If you are not sure live with the colour patch for a day or two, like that you’ll experience differing emotions during that time period and get to find out if the colour is right for you.
∗The Love Your Colour Guarantee® is an initiative that Valspar has just launched in the UK, offering people money back on their second pot (any colour, any size) if they are unsure on their first choice.
Follow Mark on Instagram @iamcolourforlife and www.colourforlife.com