Liv­ing co­ral: a calm colour for tough times

The Guardian - G2 - - Shortcuts - Jonathan Jones

Pan­tone has an­nounced that the colour of the year for 2019 is “liv­ing co­ral”: a kind of muted ter­ra­cotta, the sort of tem­pered earthen tone that might well have graced floors and walls in those Cal­i­for­nian homes be­fore they were dev­as­tated by Novem­ber’s wild­fires.

“It rep­re­sents a feel­ing that’s out there in the zeit­geist,” says Leatrice Eise­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pan­tone Color In­sti­tute. If so, per­haps the world is calmer and hap­pier than we think; or per­haps in trou­bled times we crave the re­as­sur­ance of a colour that is warm, nat­u­ral and solid.

There is, be­hind the sooth­ing glow, an edge to liv­ing co­ral. The name does, by as­so­ci­a­tion, con­jure im­ages of dead co­ral, killed by warm­ing seas. “We do have to think about bleach­ing of co­ral,” says Eise­man. Yet, as she ac­knowl­edges, few will see the colour and worry: “There are many more pos­i­tive re­ac­tions than neg­a­tive re­ac­tions.”

Pan­tone is hardly go­ing to tell the fash­ion in­dus­try to paint it black; be­sides, years when black is in are usu­ally good years. In the wealthy Re­nais­sance, when men wore pur­ple hose and pink jerkins, the rich set them­selves apart by don­ning black. This year’s colour tells us what a mess we are in. Stunned by Trump, crushed by the lack of progress on climate change, we dream of bronze hori­zons, desert hide­aways and un­spoiled reefs. On the cat­walk, sim­i­lar shades have been em­braced at Poiret, Tem­per­ley Lon­don and Elis­a­betta Franchi.

Only in times of panic would we crave the eter­nal splen­dour that liv­ing co­ral dis­tils. Ac­cord­ing to Pan­tone’s re­search, peo­ple see sunsets in it. Like Al Pa­cino gazing at a tacky trop­i­cal bill­board as he dies in Car­l­ito’s Way, we crave the reds and or­anges of an is­land evening as the world chokes and burns. Per­haps this is the kind of per­fected mem­ory of Earth that will sus­tain the last space trav­ellers as they search for a new home in remote re­gions of the gal­axy.

I must be in a dis­counted mi­nor­ity of Pan­tone’s test sub­jects. The more I look at this sup­pos­edly zen colour, the sad­der I feel. I think stri­dent yel­low or sickly green might be more hon­est and more alive.

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