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COS × Sophie Smallhorn

British artist Sophie Smallhorn explores the relationship between colour, volume and proportion through her work.

She’s created a series of special window installations at five COS stores around the world. The bold colour and playful elements that she incorporates sit alongside brighter elements of our new collection.


Sophie’s installations for COS are in fact scaled-up versions of an earlier work, Component Cubes . By exploring her initial idea on a much larger scale, the artist brings different aspects to the forefront. There is a sense of precarious balance to her sculptural creations, which feel like they may come tumbling down at any moment. Each of her installations within this series are specific to the site they were created for.

Discover Sophie’s colourful window installations at the following stores worldwide: Regent Street in London, Østergade in Copenhagen, Cheongdam in Seoul, Queen’s Road in Hong Kong and in Downtown Los Angeles.

 


 
In conversation with Sophie Smallhorn

While studying furniture at Brighton University, Sophie became drawn to making wall-mounted sculptures from colourful offcuts. This contemporary approach led to a career as colour consultant and today her work ranges from small-scale projects to vast commissions. Ahead of her collaboration with COS, we sat down with Sophie to discuss her practice and influences…

What draws you to explore the interaction between colour, volume and proportion?

Each of those three elements needs the other. Within a piece, I am creating a vehicle to hold the colour so when I am arranging the form, spacing and proportion I am considering whether there will be enough scope to hold the breadth of palette that I want to play with.


You often incorporate modular components and geometric forms. Does colour or shape come first in your process or do you always consider both?

Colour is ultimately the principle element of a piece, however the structure is considered first in order to create the platform to hold the palette. I am interested as much in the shape of a component as I am in the voids created between them.


Does experimentation play a part in your process?

Experimentation and play are hugely important and informative to how I work. I make a lot of models and collages and I like to process colour scenarios through screen printing which can inform how I use colour in the sculptural pieces.


How do you choose a colour palette when you’re working on a new piece? And do you set yourself a limit?

There is no system or theory to how I use colour, it is purely a process of intuitive decisions with one colour informing the next. I will, however, often establish a colour rule when I start a piece in order to avoid being debilitated by possibilities. This could be something like ‘no reds’ or ‘only within reds’. I don’t set myself limits on the amount of colours I use but I can get too partial to a particular colour group and have to make myself throw it out otherwise I can be in yellows for months.


Your work often has a playful feel, is this intentional?

Yes, I think it is. Colour by its nature can be playful and there is perhaps a childlike quality to a lot of the geometry in my work. Another important element is a balance of order and disorder and a contrast of comfortable colours and less easy colours which in isolation might be considered ‘ugly’ but that are an essential element to how a palette moves through a piece.

 

Who or what influences your work? Do you have a constant inspiration that you return to or does it change from project to project?

Many different artists continue to influence my work; Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Albers and so on, but my colour library is often informed by everyday colour elements – moments when a curious colour combination has often accidentally come together. I also keep paper reference chips of all the colours I work with, so the starting point of a new piece is often playing with these scraps.


You studied furniture at university. Does this background still inform your work today? How did you become a colour consultant?


At Brighton University I made furniture that was primarily about colour with a nominal functional element thrown in; in all honesty they were overgrown sculptural pieces. Along with the furniture projects, I also made sculptural wall pieces out of the off cuts and once I had graduated, I realised that this was more where my interest lay. Having trained in a design environment but then finding that my work settled in a fine art context, I am fortunate that my work has continued to straddle both camps. I feel comfortable with constraints to work from, so having a design brief sits easily with me. The colour consultancy work has evolved over the years of collaborating with architects and I have been fortunate to work with clients who have entrusted me with some inspiring spaces.


You’ve worked on huge projects like the 2012 Olympic Stadium. How does this compare to creating comparatively smaller work, like your screen prints or sculptures? Is the approach the same?

In a sense it is a similar approach but when I work on a large scale architectural project, such as the Olympics, I start by reducing the layout of the building down to find an element within the structure that could hold a palette, stripping the structure to a manageable scale to find a common symmetry or repetitive detail. This also makes vast complex building less daunting.


When it came to creating the series of window installations for COS, did you approach each site differently?

I approached the scale and layout of each window space differently – whether a piece could be held on both sides, seen from the side, leant against one wall etc. With the palette rooted in the current COS collection, I wanted to concentrate on a different aspect of the colour palette for each installation.


And finally, do you see any similarities between the COS aesthetic and your own?


COS clothing can have a very graphic, often architectural quality and I think this is an aesthetic in common with my own work, so there is clearly a connection. The brand is brave and interesting with colour so I have followed it closely and knew it would be interesting to work with.