Artist Rozbeh Asmani is exploring the concept of colour trademarking

Rozbeh Asmani

Colour is never not a hot topic, from lifestyle and interiors to the catwalk, colour informs these industries. And as we’ve been reporting on WGSN Insider, new advances in colour creation and who owns the right to which colours, are currently huge talking points. One artist who is influential within these conversations is Rozbeh Asmani, who lives and works in Cologne (represented by the gallery Werner Klein) and is the author of the book, 72 Colourmarks.

Through his art, Rozbeh has been exploring colour, and who holds the rights to certain shades: “For me as an artist the idea is the most important part of the creative process. The body of my work deals with the aesthetics of capitalism. Therefore, I enquired about all registered colour trademarks in Germany and Europe and made abstract colour plates and silk screens from these. Thus, I address how trademarks intrude into collective memory via the use of colour, revealing the complex link between colour, power and identity.”

We found this fascinating, and so WGSN Colour Director Jane Boddy caught up with Rozbeh Asmani to find out more.

Rozbeh Asmani portrait by David Ertl

Your work focuses on colours that brands have trademarked. What was it that made you want to focus on this topic?

While I was designing the wrapping of one of my earliest artworks called Shirin in 2009, I experienced the trademark law by myself. Shirin is a chocolate figure and means “sweet”, “sugary” or “charming” in Farsi. It is also a common Persian women’s name. What you see is the picture of a woman printed on silver paper. She is veiled in a hijab and in turn veils the chocolate by being wrapped around it. With this work, I am taking the conventional western subject of a chocolate Santa Claus, and I am transferring it into a political, sociocultural setting. I was told to change the original colour purple, because it is a protected colour trademark by a multinational company. The fact that I was not allowed to use a colour as an artist who works with colours everyday irritated me. I changed my first draft from purple to blue. At the same time, I had the idea of my most recent work series: Colourmarks.

Tell us a bit more about your book 72 Colourmarks? With your book it’s interesting as I’m over whelmed by the beauty in the colours, how hard was it to get the tones exact?

My artist book Rozbeh Asmani – 72 Colourmarks reveals 72 colours and colour-combinations registered by major companies at the Patent and Trademark Office since the early 1990s. It also represents my research from 2010 until now. Transferring colours licensed according to trademark law and registered in different colour systems into various printing procedures constitutes a great challenge and demands a lot of effort. It requires the exact knowledge of traditional imaging procedures, but at the same time also encourages experimenting with and developing new imaging methods.

In the beginning, I had to search for all companies, crafts and services and the exact colour indications of their respective trademarks. Information was often wrong, misleading and sometimes not given. It took me about a year to sort the data.

The next challenge was the fact that lacquer, metallic or neon colours are nearly impossible to print precisely on paper. After measuring and calibrating these colours with an optical spectrometer, we developed a system and matched it with offset printing. On the basis of these results, inks were mixed. I increased colour saturation by using very glossy coated paper with a high print brilliance.

Finally, the printing process itself was very complicated. Just imagine that each protected colour is a spot colour and, in order to set themselves apart from their competitors, nearly each colour is unique. Offset printing machines have five separate ink chambers (for CMYK + one additional spot colour). We had to print 95 (!) spot colours. We proceeded by filling the ink chambers of the printer, matching the proof with the major colour fans. So we produced the print run of 500 copies, after which we cleaned the ink chambers and started all over again and again and again. It was both the most beloved and the most annoying part of book printing.

Courtesy: The Artist + Galerie Werner Klein, Photo: Andreas Endermann

Which colours are the most popular in branding based on your research, and is there a reason do you think as to why these colours are the most popular?

I find that it depends on the country, culture and market segment. Products and services in advertisements are represented by colours because colours stimulate our memory. The perception of colour is one of the most important human abilities. Colours are elementary for the survival in nature. They have the capability of warning, camouflage and stimulation. These communicative possibilities of colours referring back to their evolutionary properties.

What is the most interesting thing that you have discovered from your research about colour?

I am always wondering about the fact that professionals, students, lawyers and amateurs do not know about the huge number of colours that are protected by the industry. Many companies try to protect a certain colour, but only few succeed.

Rozbeh Asmani

Can you tell us about current and future exhibits and is there a continued focus on colour for your work?

72 Colourmarks is currently shown all over 60 advertising columns in the city of Cologne. Each column is different and the combinations are randomly selected. This work series is the product of an on-going research in the field of colour trademarks. What seems to be an aesthetic game on colours at the first glance is in fact a documentation of industrial appropriation strategies.

At the moment, I am focusing on the exploration of historical backgrounds of colours. Purple was a symbol of power and status and a sign for religious or monarchical wealth. In ancient times, it was limited to a narrow authorized circle of aristocrats. Today, colour trademarks by major multinational companies are licensing and monopolizing the attention to colour. In my opinion, it feels as if economic potency has displaced religious and aristocratic power and the suggestive power and beauty of colour is now used for marketing and commercial concerns.


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