ION-DRI Programme


Jo Volley

Jo Volley is an Associate Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL where she manages the Material Research Project & Network and the Material Museum. She studied at the Slade from 1972-77 and has taught there since 1986. In 2019 she created and is director of Colour & Poetry an annual symposium held at the Slade and in 2020 along with Dr Ruth Siddall established World Pigment Day.

Her work is concerned with measurement, space and colour as light and employs a wide range of material and mediums. The work draws attention to the nature of archiving, historic materials, ideas of craftsmanship, incorporating traditional and contemporary techniques.

Tell us about how your work as an artist involves colour  

I come from a traditional painting background, but also work with all sorts of different media including three-dimensional , print and projection. 

Five years ago I founded Colour & Poetry: A Symposium that celebrates International Colour Day and World Poetry Day 21-22 March which brings together people from across many different disciplines who are interested in colour at UCL and beyond

For a number of years now, I've been more and more interested in colour and the source of colour - where it comes from, pigments and dyes.

I have developed an archive of these colours. I run the Slade Material Research Project, UCL. We have a pigment collection which has colours from all over the world from different manufacturers. It’s a fantastic resource for our research and for students.

Slade School of Research Materials Research Project Pigment Library Permanent Exhibition, UCL

Many projects have come out of it including the Pigment Timeline - a visual historical timeline of natural and manufactured colour, which you can see on public display in the north cloisters on the main UCL campus.  Also – a project on Colour & Emotion – where I worked with a geographer and a speech therapist to find a way for people with aphasia (when a person has difficulty with language or speech, often caused by damage to the left side of the brain e.g. after a stroke). I’ve also worked with chemists on a piece about making solar power from pigments and one about cooling the world down.

Pigment Timeline, Jo Volley, 2014. Photograph by Danny Treacy and Sarah Pickering

What is it about colour that fascinates you?

I've got this daft idea that colour can actually save the world! Everything's about colour - we use colour every day within our lives. It tells us about the beauty of the world.

I have a jar of lapis lazuli – one of the most beautiful blues – in my studio. It tells you about the landscape of where it comes from, it tells you about mining, the history of art and belief systems. Colour spans so many different disciplines. 

We did a survey some years ago about saw how many people at UCL worked with colour in different areas, whether using pigments, stains or colour coding. I felt this was a thing that could unite us as a university, and start research partnerships. It’s fantastic that these little bags of pigment and colour can bring people together.

What interests you about working on the ION-DRI project? 

I was really excited about the possibility that colour could really benefit people or open some doors in some way. I have a history of collaborating with researchers and scientists and its always exciting to come from a different angle and to work with new people. I’m looking forward to engaging more with researchers and to understand and reflect their work and research.

I would be very interested in making a site-specific colour timeline - something of beauty in the building  and something for people to look at, read and learn something new. Estelle is interested in making a pamphlet or booklet that could be really informative.

What’s your favourite colour? 

I couldn’t choose. There are just so many and it depends on what I’m working on. A genuine ultramarine is a big favourite of mine, but then there are curious colours, like Indian yellow – made originally from cow urine, beautiful old historic colours like Stil de grain, made from buckthorn and  now there is a modern iridescent version.

Slade School of Research Materials Research Project Pigment Library Permanent Exhibition, UCL