Nicolas Winding Refn’s colour blindness


Nicolas Winding Refn (dir) Only God Forgives (2013)

Thank you to Charlie on Facebook for sending me a link to this article about film director Nicolas Winding Refn, and how he believes his colour blindness affects the look of his films. He says:

“I’m colorblind. I can’t see mid-colors. That’s why all my films are very contrasted, if it were anything else I couldn’t see it.”

I actually find Refn’s use of colour so emphatic that it distracts me from the story that he’s telling, but I share his appetite for high contrast and saturated colour. Many of my favourite painters produce work that fits this description. Perhaps this preference is related to my own colour blindness. Here are some examples.


Neo Rauch Die Kontrolle (2010) oil on canvas 300 x 420cm


Dana Schutz Lovers (2003) oil on canvas (Anyone know the dimensions of this painting? Let me know, thanks!)


Lisa Yuskavage Northview (2000) oil on linen 124.5 x 139.7cm


Jules de Balincourt Ecstatic Contact (2012) oil, acrylic and spray paint on panel 243.8 x 304.8cm


2 thoughts on “Nicolas Winding Refn’s colour blindness

  1. Liam, I wonder if your film work would infer the same choices about colour as Nicolas Winding Refn reports? Lighting, tone and colour choices are more up for grabs in painting surely. I’m not even sure if it’s known whether all who are colour blind see the same colours and miss the same colours? Are you sometimes stabbing in the dark, when you, for instance, might be attempting to paint something nuanced, or in tones which you know we don’t share? Or am I fucking up this conversation with too many misconceptions?


    • When I made videos my vision was rarely a problem. The only part of the process that I couldn’t do was digital colour-correction on video and promotional images. Not all colour-blind people see the same, there’s a wide range of types and severities, and even people with normal vision are on a spectrum. If 10 = exceptionally good colour vision and 0 = severe colour blindness then I’m about a 4. I’m ALWAYS stabbing in the dark when I paint something nuanced in any hue, especially things with red or green. I try to use my eyes, but often rely more on the labels on the tubes to know what I’m mixing. I just made a painting of a nude figure and afterwards I viewed it with a filter that revealed to me that the redness of the skin tone is completely uneven, intensely ruddy in places, and lifelessly dull in others. It’s disappointing, but not surprising. I’m writing a blog post about it now… 🙂


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