Scientific Analysis of Rembrandt’s Techniques for Guiding the Eye

Scientific Analysis of Rembrandt's Techniques for Guiding the Eye
Artists have long known, whether by intuition or study, how to direct a viewer’s eye through a painting. It’s always interesting, though, when researchers attempt to codify and study these aspects of vision and perception in scientific experiment.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Vision Lab recently turned their attention to Rembrandt’s incisive and justly famous portrait paintings in an attempt to identify the source of their visual power and appeal, and in the process, the techniques by which he commands your eye and directs it where he will.

It may not come as a surprise to artists who study such techniques that Rembrandt uses value contrasts, “lost and found edges”, and contrasting areas of texture to add interest, and grab and lead the eye; but the UBC researchers found ways to test the efficacy of the techniques by modifying photographs with some of the same characteristics and comparing the response to those and to control photographs without the specified characteristics.

You can read an abstract of their article, Rembrandt’s Textural Agency or the press release, UBC Researcher Decodes Rembrandt’s “Magic”, or download a PDF of the entire article, and see the gist of the techniques collected in a poster.

For a great resource on Rembrandt, see Jonathan Jansen’s Rembrandt van Rijn: Life and Work.

[Via BoingBoing, with a thank you to James Bright of Ottawa]


Patrick Hughes

Patrick Hughes
The work of UK artist Patrick Hughes lends itself to viewing by way of photographs even less than sculpture, which is unsurprising in that it is essentially a combination of painting and sculptural elements.

Sculpture, to be properly appreciated, must be experienced by moving through the physical space in which it exists, which changes your view of it until multiple views from various angles form a composite, three dimensional image in your mind (see my comments on Bernini).

Hughes creates paintings that change as you move past them, almost like the illusions created by lenticular displays, but Hugh’s illusions are based on a sound knowledge of perspective, both linear and forced.

He has created an intriguing method of using reverse forced perspective, painted onto angular three-dimsnsional supports, to allow the images from multiple physical planes to be perceived as a single image, the elements of which change their physical shapes and relationships when the viewer changes position relative to the work.

To get an idea of how this works, you must view his paintings in videos that change the camera’s position relative to the work, giving you the effect of walking by them. The illusion of unity is so remarkable that video is also the only photographic way you can grasp the dimensionality of the pieces.

There is a large video here, that starts with a brief exposition by Hughes before showing you the effect, a shorter one on his home page and another by a third party on Flickr that shows his remarkable piece, Paradoxymoron, that is in the basement of the British Library in London, from multiple angles. There is also a video of his accordion-fold “multiples” on his News page.

Hughes calls the principle “Reverspective“, meaning “…three-dimensional paintings that when viewed from the front initially give the impression of viewing a painted flat surface that shows a perspective view”. He even has scientific papers on the effect and a discussion of the perspective principles on which it is based.

The above images only hint at the process. View the video to see the effect.

Hughes’ paintings often make wry reference to other artists’ work.

[Via Digg]


The Color Wheel on Gurney Journey

The Color Wheel on Gurney Journey, James Gurney
Painter and illustrator James Gurney, who I recently profiled here, is currently writing a series of fascinating posts on his blog, Gurney Journey, about The Color Wheel.

In them he is exploring questions that are not raised often enough, including questioning the concept of exactly what is a primary color, and how might primary colors be interpreted differently; not just in different color spaces, additive and subtractive, but even within the familiar paradigms of modern color theory and practice.

The colors that are considered primaries, as he points out, are not set in stone.

The series, of which there are three installments to date, is likely part of the material Gurney is producing for his upcoming book, Color & Light.

I don’t know how many posts there will be in this series, but you may find that it encourages you to think about color and color mixing a little differently.

(You may find it useful to supplement your reading with my post on the History of the Color Wheel.)


István Orosz

Istvan Orosz
In my post from 2008 about Anamorphic Art, I briefly mentioned the work of Hungarian artist István Orosz.

Orosz is a graphic designer, illustrator, printmaker, poster artist, animator, stage designer and painter. He has a fascination with anamorphosis, and has several examples of his own in the gallery on his web site.

Unfortunately the site is inconvenient to deal with, one of those web site designs that is too “clever” for its own good (see my rant on How Not to Display Your Art on the Web). It opens in a pop-up, you have to wait for the white square to fill to indicate the site is loaded, and then deal with a difficult navigation system that is hidden until you roll over it and search out the links. Hints: main navigation is at the bottom, portfolio sections at the top, individual pieces in a band over the image in the center that you have to scroll through.

If you’re willing to work your way through, however, there are many interesting pieces in the section of Anamorphoses, along with illustrations, posters, paintings and Escher influenced etchings that explore the realm of impossible figures (see my posts on M.C. Escher and Andreas Aronsson).

You may find it easier to view Orosz’s work on Gallery Diabolus or Marlena Agency.

Orosz wrote an article titled The Mirrors of the Master in the book M.C. Escher’s Legacy: A Centennial Celebration.

Some of Orosz’s anamorphoses are particularly well done, in that the flat image makes perfect visual sense in itself, as in the image at top, with it’s anamorphic component hidden until revealed in the proper curved reflective surface (above, middle), as opposed to the somewhat easier paradigm of a flat image that simply appears distorted until viewed in the reflective surface.

Orosz also explores illusionistic double-images, as found in the work of Dalí and earlier artists, in which a secondary image can be seen in the main image (e.g. a face in a landscape).

I particularly like his poster designs, in which his playfully brain-teasing themes are presented in strong, simplified graphics.


Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see (TED Talk)

Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see (TED Talk)
Beau Lotto, of Lottolab, a combination art studio and science lab, has a talk on TED, a conference started in 1984 to bring together bright lights from the disciplines of Technology, Entertainment and Design.

These talks are almost always informative, entertaining and brain-ticklingly thought provoking. Some are on art (see my post on The Face of Leonardo?).

In this particular talk, Lotto utilizes several familiar but striking optical illusions (see my previous posts on some of them here and here), plus a few others, but goes beyond the usual concerns of the mechanics of vision into the questions of why we see as we do, why these particular illusions work, and how the way we see functions in our adaptation to the world.

The LottoLab site includes some articles and features on related subjects.

Much of the talk is about the nature of color, and in particular about a point that I often mention as perhaps the single most important thing I have ever learned about color, color mixing and color perception — that context is everything.


Luke Jerram

Luke Jerram
Luke Jerram is a UK artist who creates sculptures, installations and art events.

In his Glass Microbiology project he has created a series of glass sculptures of viral structures, to, in his words, “contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the doctoring of scientific imagery affects our visualisation of phenomena”.

The sculptures are of viruses that are associated with particularly virulent and well known diseases, Smallpox, HIV, SARS, Swine Flu and, in the case of the image above (with detail below), E. coli.

The fact that the virus sculptures are made of glass, a transparent substance which, in its most basic form, has no color of its own, is indicative of the second aspect of Jerram’s investigation, the suggestion that the coloring of scientific images carries implications beyond conveying information.

It’s common for scientific images to be given false colors for the purpose of clarity, or easy perception of information that may be hard to glean in the images’ “true” state. An example of this might be the application of false colors to astronomical images to display the structure of nebulae or the light from infrared or radio sources.

It is also common to color images of viruses; in fact a majority of illustrations and images of viruses that are not the original electron micrographs seem to be intensely colored. Jerram speculates that as a result, most non-scientists might assume that real viruses are actually brightly colored.

He further speculates that the practice can promote a sense of wonder and and make the images more impressive (possibly intentionally), as well as carrying an emotional tone, perhaps one of menace.

The glass sculptures neatly obviate the effect of color (except for one that was deliberately colored by a photographer, though it acts as a contrast), and reduce the viral shapes to just that: their shapes.

Jerram has another interest in removing the effects of color and judging the effect on perception; he himself is colorblind (an awkward term that might more accurately be called limited spectrum color vision), though I don’t know in what range his limitation extends.

The play of light on these sculptures, however, is still beautiful, and the perception of the shapes is heightened by the refractive characteristics of glass (something I respond to as strongly visually appealing); so I have to submit that Jerram has removed one source of intentional visual appeal only to substitute another.

However, as sculptures they work wonderfully. The shapes of viruses are particularly fascinating forms. I also find it compelling that microscopic structures capable of being deadly on a devastating scale can be represented with such beauty.

Jerram’s glass sculptures will be highlighted in a solo show at Smithfield Gallery, London from 22 September to 3 October, 2009.

[Via MetaFilter]