Color Vision & Art

Michelangelo's Doni Holy Family, Monet's Impression: Sunrise, on WebExhibits
Color Vision & Art is an online feature on WebExhibits, which describes itself as an “interactive museum of science, humanities and culture”.

The feature is a series of related articles, accompanied by images and simple Flash interactives, that explore the relationship of human color perception to the uses of color in art. The feature is more extensive than it appears first, each section divided into secondary and sometimes tertiary levels of topics.

The articles move from basic information about light, color and vision, through color theory and the color wheel (additionally, see my post on History of the Color Wheel), paints and pigments (for which there is a dedicated feature on WebExhibits, Pigments Through the Ages) into color interactions and peripheral vision. The latter has some interesting essays on the use of detail and blurring in paintings at various points in art history.

I found the section on Color Interactions Simultaneous Contrast a little spare, as I feel this is at the core of understanding and using color, and could have benefitted from additional interactions and demonstrations, (particularly demonstrations such as the striking examples of simultaneous contrast shown by modern color perception demonstrations like the ones I wrote about here and here).

However, I found particular interest in the section on Luminance and equiluminance, or value contrasts and value similarities. This is illustrated particularly well in simple interactives that use sliders to remove the color and show the strong value relationships in Michelangelo’s Doni Holy Family and the very different ones in Monet’s Impression: Sunrise. The latter is the painting from which the term “Impressionism”, originally a bit of derisive mockery by critics, came into use.

The interactives allow you to gradually remove the color from both paintings, viewing the difference in their color contrasts and value contrasts. (The images above are just screen captures and are not interactive.)

Most fascinating is the combination of deliberate lack of value contrast and simultaneous strong color contrast in the key parts of Monet’s painting, also demonstrated in his Poppies, near Argenteuil, producing a conflict in the perception of the contrast within the brain that makes the area seem to vibrate.

Overall, the features are, if you will excuse the expression, illuminating, and well worth both casual perusal and more dedicated reading if you have the time.

Other features in WebExhibits of particular interest to Lines and Colors readers include Causes of Color, Pigments Through the Ages, Bellini’s “Feast of the Gods” and Van Gogh’s Letters.


Reverse Perspective Animation

Reverse Perspective Animation, Jeremy Mooney-Somers
Linear perspective is an attempt to codify the way that we perceive the relationships between the size of objects, and the shapes of objects, based on their relationship to us in three dimensional space and convey that perception on a two dimensional surface.

The most important rules of linear perspective are that objects appear smaller in the distance, and parallel lines converge on a hypothetical distant vanishing point.

In true reverse (or inverse) perspective, these rules are reversed, in that objects are larger in the distance and parallel lines converge in the direction of the observer’s position.

Reverse perspective is sometimes called Byzantine perspective because of its use in icon paintings, in which objects like thrones or platforms are depicted as wider on the portion farther from the observer. The notions that have been applied for explanation are that the important point of view is that of God, not of the human observer. Whether this is the actual intent is unknown, but it’s worth remembering that the invention of linear perspective postdates the Byzantine, so they could not have been using the reverse of codified rules they presumably didn’t have.

For those of us who have been exposed to linear perspective in images for all of our lives, the idea of reverse perspective is hard to visualize, but Jeremy Mooney-Somers has used 3-D graphics software (a modified version of Art of Illusion) to make an animated visualization of True Reverse Perspective.

I have to emphasize that the images above do not convey the idea. You must see the animated version to get the effect.

(It’s interesting to contrast this with with the Reverspective of Patrick Hughes; though not actually true reverse perspective, it’s an interesting variation on the way we perceive three dimensional relationships.)

[Via BoingBoing]


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.