Color for an artist may be literal, expressive, arbitrary, atmospheric, or illusory. For all of us, color is many things. It contains vital elements of information which aid both our survival and our consciousness. It enriches our sensory experience, and often we associate deep emotional feelings with color. Objectively, color is a symphony of light refracted by the various surfaces and atmospheric conditions that filter radiant energy on its way to our eyes.
Color was my first deep obsession with painting. It was so fascinating to me that I enrolled in specialized courses in optics at the university and even minored in physics. In landscapes I did not settle for the stereotypical green in tree leaves, but also found violet shadows on their underside, complemented by sparkling lemony highlights. On one tree there may be hundreds of shades of green that could be discerned in spectrum analysis. This is what artists like Van Gogh and Monet called to our attention over a hundred years ago. They saw way beyond the ordinary veil of homogenized perception.
With questions of color, light is always the medium to be studied more than any object reflecting it. We all know that the spectrum of refracted light forms a rainbow. What I discovered in optics is that with all normal light (other than highly focused laser light) there is a rainbow within each color, and another rainbow even within that refraction. Color is all a matter of wavelengths and relativity! There is no local or absolute color, which is why we enjoy such a subjective field-play with it.
Therefore the way we organize color or relate one color to another is everything in color expression. It can have a potent effect on the quality of our communication! This is true whether expressing oneself through clothing, the interior design, or fine art. Indeed, color is such a compelling metaphor we associate it with expressions of character, conduct, or even sound.
Unfortunately, most of our traditional expressions of color have not kept pace with explorations of science and perception. Artistic applications have typically bent toward local color (such as green for leaves, blue for sky, and so forth), arbitrary color as in the paintings of Matisse, symbolic color as with icons, or expressive color as with abstract paintings. It was not until the Impressionists that color was studied as a form of radiant energy that registered directly to the mind in all its complexity. They were truly revolutionary in the way they explored color as light. They were my beginning inspiration.
In addition to light, color also has a great deal to do with our perception of space and motion, as with the Doppler effect, which measures the advancing speed or recession of an object in space simply by the color it projects. We now can decode chemical compositions of planets far away by the radiant energy released from solids, gasses, and dust.
In the 1970’s I completed some very advanced research with a scientist vested in highly secure government research. He had to resign from the project because my findings were nudging on the boundary of classified information. Of course, he did not tell me what they were, but suggested that I put certain parts of my findings in a box and hide it to my attic. Two decades later, I discovered from another high security scientist that what we had advanced into what was by then a declassified study of energy systems being developed for cloaking missiles and aircraft. While I have not seen those actual studies, I am told by reliable sources that light can be so managed as to prevent refraction or reflection, while redirecting its position in space so as to avert detection of its position.
The related part of my research was to find within the inner rainbow of various colors those harmonic patterns of integration that allow for positioning and managing objects in the space of a painting. In simple language, I could make blue advance, red recede, and keep yellow from detaching. I could alter the apparent saturation of a color (how intense it is) by harmonics with adjacent colors. The value of that is spatial illusion in a painting is usually developed by graying or intensification of color. Renaissance artists, such as Leonardo, perfected what we now call atmospheric perspective. It’s an extremely effective tool for establishing the perimeters of spatial depth. However, it requires that most of a painting (the larger field) be moderately or greatly desaturated. Only advancing objects could be in high brilliance, and they stood out from the background. However, this creates a problem for inclusions such as a red light or red stop sign blocks down a street. How would an artist get that to recede? By traditional methods he couldn’t. What I discovered allowed me to desaturate the color, while restoring the mind’s perception of brilliance as it related to colors around it.
From this I developed a revolutionary new color wheel that decoded the harmonic language within color, much as it had been done for sound by musical composers long ago. Hopefully this study, which was halted by silence in the 70’s, will be resumed and completed soon. However, I have used my understanding in all of my paintings since that time. Most especially, the latest paintings in my “More Than Meets the Eye” series have enjoyed the benefit of this understanding. It is not something that I figure out and apply in a left-brained way. That would completely inhibit intuition and spontaneity. It’s just that this knowledge has allowed me to augment the other elements of spatial depth by using both atmospheric perspective and color saturation. When presented with a color-spatial dilemma, I have more that standard information in my arsenal. I am able to develop space while maintaining the illusion of color saturation, or vice versa, to maintain the illusion of space while developing color richness.
The multiple perspectives, and stereoscopic spatial depth of this series of paintings has been greatly enhanced by my former research into advanced color theory and the study of optics.