Reflections on my colour-spread study
In 1981 psychologists Christoph Redies and Lothar Spillmann invented a figure that demonstrated the phenomena of colour-spread, a phenomenon that throws light on how our eye/brain constructs colour. I hesitate to refer to the figure as an illusion because I can see nothing illusory about the subjective nature of the colour-spread effect. It is a fact as real as any, but it is constructed by our eye/brain.
The neon-like circles of colour we construct in the figures shown in my study are not objectively there. I present them for your enjoyment as well as for my learning. The purpose of the study was to learn how to paint the figures so they are effective and to discover for myself what tends to interfere with the colour-spread as well as how different colour combinations produce different qualities of ‘spread’. I was equally interested in how to display them so that they activate the ground but without creating further ‘Ehrenstein figures‘ (as I have done in the past). I hope, on studying them a little, you discover the after-images appearing in the spaces.
Of course the figures are not placed randomly, they are first positioned on a grid that includes diagonals (is there a name for that?) and grouped in arrangements of 1+2+3+4 = 10, then the grid is painted out.
Neither is the choice of flourescent colour random. I was pondering a section of David Batchelor’s excellent book Chromophobia where, discussing the limitations of colour theory, he speculates about the colour(s) between yellow and green. In addition, he quotes Kierkegaard’s melancholy tale from Either/Or:
How strangely sad I felt on seeing a poor man shuffling through the streets in a rather worn-out, light yellowish-green coat. I was sorry for him, but the thing that moved me the most was that the colour of his coat so vividly reminded me of my first childish productions in the noble art of painting. This colour was precisely one of my vital hues. Is it not sad that these colour mixtures, which I still think of with so much pleasure, are found nowhere in life; the whole world thinks them harsh, bizarre… And I, who always painted my heroes with this never-to-be-forgotten yellowish-green colouring on their coats! And is this not so with all the mingled colours of childhood? The hues that life once had gradually became too strong, too harsh for our dim eyes.
I was also interested in the boundary where decoration becomes non-decorative (garish colour) and where sign becomes non signifying. Furthermore, the fluorescent colour seems to resonate with the neon-like quality of the colour-spread phenomenon.