Visible Spectrum

posted in: Light, Visible Spectrum 0


NASA, ‘Prism Spectrum’
Photo via NASA Earth Observatory

A prism’s display can go beyond startling and gain a mesmerizing even searing presence in refracting colors of the visual spectrum. Artists have represented and reinterpreted the spectrum in ways that are amazing in concept and coherence of execution.



Fabian Oefner, ‘Bismuth’, 2014
Photo via WIRED

The Swiss photographer and artist Fabian Oefner has revealed an unexpected array of hues by melting bismuth and scraping the molten metal as it cooled and oxidized. The ‘Bismuth’ photograph is an extraordinary capture of the wide range of colors reflected during the chemical and physical changes in the melted bismuth.



Peter Erskine, ‘Rainbow Sundial’, 2000
Photo via Erskine Solar Art

This solar powered prismatic spectrum is described by Erskine: “Hour and month lines . . . mark the hours, months, solstices and equinoxes with astronomical accuracy. A 30’ x 30’ moving cross of spectrum sunlight, powered by the rotation and tilt of the Earth tells the time and date. On cloudy days a laser pointer driven by a solar tracking program fills in for the rainbow.”



Emmanuelle Moureaux, ‘100 Colors’, 2015
Photo via Watson Festival

With references to the simplicity, beauty and tradition of Japanese architecture and paper design, the Tokyo architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux has selected a vivacious range of 100 hues to create an eye-popping spectacle of colored paper sheets structured in layers and floating in space.



Gabriel Dawe, ‘Plexus 35’, 2016
Photo via COLOSSAL

Installation artist, Gabriel Dawe has achieved a perfection in representing white light as a visual spectrum of color wavelengths. Referred to as the man-made rainbow in the Toledo Museum of Art, lengths of colored thread radiate and reflect blended hues describing a diaphanous rainbow and giving it the feeling of having crept in from the windows above.


Illusion and Wit

posted in: Form 0

The trickery and wit of illusion – a source of continuing delight. The Oxford dictionary defines illusion as “an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience”.  Even when recognized as a ‘misinterpreted’, it is enticing to participate in illusion – allowing the discovery of virtual realities and surrealistic interpretations of our existence. It fulfills a human need to go beyond what we know and be surprised and amazed.


The illusional concrete pillars from Honda’s CGI generated advertising
Photo via Honda CRV Commercial


Borromini’s ‘Perspective Arcade’, Palazzo Spada, Rome, 1660
Photo via Wikimedia Commons Forced Perspective

The arcade’s interpretation as a perspective illusion is instantaneous when people are present to give a sense of scale. The columns dramatically diminish in size towards the far end of the arcade. The background statue is also reduced in size to complement the illusion of depth. This is clever and virtuoso trickery – a solution of considerable value in pursuing spatial impact within constrained architectural spaces.


Peter Kogler, ‘Installation’, 2014
MSU, museum of contemporary art Zagreb, Photo via Atelier Kogler

Peter Kogler’s optical illusions redefine architectural space often verging on vertigo. In this installation a proliferation of tortuous geometric patterns overwhelms and creates an intrusive organic quality that expands into awesome spatial disruption – disorienting the viewer from the rigid visual cues we expect from architectural planes.


Andrea Pozzo, ‘Dome Perspective’, St. Ignazio, Rome, 1685

This masterpiece of Baroque ‘trompe-l’oeil’, painted on canvas 17 meters in diameter, extends the space within the church into a breathtaking vision of a highly ornate dome. To fully appreciate the illusion, viewer participation is required. A marble plaque provides the vantage point to bring the perspective painting into an illusion of 3-dimensional perfection.


Rene Magritte, ‘The Human Condition”, 1935

Witty and unsettling, Magritte’s painting presents equivocal interpretations of what we see. The surrealist painting wavers between background and foreground representations and extensions of reality.  Regardless of philosophical interpretation, the painting never loses its universal appeal. It is a delightful, magical expression of Magritte’s knowledge of the impossibility to duplicate what we see – Magritte’s ‘ceci n’est pas’ philosophy.

Color Blindness

posted in: Visible Spectrum 0


The multi-coned eyes of the Mantis Shrimp captured our imaginations
Photo Courtesy: National Science Foundation

The famous eyes and red/green coloring of the Mantis Shrimp made me curious about the color spectrum the shrimp sees – – – and curious about the colors a human with red/green blindness sees when looking at a Mantis Shrimp. The shrimp’s eye has four times as many cones as the human eye. Yet the possibility of the shrimp’s color vision surpassing that of a human seems to have faded into myth.

Swept away by the controversy, my attention shifted to the complex ability of cells in the Mantis Shrimp eye to process polarized light. The shrimp’s eye has become inspiration for breakthroughs in optical technology.

Somewhat satisfied, I moved on to the more easily defined color spectrums seen by humans with red/green color blindness and those without color blindness.



Color spectrum as seen by human eye with normal vision


Color spectrum as seen by human eye with red/green color blindness (Deuteranopia)



Red & bitter lime. Left: with red/green color blindness. Right: with normal vision.

Once I rendered these approximations in Photoshop, I was stunned to see the difference – not just color wise but also spatially.  Can this be true?  If you have red/green color blindness the above two images might look similar. Apparently 10% of the population has some degree of red/green color blindness.



The Mantis Shrimp as seen by a person with red/green color blindness

Metal Leaf

posted in: Medium 0

Integrating metal leaf into painting is one of my never-ending explorations. It is like working with light as a medium.  The painting surface becomes a field, where heavily sculpted and minimally altered surfaces significantly influence the hue and reflective nature of metal leaf. I enjoy working this way because it relates to my interest in the visualization of depth and space on a flat surface.


Joan Martin, ‘Scribe’   15″ x 15″

The solidity of the concrete scribe has been softened and given an airier feel by the application of metal leaf on canvas painted with a thin layer of acrylic medium containing fine grain pumice.



Joan Martin, ‘Desert Hot Springs’  18″ x 18″

A thinly painted area allowed metal leaf to pick up the texture of canvas in this aerial view. The circles of leaf have an application of thick sandy textured modeling paste contrasting with the lightly-treated canvas areas.  In this case the metal seems to absorb rather than reflect.  It has produced a surprisingly molten dry depth contrasting with the exuberant hot spring.



Joan Martin, ‘Desert Diptych’  18″ x 36″

Metal leaf applied on a smooth modeling paste gives a shiny sculptural look – with the intention of reflecting the unrelenting hot brilliance of the desert sun.



Joan Martin, ‘Temiskaming’  22″ x 30″

The roughly hewn texture of the acrylic medium underlying this piece along with the glaring richness of copper express my memory of distant forests consumed by fire – in the Canada I knew while growing up in northern Ontario.


posted in: Medium 0


This series of fish lithographs was made while I was living in the Darlinghurst neighborhood of Sydney Australia – inspired by trips to the Sydney Fish Market.


Joan Martin, ‘Bonito’, lithograph 14″ x 23″

Each trip to the market provided one fish as a model for a drawing session using grease-based pencils and ink on a metal litho plate.


Joan Martin, ‘Aussie 1’, lithograph 14″ x 23″

I drew on metal lithography plates instead of traditional heavy limestone.  Ease of portability made plates appropriate for the spontaneous approach.


Joan Martin, ‘Aussie 2’, lithograph 14″ x 23″

I was fortunate to have access to a robust but ancient lithography press. The litho plate was sensitized to accept ink in areas drawn with grease-based materials and repel ink in areas with no drawing. Ink was rolled onto the dampened plate, paper placed on top, and cranked through the press allowing the extreme pressure of the roller to force the ink onto the paper.


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