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Paint, Color and the Brain

Color, as a characteristic of human vision, is a major component of nearly all visual art making.  Even when it is expressly absent from a work, color often evokes its own presence.  The human visual system perceives a world filled with color and the physics of light is only a partial explanation.  The range of human color perception also involves a sophisticated interpretive collaboration between the eye and the brain.  For most of us, the results are reasonable visual conclusions of the world around us.  The capacity of this eye/brain collaboration has led me to wonder about how much or how little light/color information is actually required for the brain to conclude a rational representation of the visible world.  The paintings and prints that I present here are offered as examples that far fewer colors are required to make a convincing representation than one might expect.  Many of the paintings are limited to 12 or 16 individual colors, while others may have 24 or 32.  And yet, despite this limitation, the eye and the brain interpret more color variations than might initially be apparent.  The resulting visual conclusion is a convincing representation of the familiar three-dimensional world.  Simply put, the brain consistently chooses the most reasonable interpretation of all that we see.  In the case of these paintings and prints, the brain does this by re-interpreting individual colors as they appear throughout a given image.


There are two well-known color principles at work in these paintings and prints; the first is color spreading, sometimes referred to as spatial color mixture, and the second is simultaneous contrast.  Each of these principles relies on the unique collaboration between the eye and the brain.  Essentially, these two principles provide for the placement and grouping of colors in different surroundings throughout a painting or image to produce different visual conclusions in the process.  In a painting or print that utilizes a strictly limited palette of unmixed hues, these two principles can be very useful if not absolutely essential.

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