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Seeing the Light - The Science of Colour in Art
5th March 2009
Research background

This exhibition was the result of an art and science collaboration involving two Bristol based artists, Catherine Baker and Anthony Rudman, and Haida Liang, Head of the ISAAC Research Centre. The installations were inspired by colour science and modern imaging of Renaissance Masters.

The exhibition

Light & Colour

Each material has its unique spectral signature given by its spectral reflectance, which is the percentage of light it reflects in each part of the spectrum. For example, a blue pigment reflects more in the blue and less in the yellow part of the spectrum. The colour we perceive depends on the spectrum and intensity of the light, the lighting direction, the spectral reflectance and surface texture of the material and the spectral sensitivity of the eye. Two colour patches made of different pigment mixtures can appear to have the same colour under one light but different colours under another light. This is called metamerism and it is a problem to be avoided for most practical purposes, for example, in the textile and paint industries and in art restoration. Here we attempt to maximise the effect of metamerism using paint mixtures of different reflectance spectra and explore how light can change the appearance of a painting. Intervals, Maes Knoll, Dundry Hill and several small studies explore the effect of the spectrum, intensity and direction of the light source on the appearance of a painting.

Paintings & Infrared Imaging

Near infrared imaging is routinely used by conservators and art historians in museums and galleries to detect the drawings under the paint layers of Renaissance Master Painters. The installation, Stanton Drew, deconstructs the painting into layers, revealing the underdrawings using an infrared sensitive camera. Catherine Baker’s interest in layering and in painting with a restricted palette happens to match well with the idea of this project.

Colour- blindness & Colour Theory

Anthony Rudman explores colour-blindness and how to overcome it through colour theory in working as a colour blind artist and art tutor.


"Intervals" (painting by Catherine Baker)

Switching between spotlight and diffuse light... This installation explores the change in appearance of a painting depending on the direction the light falls on it.


"Maes Knoll" (painting by Catherine Baker)

Daylight fading into dusk…Maes Knoll is an ancient Hill Fort in the Dundry (N. Somerset) area. It can be seen from the Stanton Drew stones and there may be a historical connection between the two sites.


"Dundry Hill" (painting by Catherine Baker)

Tungsten light fades into daylight…This installation explores how the subtle spectral differences of white light affect our perception of colour.


"Stanton Drew" (painting by Catherine Baker)

This painting is from sketches made of part of the stone circle at Stanton Drew, North Somerset.  Very recently, the Ancient Monuments Laboratory of English Heritage carried out a magnetometer survey of the site and found concentric rings of buried pits beneath the ground of the main circle. The charcoal under-drawing of this picture depicts the rings, which become visible through the night-vision camera which is sensitive to infrared light. The infrared image of the painting is projected on to the wall next to the painting.  Most of the paint used in the painting were chosen for their transparent or semi-transparent quality under infrared light. As the light fades out, the camera’s night-vision mode is activated.


"Small Studies" (painting by Catherine Baker)

Tungsten light fades into daylight…

Three small studies: Green Hill Study, Sienna Study and Bristol Blue, exploring the effect of subtle spectral differences of white light on colour.


Switching between fluorescent light and Tungsten light

Holmium ceramic tile (from National Physical Laboratory) changes colour between the two lights. The spectral reflectance of the tile has peaks corresponding to some of the strong but narrow lines in the fluorescent light spectrum. Tungsten has a smooth spectrum.


"Working as a Colour Blind Artist and Art Tutor" by Anthony Rudman 

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