Painting and Light


Painting and light, when I first started painting I had heard that artists had a preference for the quality of light and the 'right' light. I felt as long as I could see clearly it was fine and the quality or temperature of light was of no importance, I started painting in a small attic room with average artificial light and found no problems, happily mixing my colours and as I was painting realistic still life carefully checking my mixes against reality and again finding no issues.

Then one day I brought a painting downstairs, into the daylight and I was shocked as the colours I had so carefully mimicked appeared completely different and looked odd and unnatural, I realised in that second the importance of light and paying attention to it. The light I had been consistently working in was warm, yellow and soft, and the daylight was cold, blue and hard, and that changed the colours in my painting dramatically. 

However this experience triggered something much greater in me than that simple realisation, in that moment I questioned what  am I actually perceiving on a daily basis and what is light? Maybe this is an experience everybody goes through after studying things visually for a long time but it felt very profound.

I quickly learned that the information we receive through our eyes is processed in our brain to become the colours we see, in other words the colours we see are in our brains not in reality! This makes total sense when you think about it. 

What our brains interpret as colours are actually different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, and the percentage of electromagnetic radiation we can actually see is almost zero percent i.e. 99.9999999% of this energy we can't see! I hope you are following this, basically through evolution or a quirk of fate, the world we perceive is created by our brains, based on a tiny slither of what is actually occurring around us, the vast majority of which we have no awareness of at all.

So what is the rest? All this led me rapidly into learning more, the fields of particle physics and quantum physics seemed to have the answers, I felt the cutting edge of physics would tell me all I needed to know and answer my question; if everything I perceive is 'created' by my brain, what actually is the world around me in reality? 

I read more and more, and basically this is the story..

The deeper scientists go into matter to discover what it actually consists of and what is happening, the less they know, the more questions they ask the fewer answers they have, and the science of physics starts to crumble, everything they took for granted has started to collapse. When analysing the behaviour of the smallest particles they can currently find, the particles do not behave like anything else before, they can transmit messages faster than light, they can seemingly predict things before they happen, there is no language to describe what is actually happening. Even the language of physics, mathematics becomes so abstract it is almost irrelevant.

And for me this is the circle closing, there is no language suitable to describe what is happening at the cutting edge of physics, or to describe what 'reality' is and that is exactly the same when I see a Rembrandt in the national gallery, there are no suitable words to describe why it affects me like it does, there are no words to describe watching clouds on a sunny day or your children playing together.

It is a visual world, words can't come close.

Painting has given me this insight, and my motivation to paint is greater than ever.



p.s. this is a photo is taken from a bubble chamber, it is one of the few ways to record the movement of subatomic particles, the swirls are subatomic particles flying off at light speed and then either transforming into other particles or colliding with another particle. This is going on right now, billions upon billions of times in everything around you, including you! And exactly the same is occurring at the other end of the universe!


James Holman
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