Saturday, July 27, 2013

Color Icon: James Turrell

James Turrell is an American visual artist who makes enclosures designed to control and reimagine the viewers experience of light. Turrell started working with light in 1966 in his Santa Monica studio around the same time that  Los Angeles based artists Robert Irwin and Doug Wheeler, the self titled Light and Space group, were also rising in the art world. His work focuses on how we see and experience light and color and  he has been the recipient of many awards and exhibitions such as the MacArthur Genius Fellowship, inclusion in the profound PBS documentary Art:21, has a current exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York as well as being the subject of a recent retrospective at LACMA. 

Much of Turrells work consists of 'empty' spaces saturated with colored light from concealed sources. He works not to illuminate the lamp or bulb used to create the effects but instead focuses on the texture and hue of the light itself. This pink room, for example, surrounds the viewer with a haze of pink so dense as to even eliminate the presence of clear shadows. No corner or crevice is free from the ever present light. Here light becomes boundless, less produced by any one source and instead emanating from every surface. 

Another room makes the frame element and its contents change color over time. The viewer enters a well of light, approaching the far wall as a thing of both mystery and omnipresence. It conjures sci-fi tropes of fantastically intelligent alien life forms using technology beyond our ability to grasp as well as religious contexts where light becomes form and material suggesting the light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of Turrells most striking works are not strictly controlled indoor spaces at all but instead shine new light on something we experience everyday with little notice: the sky.

This piece, titled "Twilight Epiphany," was built at Rice University in Houston. The 118-foot-square skyscape, which at once conceals and reveals the sky above, is meant to reflect in architecture the dual nature of light itself.  “Light not only reveals, it also obscures," the artist was quoted in an article in Architectural Record.  Sunlight, when cast through the atmosphere obscures out view of the stars while constructing the curved blue architecture we call the sky.

This drawing down of the sky, making visually tangible the presence of light from above has been used in more that just Turrell's artworks. The artist also designed the Live Oak Meeting House for the Society of Friends, a Quaker organization, creating a space to for contemplation.

The space greets the light as it is, not produced by humans, not photographed from a setting sun, just cast down from the ever present sky. This architectural intervention, limiting your view of the sky to a small square patch, brings you down to the present moment in a hurry. It is that limitation that lets you see, lets you concentrate, on the vast blue bubble we find ourselves in.

Whether it's through art or spiritual contexts Turrells work asks us to settle in the present and experience light, that fundamental element of our universe, separate from its utilitarian existence. His works ask us just to see, allowing vision itself to become paramount while content recedes, and need nothing more than simple and profound light.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The in and outs of Color Blocking

Often when we are thinking about color in our daily lives it's from the visual perspective of seeing a brilliant turquoise on a passing strangers shirt, a particularly striking ad or a colorful architectural paint job. We get enticed by concentrated swathes of color and knowing this is very helpful when you are starting to work orchestrating  color.

Today we wanted to introduce you to one technique for manipulating color, whether it is using color for  fashion,  architecture,  interior or graphic design. Color blocking is exactly what it sounds like: a design technique thats group blocks of color together, and it is a great technique for designers to try out different color combinations while building their overall understanding of design and color choices.

For example,  imagine this building with an all white facade or even  an all purple facade. The building may still have been bold  and decidedly high contrast but nothing to write home about. Here the designer abandoned the notion of a solid color stretching across the entire exterior wall and instead broke up the monotonous volume with three tone color blocking giving the flat facade a multifaceted and color derived texture. 

Here what could have been a bold front elevation even in all white, the color blocking in a spectrum of colors, draws the eye from the top most panel in a near perfect sky blue through the spectrum of warm color finally to the fully transparent entryway. The flapjack stack design invites the viewer to get a closer look by concealing and revealing different color in layers. 

Color blocking is a simple system with eye-catching results primarily because much of our visual world is made up of squares, rectangles and right angles. Color blocking breaks up flat spaces and errant walls and helps incorporate rectilinear elements like counters and shelves in to the over all feel of a space. 

But while simple lines and rectangular blocks are color blocking's forte, it can,  if you are feeling adventurous, also add energy to previously dull or under used spaces. It all depends on the colors you choose, the size of the blocks and how you work those crucial juxtapositions in environment.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A dose of color from PBS!

Color lovers unite! We found you an excellent video this week. In the last year PBS has made great strides in producing fantastic educational and informative online video with YouTube channels like PBS Off Book and Idea channel.  To our delight  they made a great video all about color. 

It starts off with an introduction to color theory from Tomas Bosket, a professor who, instead of tightening his students ideas about color into the preformed boxes of historical color theory,  teaches them the principles and then encourages them to create new color wheels and charts of color combinations. It encourages an imaginative and creatively active experience of color.

The show goes on to cover the wide range of our psychological associations with color from universal, cultural and personal perspectives. Universal color reactions are things that affect all of us no matter where we are from in the world: the physiological trigger of an increased heart beat, increased alertness  and the desire to move that follows after exposure to red hues, for example,  may be an evolutionary byproduct of seeing blood and knowing something dangerous may be afoot. Cultural color associations on the other hand are learned responses to color. They use the example of brown changing from the color of dirt when you are a child to the color of coffee as an adult. Personal color preferences are determined by everything from fashion trends and time of year but on a deeper level may be based on memories  associated with a particular experience.

The video also brings up ideas about the historical trends of color. Comparing depression era glassware as a tool to lift people out of despair with the wild colors of the 60's shows how our cultural expression of the times is linked directly to color and its associations. They explain how color trend forecasting is based on this mass of data about the years of color trends that have come previously and how the brightly colored 60's swung into the earth tone 70's just as the neon 80's dissolved into a decade of beige in the 90's.

The video  covers a variety of GIF (Graphic Interchange Format)   artists  who have 256 colors in their palette and  some deeper concepts about our colorful lives. It is really worth a watch and is a great way to support the new online presences of PBS!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Emoticon color at Beijing's Water Cube

Ever wonder what happens to all those architectural beauties thought up and built for the Olympic games? After Michael Phelps won his eight gold medals at Beijing's National Aquatics Center, nicknamed the Water Cube, what do they do with the swimming pools? Even in a city of 20 million people, how much swimming can one city really do? 

But never fear,  the Water Cube has found new life in the hands of artist Jennifer Wen Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwei, both of whom consulted on the nearby Birds Nest Stadium. The fantastically undulating surface has been fitted with hundreds of colorful LEDs making it possible to precisely control the flow and combination of colors across the building shell. But this isn't just another lovely light show, entitled “Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube,” the installation is a public display of the state of the countries emoticons. 

Every night after dark a custom software program trolls Sina Weibo, China's knock off Twitter site, for all the emoticons users are generating, essentially gauging the mood of the country or at least the public expression of it. The emoticons are sorted into various categories which in turn correlate to specific colors combinations that then sweep and undulate across the Water Cubes bubbly exterior. The emoticons determine not just the color of the individual LEDs but also the shapes and movement that appear on the building. 

The piece transforms an underused building into not only an art installation but a statement about the public voice in a country still cloistered behind government censorship. Just think of the significance of two artists getting permission to publicly display, all be it thorough the intermediary of color, the emotional state of the nations people, on a government building. It paints an interesting picture of what China will and won't allow when it comes to art. 

Want to know more about how LEDs are replacing paint in architectural applications of color? See the Sistine Chapel of LED buildings in our earlier post "LED's replacing Paint?"

All images via WSJ