Coloring Perceptions

exhibit, events explore science and art of color

Tom Giffey, photos by Tom Giffey

Amanda Bulger, interim director of the Foster Gallery, is shown via an app that identifies specific colors in an image.
Amanda Bulger, interim director of the Foster Gallery, is shown via an app that identifies specific colors in an image.

It’s a well-worn cliché that artists and scientists have different ways of viewing the world.

Ask an artist about color, for example, and the response might be practical (the challenges of mixing pigments) or profound (the feelings produced in a viewer after those pigments have been skillfully applied to canvas).

Ask a scientist about color, and you may get a brief lecture of the wavelengths of light or how the three types of cone cells in your eye help you perceive color.

What happens when artistic and scientific reflections such as these are seen as complementary rather than conflicting? That’s the goal of Art AND Science program, now in its fourth year at UW-Eau Claire. Each fall, UWEC faculty members in the sciences and arts work together to produce cross-disciplinary events. This year’s theme is color.

“Unlike a traditional art exhibition, ‘Color’ brings together the work of UW-Eau Claire faculty and community members to prompt the viewer to reflect on how a wide range of scientists and artists think about and use color in their work,” said Matthew Jewell, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UWEC.

Ceramics by Susan O’Brien.
Ceramics by Susan O’Brien.

The Art AND Science effort began in 2014 when Jewell and Paul Thomas, a professor of physics and astronomy, organized a screening of Particle Fever, a documentary about the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson. Following that success, the collaboration moved on to a musical exploration of astronomy in 2015 and an evening of theatrical pieces about the history of science last year.

This year, the cross-disciplinary collaboration turned its eyes toward the visible spectrum. The “Color” exhibit will run Oct. 20-Nov. 15 at the Foster Gallery in UWEC’s Haas Fine Arts Center. Even more ambitiously, the exhibit will be accompanied by a series of events designed to engage audiences on the topic from various angles. The opening reception of the exhibit – which will be at 7pm Oct. 20 – will include a live printing demonstration by Ambient Inks, short readings about color by creative writing students, and opportunities to mingle with the artists and scientists who created the exhibit. A week later, on Oct. 27, a dramatic reading will be held at the gallery of “The Colour Out of Space,” a short story by horror master H.P. Lovecraft. Other events follow on Nov. 3, 10, and 15 (see Volume One’s event listings for full details). 

A painting by Daniel Atyim
A painting by Daniel Atyim

All the events are meant to compliment the dual nature of the exhibit. On the artistic side, the exhibit will include a number of “Calendar Paintings” by Tiit Raid, in which the UWEC professor emeritus explored his own changing perceptions of color on a day-by-day basis; works by Daniel Atyim of UW-Stout, whose canvases covered in 3D dots of color call to mind surrealism, pointillism, and pop art; and a collection of elaborate ceramics by Susan O’Brien, a UWEC professor, which will be accompanied by samples showing how glazes differ before and after the firing process.

Portions of the exhibit will stimulate scientific curiosity as well, including an infrared camera that will show a colorful representation of the heat radiating from your own body; a chromaticity plot showing a shifting, real-time representation of hue and saturation in an image; and an app that identifies the colors in front of it – be they on your face, your clothing, or the wall of the gallery – and provides their exact scientific values.

As you explore “Colors,” you may find yourself pondering whether a rose with a different hexadecimal color code would look at sweet.