By Betty Ann Jordan
The art world—much like the fashion world—loves to redefine colour every chance it gets. Recently, a new batch of materials and technologies has enabled artists and designers to work with exquisite light-infused hues, ranging from peek-a-boo prismatics to sizzling minerals and gleaming metallics.
Iridescence, for example, can be seen in both cutting-edge exhibits and the latest fashion collections. A visual property of mother-of-pearl and moonstones, oil slicks, alloys and minerals, iridescence occurs when light plays over micro-grooved surfaces and separates into prismatic colours. For a visual cue, see photos of Carey Mulligan at this year’s Met Ball: her scaled Prada halter dress, made entirely of metal paillettes, reflected a different spectrum of hues in nearly every red carpet shot.
One artist leading the way with iridescent materials, especially when it comes to the mineral and fluorescent ranges, is Anselm Reyle. The German painter and sculptor’s body of work includes large striped canvases covered in PVC foil and glitter, LED- and neon-light sculptures, and huge assemblages of crumpled foil. Reyle has devoted the past two years to designing accessories for Christian Dior; among the most spectacular of his prototypes are plum-coloured metallic leather bags with quilted neon-yellow topstitching. “A number of people from the [fashion] industry had been collecting my [art] work,” he says, explaining his transition from art studio to atelier. “It was appealing because of my focus on texture, colours and materiality.”
In London, Central Saint Martins fashion design graduate Crimson Rose O’Shea is following a similar route. She pleats transparent iridescent foil into artful objects and costumes that look like glossy, operatic neo-Elizabethan neck ruffs and underskirts.
Always in flux, iridescence is glimpsed rather than seen. In Saskatoon, artist Marie Lannoo creates achingly beautiful prismatic foil wall-works and installations in which the colour appears to “turn on” when you look at them. In a collaboration with scientists at the University of Saskatchewan, Lannoo created new colour and light effects with high-tech prismatic foils. “I’m interested in enlarging the dimensional aspect of colour,” she says.
The optical or illusionistic possibilities of holographic foils are being ironically explored by 40-year-old Toronto artist Sandy Plotnikoff. Known for crafting tinsel-bright renderings of loosely daubed brush marks, he uses pink, green and gold foils—which can be bought by the yard from novelty manufacturers—to send up high art abstract-expressionist painting. The result is a group of works that brighten up as a slew of bonbon wrappers would if they were strobe-lit with halogen light bulbs.
Toronto artist Joseph Drapell places his reflective messages in various opalescent abstract paintings. His pieces often provide the viewer with high impact colour like gleaming greens and glinting reds. Some of his most gorgeous pieces take metallic and luminous pigment effects to new heights. Their brilliance is achieved with a variety of tools. Drapell applies swaths of paint in wildly varying viscosities, using raking devices or a squeegee to create light-refracting grooves. Ravishing molten abstracts result, such as his four-foot-square Mirror of Music (2012): actual multicoloured glitter lies beneath translucent layers of midnight blue, azure and violet, interrupted by orange-copper and blue-violet swirls. His newer hues recall those seen in Hubble telescope images of nebulae, galaxies and other cosmic wonders.
Alberta-born artist Christian Eckart, now based in Houston, produces fractal-based paintings and sculptures that would not be amiss on the set of Doctor Who. Made up of triangle-shaped glass panels cobbled together like facets of a quartz crystal, Eckart’s 2011 free-floating, 10-metre-long Glass Hexagonal Perturbation—“Hive Brane” (short for “membrane”) evokes sublime luminosity in the east lobby of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Eckart’s reputation, however, is based on his ongoing series Curved Monochrome Paintings, which are shiny, shield-like aluminum sculptures coated with automotive lacquer in pearlescent colours such as pink-lavender and blue-gold. Looking into their highly reflective depths, you see yourself and the space around you awash in vibrant harmonic colour. However, one of the world’s tallest examples of luminescence is Toronto’s brightly LED-ed CN Tower. It glows over the city in remarkable nü-hues after dark and changes its canvas with vibrant bursts of light.
This growing focus on iridescence may be telling us something. We are in a post-millennial moment when messages of importance must sparkle in order to make us look away from the dazzle of our iPhone screens and take notice. Perhaps this new luminosity is the next chapter in the evolution of colour and a sign about the future of the gallery wall—that it will keep reflecting the sheen for as long as we need it to.
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