Colour in its Entirety | Andrew Conway-Hyde, in conversation
with Annemarie Borg FRSA
Like the work of all good artists, Andrew Conway-Hyde’s paintings are demanding. His work is not for those romantic’s or associational reposes, or for the faint hearted.
Sharing the transaction and doing so enter a sensuous world of intellectual gratification for those prepared. Following him down complex tracks where he is completely at ease to be our uncondescending guide. The complexity of his work carried through so naturally provides and unwasteful derives from an intelligence that is impatient and appears to be incomplete.
Excavating his components, rhythm and weight, closed and open incidents, the sudden sharpness and adjacent colours takes over from stability. His pre-eminent ability to hold the viewer, capturing the glow in seductive yellow or deep cobalt blue. The laborious processes of colour studies presents the eye with balance of contrast and movement. The eye is confronted, not too strongly, the colours present what my eye want to see, like a harmony or well structured symphony. The immediate impression is of true self-confidence, a view of perfectly balanced to the rules and the way we see colour.
Andrew’s paintings embody the vitality of discovery, leading the viewer into new territory. By presenting elements and contrasts his immeasurably increases the power of his paintings and prints.
AB: In following your work, it seems to me that in your recent paintings there is a freedom and richness in the way the colours and contrasts are organised?
AC-H: There is an overlaying of forms in my partings, in particular, vivid, contrast, worked colours, creating illusionist spaces – airy, large scapes of sky and water.
It is overwhelming depth and contrast that I am most interested in. In perception depth is the primary spatial dimension. In painting a geometric concept as the construction of light and space gives the ‘illusion’ of a three-dimensional space. Pictorial space is deep in that there is nothing behind it, no ultimate base or distance to which it relates. Its is made up of the different contrasts and colour plans on the canvas. I explore elements of my ‘colour theory’ in regard to how we see colour. I have experimented with my ‘colour theory’ with impressionist landscape paintings, colour dots and stripes adopted on canvas. With advances on the idea of natural colour presentation on canvas the colours relationships and it became more and more possible to open up the articulate colours in the paintings. In making airy, sculpted spaces in it.
AB: But what does the colour spaces or your “colour theory’ consist of? It looks like there is some sort colour percentages you use. How far has your ‘colour theory’ taken you?
AC-H: But that’s it – its all about colour. Did you know the great philosopher Plato said “the mind is the sense of self and it desires an understanding of forms. The soul is the driving force behind body and mind”. Plato argues that the soul is eternal and, in his later works. He explains the soul as having three functions – reason, emotion, and desire. Since 2001 I have been working on the argument that ‘desire’ plays a deeper part than that of reason and emotion. Have you ever wondered why people sit for hours in front of paintings in museums and galleries without knowing why?
AB: I would say it was a combination of composition, colour and something the viewer feel they can relate?
AC-H: Yes, but let use delve deeper. When I lived in Oxford I visited the Ashmolean Museum weekly and spent many hours at study in the print room. When you visit somewhere time and again things become more evident. I noticed people had a tendency to sit and stare at some paintings for hours. At first I thought it was the composition too, or the paintings subject the viewer could relate to? I noticed more often that people would sit with paintings that had bolder colours, reds, blues, greens and yellows like the Pre-Raphaelites. However, it was the paintings that depicted Mary with her blue robe took my eye. The use in history of the colour blue as a colour for the ‘everyday man’ began when the Catholic Church in 431 AD. It was at this time, the Church decided to colour-code the saints, and Mary was given a blue robe and this shade of blue that Mary wore became what is now known as “Ultramarine.” Ultramarines, in Latin means “beyond the sea” when the pigment was imported into Europe by Italian traders during the 14th and 15th centuries it was considered to be just as precious as gold. Did you know art historians believe that Michelangelo left his painting The Entombment (1500–01) unfinished because he could not afford to buy more ultramarine blue? The colour blue is not only associated with Mary but also with two of Earth’s greatest natural features: the sky and the ocean. But that wasn’t always the case. Some scientists believe that the earliest humans were actually colour-blind and could only recognise black, white, red, and only later yellow and green. As a result, early humans with no concept of the colour blue simply had no words to describe it. This is even reflected in ancient literature, such as Homer’s Odyssey, that describes the ocean as a “wine-red sea.” This point and observation is interesting when you consider how we see colour.
AB: Colour is such an amazing subject.
AC-H: So for example, when light hits an object, such as a lemon, the object absorbs some of that light and reflects the rest of it. That reflected light enters the human eye first through the cornea, the outermost part of the eye. The cornea bends light toward the pupil, which controls the amount of light that hits the lens. The lens then focuses the light on the retina, the layer of nerve cells in the back of the eye. Humans typically have three types of photo pigments red, green and blue. Each type of cone is sensitive to different wavelengths of visible light. In the daytime, a lemon’s reflected light activates both red and green cones. The cones then send a signal along the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the brain. The brain processes the number of cones that were activated and the strength of their signal. After the nerve impulses are processed, you see a colour in this case, yellow. The “blue” cones are identified by the peak of their light response curve at about 445 nm. They are unique among the cones in that they constitute only about 2% of the total number and are found outside the fovea centralis where the green and red cones are concentrated. Although they are much more light sensitive than the green and red cones, it is not enough to overcome their disadvantage in numbers. However, the blue sensitivity of our final visual perception is comparable to that of red and green, suggesting that there is a somewhat selective “blue amplifier” somewhere in the visual processing in the brain. The visual perception of intensely blue objects is less distinct than the perception of objects of red and green. This reduced acuity is attributed to two effects. First, the blue cones are outside the fovea, where the close-packed cones give the greatest resolution. All of our most distinct vision comes from focusing the light on the fovea. Second, the refractive index for blue light is enough different from red and green that when they are in focus, the blue is slightly out of focus (chromatic aberration). Current understanding is that the 6 to 7 million cones can be divided into “red” cones (64%), “green” cones (32%), and “blue” cones (2%) based on measured response curves. They provide the eye’s colour sensitivity. The green and red cones are concentrated in the fovea centralis. The “blue” cones have the highest sensitivity and are mostly found outside the fovea, leading to some distinctions in the eye’s blue perception.
AB: So, how does this explain why people may sit and star at some paintings more than other?
AC-H: In my efforts to understand why people sat in front of some paintings more than others, I looked into the possibility this was something to do with the percentage of cones processing colour and what is presented to the eye in respect of the balance of colour. Knowing on average a quarter of the population is dichromat (a person having two cones) and trichromats make up half the population (a person having three cones) and tetrochromats make up the remaining quarter of the population (of having four cones). Although most people would agree that red is red, scientists now think that one person’s red could sometimes be another person’s blue. They believe our brains don’t automatically associate, for example, short wavelengths with blue. Scientists think that other factors, such as mood, feelings and even memories can affect our perception of colours. They claim it’s entirely possible that two people can look at the same painting and have the same wavelengths hit their eyes, yet “see” different colours! Another factor that may affect perception is the physical parts of our body that process the information from the world around us. In 1998, scientists discovered a totally separate set of colour-sensitive receptors in the human eye; these receptors, called melanopsin, independently gauge the amount of blue or yellow incoming light, and route this information to parts of the brain involved in emotions and the regulation of the circadian rhythm. Melanopsin probably evolved in life on Earth about a billion years prior to cone cells, and the ancient colour-detectors send signals along an independent pathway in the brain. “The reason people feel happy when we see red, orange and yellow light is because we’re stimulating this ancient blue-yellow visual system,”. “But our conscious perception of blue and yellow comes from a completely different circuitry — the cone cells. So the fact that people have similar emotional reactions to different lights doesn’t mean our perceptions of the colour of the light are the same.”
AC-H: Yes it is. 10 years ago I met a man who saw no colour, he only saw shades of black and white. He had taught himself a percentage system where each shade would have a number (or percentage) which would associate with a colour. He would point out “I know the sky is blue and this apple is red”. I believed the man was not only seeing the colour he had learned by using shade but also was using perception in that “I know the sky is blue, so it must be blue”?
AB: It just shows how advanced our vision is.
AC-H: Exactly; my research showed that there was something more. I worked on the theory that yellow being the brightest and most intense colour (as it is created in the brain) you would only need to display a small amount (14%). Red being the next intense and you would require a little more (23%). Green being next a small amount still (38%) and then blue where you would need the most (62%). Whats interesting is that their is some similarity to what colours people like. Females favourite colours are Blue – 35%, Black – 6%, Yellow – 3%, White – 1%, Red – 9%, Purple – 23%, Orange – 5%, Grey – 1%, Green – 14% and Brown – 3%. For Men it is Blue – 57%, Black – 9%, Yellow – 1%, White – 2%, Red – 7%, Orange – 5%, Grey – 3%, Green – 14% and Brown – 2%.