The artistic inquiry
By what means can color be unraveled through light? How can the connection and interaction between hues be experimented with? And, how does saturation, size, distance and perspective affect our perception of tone and brightness?
Bright is an elementary attempt at exploring these queries by creating a grid display of neon lights that converge towards a single vertex. Eye-blinding brightness and high but variable saturation that show light bulbs of variable wear and tear, together with a changing grid size and variable girth and length of the lights, become the basis of the algorithm.
A light and color journey
In projects I worked on during the last 2 years, I have found myself often using high-brightness monochromatic outputs circling around the color wheel in constant leaps as a simple crouch to the artworks’ main concepts. This has been mostly an intuitive process responding to both my experience in design as well as my acquired artistic taste and knowledge over the years.
In “Starry Nights” I had the perception that the stars’ background glow made them look like shiny little lightbulbs and the thought of trying to make lights shine out from the screen is one that prevailed over time.
With Bright I am taking more conscious steps by positioning color at the center of the equation, as well as by taking the inherent brightness in my previous works one step further by turning it into light and making full use of the possibilities in the subsequent exploration.
Color, Light and Geometry in art; inspiration, homage, and evolution
From the early years of the 20th Century where the inception of minimalism and its evolution took place, from the breaking point between figurative art and abstract art pioneered by the bold geometric statements of works by the likes of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and Ad Reinhardt, to the more subtle dialogue of chromatic harmony that, among many others, Paul Klee, Josef Albers or Mark Rothko showcased in their paintings. The inspiration these masters have provided to countless artists, myself included, is invaluable and hopefully my use of color and geometry in Bright can be referenced or attributed, at least in part, to them.
Closely associated with minimalism is the “Light and Space” movement that included artists like Robert Irwin, Dan Flavin, Doug Wheeler and James Turrell, who experimented with the visual perception and experiential and sensory possibilities of light and space often creating installations with neon lights. In part, Bright may well be considered an homage to this movement with my attempt to create an evolutive sensory experience through light that can be discovered progressively mint by mint.
Although geometric abstraction and the search for the artistic potential of lighting in art are barely a century old, color and its properties have been thoroughly studied for much longer. It’s Isaac Newton’s study on light and the resulting 7 spectral colors, that inspired me to work in a similar path with Bright’s color palettes, originating instead with 9 hues distributed in a roughly even way around the color wheel. 9 instead of 7 so that each hue combines harmoniously with an analogous and one of their split complementary colors to find harmony or contrast, to clash or to sooth. Occasionally 9 hues can coexist on Bright combined in a whimsical full spectrum.
Since the emergence of generative art, the space has been seeing new approaches to the study of color and light. All throughout my process I’ve learned from many artists whose results have been extremely inspiring. From the constant color paths of “Chromie Squiggles” by Snowfro to the full use of space in Jeff Davis’ “Color Study”. And from the representation of light that Jason Ting achieves in “Light Beams” and that Zach Lieberman masters in, well, everything to the exquisite taste of Leo Villarreal’s light installations.
Generative code, new media
When working on a theme that has been a recurring interest to artists for over a century it becomes hard to add value to the conversation. Fortunately, the emergence of generative algorithms has paved the way to introduce a whole new media with which lets artists explore and discover the confluence and interaction of light and color.
Artists now find ourselves with the opportunity to create long-form series which allow us to generate a conversation at the concept level and develop it as a whole from the moment code is complete instead of evolving the series as artworks get created individually.
With Bright, my exploration can be understood as one, with the number of mints defining the reasonable limits my algorithm can output without excessive repetition of concept and visuals.
Once I have a notion of the idea I want to pursue, my first steps in a creative coding project are always establishing the base structure or granularity I want to work with. A grid of lines of light. This allows me to set drawing boundaries, preliminary element position and as the idea evolves, to make easy adjustments to the scale of the composition.
To give cohesion and direction to this grid of lights, I introduce a randomly generated vertex all lights aim for. Lights become shorter or longer depending on their distance to the vertex. I make it so that relative length and girth will be variable by mint so that lights can be observed at different proximities or even when they disappear into each other.
I can then use this vertex as well as the reference point for the shapes I want to use to clash and combine colors. While color in screens is generated by combining red, green and blue in different strengths, I’ve always found control and comfort when working with an HSB color system as it allows me to directly work with properties and a gradual evolution in different verticals. This way, once the algorithm defines a starting color, I can work with it by adjusting saturation individually as well as finding paths from the predefined shape of solid hue to the edges of the canvas.
An additional possibility that a variable saturation allows is that of a shape with high saturation with low saturation surroundings be it a gradual process or a high contrast example, or vice versa from low to high.
For circles (semicircles, quadrants…), gradient is applied as a simple product of the distance from the vertex minus the size of the main element. For squares (rectangles), gradient depends on a single axis when within the projection of a side of the square, and becomes an arch that matches the two sides when beyond. And for angles (triangles, rhombus and rhomboids), the approach is to create a radial gradient that reaches maximum contrast in the perpendicular line from the angle’s edge.
One of the last concepts to be included as a way to expand the algorithm’s possibilities is that of a hue-matching background, where the starting hue and the background fuse in a same-tone constance and contrast becomes even more visible in the alternative hues present in the canvas.
The final step of the process is to test extensively the edges of the algorithm, incompatibilities between traits and to determine what are the limits in traits’ parameters to create a coherent collection.
Findings and discoveries
By combing through Newton’s disc methodically, one get’s enough variety to present a full color exploration. From a plain vanishing point single-hue canvas to a confetti-like full-color display. From the sharp contrast between a shape and its surroundings to mellow gradients that show us diffused paths of connection in the visible light spectrum. When these gradients appear in analog mode, what can be seen is that no matter the size of the shape, it will become invisible, getting lost in the extremely subtle gradient.
When 2 analog-colored lights are scattered at random, what can be felt is that just one hue is visible and that would be in between of the 2 portrayed colors. I found and omitted from the final artwork however, that a random distribution between complementary colors tends to be unpleasant to look at.
The vertex is the key that binds together all elements in Bright. It helps define position for squares, circles and angles as well as the direction and relative length of each light. And by that, it becomes the center of the artwork, often being where light becomes dark and where negative space merges towards.
Grid size, and light thickness and length provide yet another dimension that allows us to study our perception of light. From chunky bold lines of pure undeterred brightness to thin almost invisible ones where lights almost disappear and hues become hard to differentiate. From minuscule dots of pure order as if the viewer was in front of an LED display to the hyperspatial speed sensation that makes lights disappear and merge into each other.
When a glowing light is introduced into the equation of a color exploration, interesting things happen. Usually, an object with a constant tone and lightness will appear brighter at higher saturations. With glowing light however, it seems to be the opposite, as the more saturated the object, the milder it presents. This seems to be because in a digital imitation of light, white lines with a colored background blur represent light in a more accurate manner. And unless those lights are represented in an exaggerated thickness, it won’t be apparent to the naked eye that the lines are in fact white and not of the color of the blur.
All in all, Bright has been a fascinating experiment where I’ve found answers to my curiosity for the properties of the interaction between light and color while producing a visually striking collection of outputs.