Sea Change: Converting Nature's Fluctuating Colour to the Painter's Palette

Lead Research Organisation: Birmingham City University
Department Name: Unlisted


The research project, collaborative in nature, explores relationships between fine art painting and the natural sciences - in particular marine science. The underwater world provides the focus for an exploration of fundamental natural principles, such as evolution, fossilisation, predation and camouflage and their relevance/bearing to contemporary fine art thought and practice. Taking inspiration from the varied textures, patterns and shifting kaleidoscopic colours of certain sea creatures, the research will explore unconventional painting techniques and materials, notably innovative computer-based methods to reproduce surface texture and latest two-colour pigments. Biomimetics will provide clues on how to convert the pigments, currently restricted to industrial usage, to the painter's palette. The project, hinging on an artist residency at the Natural History Museum, will involve a collaboration with Prof. Andrew Parker, the Museum's specialist in fluctuating colour, optics and biomimetics. In conjunction with Prof. Parker, drawing on the Museum's collection of marine specimens/fossils, I will undertake research into the various mechanisms that enable colour-change in animals. In addition, in an attempt to extend and update the repertoire of techniques I employ to reproduce the textured surfaces of my paintings I will access the Museum's 3D scanning/modelling equipment and expertise. The insights gained as a result of the initial month spent at the Museum will be an ideal platform furnishing me with inspiration for the next stage of the project - the development of my artistic work at my studio. The intention is to create a series of small-scale inter-related, semi-abstract, tactile developmental pieces/paintings that - mimicking specific underwater creatures - change colour, depending on the light and viewing angle. Due to the colour-shift effect, a temporary hiding/veiling may be possible: the image, while visible from a certain angle, might disappear when viewed from another. Introducing an element of change, movement and transience into painting (traditionally a static medium) in an attempt to mirror the process of camouflage will mark a further stage in my personal quest to arrive at 'chameleonesque' paintings.

As regards dissemination, the research findings will (subject to review) be published in a refereed academic journal in the form of a joint article with Prof. Parker. A joint public lecture will be delivered, in October 07, at the Museum as part of their 'Nature & Life' programme. In tandem, the resulting artwork will be displayed, again at the Museum. The joint lecture will be delivered again at the University of Central England in Birmingham. It is hoped that by raising awareness of the entire spectrum of colour systems available, the project will pave the way for future related research. I am convinced there is massive untapped potential in this area.


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