Welcome to the virtual Colour-ways exhibition: Light Works by Liz West
We have made our latest exhibition Colour-ways available to enjoy here
Every day we are surrounded by colour and light but how often do we think about the impact the variations have on our wellbeing? It is recognised that the greyness and dark days of winter can evoke low mood but as soon as the sun shines we feel brighter, no matter the season.
Liz West is fascinated by how we see colour and the interrelationships between colour and light. She plays with the arrangement of colour and uses different types of light to research the impact this has on us. She acknowledges artist and educationalist Josef Albers as an inspiration for his teachings on colour and perception. Albers discovered that colour is relative and changes depending on the surroundings and neighbouring colours. He was interested in the fact that we each see and perceive colours differently depending on our own individual memories and experience of and with colour.
Colour-ways features three of West’s key works which encourage us to explore the relationship between colour and light and our own perceptions. They demonstrate how she utilises luminous colour and radiant light, plays with the spectrum and colour theory to create ethereal immersive spaces.
Why not some time to look through the online exhibits and experience and discover your own feelings about colour. Are the colours warm or cool do they make you feel calm or energised?
Liz West studied at The Glasgow School of Art. Recent exhibitions and monumental installations include Dans la Lumière (Beaulieu-en-Rouergue, France), Aglow (Piazza Belgioioso, Milan and Musèe Nissam de Camondo, Paris, Our Colour Reflection (St Albans Museum + Gallery), Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception (Compton Verney, Warwickshire), Our Spectral Vision (Natural History Museum, London).
Colour-ways is a touring exhibition originally conceived by The Civic, Barnsley. www.liz-west.com
Sketches and colour notes, like the examples you see here, form part of West’s thought process. She works with coloured filters, acetate, PVC vinyl, card, pens and graph paper, experimenting with colour, form and geometry. Some ideas come to nothing, others to fruition, some lay dormant until the right moment.
Those that come to fruition are now fabricated industrially, having grown in scale and complexity since the first pieces she made. Shifting Luminosity was created by the artist in her studio space.
West is obsessed with materials and how she can use them in different ways to their intended purpose. She collects colour samples and materials swatches which are referenced on a daily basis, when thinking of or making new work. The colours available within the desired material range become her palette. This restricted palette impacts on how and what West makes; creating boundaries and self-imposed limitations on the outcome of her work.
West is meticulous about her research and this is apparent in the resulting work. Her knowledge allows her to experiment with the colour spectrum and colour wheel, and to mix up colours which normally wouldn’t sit next to each other. This research is ongoing through her project Our Colour Wheel.
She says: “Colour is not just something I make artwork about – it’s a part of my identity, and an interest deeply rooted in my personality and being."
By creating immersive, luminous environments, I invite viewers to tap into their own perception of colour and light, and explore how it can affect them in many unexpected ways. I am never afraid of experimentation; using translucent, transparent or reflective materials to refract colour and direction of light – either artificial or natural – in the spaces I work within.
My immersive installation works place the viewer in the position of performer; I use colour and form to encourage people to move back and forth, bend up and down, or take an unusual stance and balletic pose to view the work from. I intentionally try to make the viewer question what it is that they’re looking at more closely. My works are sometimes illusory and at other times I have explored and revealed more ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects, the entrails, which have a different kind of theatricality.
Understanding optics, Newtonian physics, Goethe’s theories of visual perception and the teachings of colourist Josef Albers underlies my playful and intuitive approach. It is significant that Albers taught colour theory predominantly by getting his students to use coloured papers rather than paint, encouraging the idea of colour as a physical presence, a material to be manipulated.
The physical and psychological engagement of the audience is relevant to the accessibility and spectacle of the works. My choices and arrangements of specific colours teamed with the use of saturated light are both universally understood and enjoyed; they encourage positive thinking and support wellbeing.
Now explore the exhibits
Installation (T5 fluorescent stick lights, extension cables)
“The fluorescent stick-light, a key material in West’s new installations, is perhaps one of the most effective visual spatial devices. Aside from its obvious exuberant colours, its most striking feature is its stripped back materiality. West has modified each stick-light with a particular colour. This colour palette is reminiscent of the neon lights that were so prominent in the 1960s coinciding with the emergence of installation art. Through methodically mixing each tube in relationship to each other, West cultivates our perceptions, drawing on Albers practice based theory that colour can only be truly understood in relation to other colours and, crucially, our own knowledge of the colour spectrum. The raw exuberance of the stick-lights becomes a catalyst to trigger a response: the viewer is needed to activate the work.” Jack Welsh, 2013
Installation (LEDs and plastic pipes)
Variable dimensions to suit different sites
Shifting Luminosity explores and demonstrates colour mixing in a three dimensional field. The hues utilised are taken directly from the Munsell Farnsworth 100 Hue Colour Vision Test (a test of the human visual system often used to check for colour blindness or superior colour vision). Each spatial ‘line’ emits one single hue derived from the test, then this mixes with its neighbours to create a diverse blend of ‘new’ colours on the adjacent wall.
Within this work, West is interested in how our individual colour vision and perception could result in people seeing a completely different array of colours. West’s painterly approach within the construction of this installation is a reference to Josef Albers ideas about additive mixing with light rather than pigment – the result becoming an ode to the literal and pedagogical foundation of West’s creative practice.
Our Spectral Vision
Installation (dichroic glass, LEDs, acrylic)
Our Spectral Vision creates a vivid environment that mixes luminous colour and radiant light. It invites visitors to explore their relationship with colour and our understanding of how we see it. By replicating the diversion of white light through large-scale prisms, West allows pure saturated colour to drench the room. Humans see seven parts of the colour spectrum, some animals see more, some see less.
Our Spectral Vision was originally commissioned by The Natural History Museum, London as part of their exhibition Colour and Vision: Through the Eyes of Nature.
Design realisation by Nissen Richards Studio Limited.
Jason Pape (volunteer): I draw and make sculptures of round and oval animals and I felt a connection to this sculpture because of its circular form and the bright colours used. The light shines from all directions, which gives an appealing effect as it bounces from the floor to the ceiling. The candy coloured lights that the artist has used are really cheerful and playful and give me a joyful feeling. The way the wires twist around the bulbs have a natural movement about them and resemble a horse’s mane or tail. When viewing from the side the bulbs’ placement resembles DNA ….. The piece is reminiscent of American diners in its sense of retro, but also modern at the same time, like the neon sign work of Tracey Emin displayed at St Pancras International station.
Ella Daniel-Lowe (The Wilson Art Collective): Tempo blurs the lines between minimalism and opulence. Clean cut lines birth an explosion of colour and movement that effervesces in the darkness, bouncing off nearby surfaces and the viewer themselves. I like the idea that each location that Tempo is displayed in can create a considerably different viewing experience. Although this is true of all art, the way that Tempo interacts with the space it is occupying is considerably more drastic - casting new shapes, shadows and colours around it in each residence. I love the helix-like shape of the piece and the way your eye is drawn around and into it, following the journey of the colour spectrum. It’s such a fun piece, evoking memories of joyful days at the fun fair or arcade.
Teddy Mladenova and Ross Morgan (The Wilson Art Collective): What is colour? It is a wavelength of light existing in the space around us. However, it also is two people agreeing that the sky is blue. Do both of them perceive that colour in the same way? If the retina of each person’s eye receives light differently, then, everyone’s shade of blue will be unique. On the other hand, a far more powerful factor in our experience of colour is through the emotional association we have with each one of them. Shifting Luminosity allows us to explore how we perceive particular hues taken from the Farnsworth 100 Hue Colour Vision Test, and how they mix to create more complex shades. Being surrounded by them makes us react to colour as an entity rather than it being attached to an object. This enables a more emotional understanding of the colour in our world.
James-Patrick Mc Crossan (The Wilson Art Collective): When presented with an apple do you a, like apples and eat it b, not like apples and don’t eat it. Now imagine this is a spectrum between liking (which is an emotional, subjective response) and not liking (again a subjective experience) it. Here, West plays on this theme of subjectivity in the form of light, hues and planes. She makes the room her canvas, by deep black contrasting lines, cutting a 3D plane, leaving you the viewer and interpreter to decide. Is the red light fiery, passionate, as from the cheeks of your first kiss, or the blood from accidentally getting a cut? Does the blue light bring cries of seagulls over a turquoise sea and punctuated sky of baby blueness? The crisp edge of lettuce, or the mould on a church wall? How does it feel when these things start interrelating? A salad on a beach or a first kiss by a lake? How does this make you feel? Associate? See? Is this moment different to the last, and how? What changed, noticed. Breathe steadily, look slowly. Feel. The only box is where the light falls, but what’s beneath? Your experience is the real exhibition. Don’t judge, but if you do, feel why, even if your fingers can’t touch the reason.
Clare Baston (volunteer): West creates an environment where physics meet art. Light floods the space through the prisms creating an imaginative display. Each colour provokes a different response allowing the observer to experience varying feelings. Each viewer will respond differently to the colours making this and West’s other works a very personal experience. For me, the colours are reminiscent of a sun rising and welcoming a new day. Bringing light from dark, joy from pain and freedom from confinement.
Jane Jones (retired Physics teacher and volunteer): In 1665, when Isaac Newton was studying at Cambridge University, he investigated the nature of sunlight using two prisms. By orientating the prisms correctly, he was able to split the light into a spectacular array of colours with the first prism and then combine the colours again to make white light with the second prism. Diffraction gratings can also be used to disperse white light into the spectrum of colours, but the colours are much more intense and well defined than using prisms. Liz West’s Our spectral vision provokes memories of my students’ faces as they saw these wonderful colours for the first time – as well as leading my thoughts to the nature of light itself – a particle or a wave – it all depends on how we are observing it. The study of light is fundamental to physics and to our understanding of the universe around us. Our Spectral Vision really brings that to the front of my mind – as well as reminding me of the beauty that we can see everywhere if we look. All because we have special cells on our retina called cone cells which convert visible light photons – Isaac Newton’s corpuscles of light – into electrical signals so that we can see the visible spectrum of light. How cool is that?!!!
Our Colour Wheel 2020
Our Colour Wheel invites artists, creatives, family, friends, colour enthusiasts, curators, designers, architects, researchers and academics to realise their own interpretation of a traditional colour wheel in the location of Liz West’s exhibitions.
Our Colour Wheel is an ongoing project initiated by artist Liz West. West is interested in human visual perception, particularly colour perception and how we all see and experience colour differently. West is asking invited participants to create her their own interpretation of a traditional colour wheel (a pedagogical tool which has been at the foundation of her practice), with the aim to illustrate our different perceptions of colour, how it is arranged and how we individually see and interpret colour.
This series is part of her ongoing research into colour theory, human perception and light.
Create Your Own Colour Wheel
No matter your age or experience this is a great activity to have a go at during isolation.
Draw, paint, sketch or collage a colour wheel and send to the below address and we will display your colour wheel in our community gallery when we are able to re-open.
FAO Creative Producer
The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum
Thank you to Liz West and her team for supporting us with online content. Thank you to the following photographers and organisations for the images used in this virtual exhibition:
Jason Bailey Studio
National Media Museum
Compton Verney and Jamie Woodley