Colour, Space and Experience.

When I have found the relationship of all the tones the result must be a living harmony of all the tones, a harmony not unlike that of a musical composition.
—Henri Matisse

The Start of a deeper interest in colour and shape.: About fifteen years ago I was standing in a lay-by on the A52 outside Chapel St. Leonards in Lincolnshire painting “plein air”; I was looking at my subject the village church nestled in some trees over a field of blue flax. Between the field of flax and the church was a large field of ripe wheat which because of my position and perspective occupied only a small linear area on my large canvas. White cumulus were spread out below the Mediterranean blue sky, somewhat of a rarity in rural Lincolnshire, at about two p.m. the sun came out from behind some cloud and a bright slash of sunlight fell across part of the wheat field, it is difficult to demonstrate or explain how bright the wheat seemed. But the effect of this was to make this small section of the view and hence the painting more powerful than all the other combined elements. I spent the rest of the day trying to incorporate that vision into the work, unsuccessfully, however this began a powerful interest in colour and shape, how we see those attributes and then endeavoring to capture them in paint.

The problem: there are two considerations for me the first is the metaphysical component of the experience, because we are all different what inspired or gives added feeling to an encounter depends on our memorized historical experiences. The shapes I utilize in the Opus series come from within me through memory and an intuitive process, they are me, and they are the artist. The second consideration is the problem how to paint the brightness, one colour was no good, no matter how amazing modern pigments it seemed what I required was a graduation of one colour mixed myself and the relationships between all the colours in the image. The following section details the thinking of experts in the field of colour perception and my understanding of colour as I continue to create images through the experience of colour.

Understanding Colour:

Color vision is an illusion created by the interactions of billions of neurons in our brain. There is no color in the external world; it is created by neural programs and projected onto the outer world we see. It is intimately linked to the perception of form where color facilitates detecting borders of objects’. [1]

So, why do we see colour? Peter Gouras feels it is intimately linked to the perception of form, looking at the image below the subtle colours of the image on the left do help to distinguish shapes but also adds depth to the image.

[image from Webvision page]

This view that there is no colour in the external world is also supported by Neuroscientist Beau Lotto who in a BBC programme ‘Do you see what I see’ explains;

Colour is one of our simplest sensations… even jellyfish detect light and they do not have a brain. And yet to explain lightness, and colour more generally, is to explain how and why we see what we do.

The first thing to remember is that colour does not actually exist… at least not in any literal sense. Apples and fire engines are not red, the sky and sea are not blue, and no person is objectively "black" or "white".

What exists is light. Light is real.

You can measure it, hold it and count it (well … sort-of). But colour is not light. Colour is wholly manufactured by your brain.

How do we know this? Because one light can take on any colour… in our mind.’

My personal view is that this has ‘simply’ been part of the evolutionary development of the eye and seeing, being able to see shape and depth in the world around us allows us to move around safely therefore anything that enhances vision would make the animal seeing safer and more likely to survive.

This can be seen in the variety of visionary experiences of different animals, take cats for example, they have fewer colour receptors, ‘cones’ than humans and more ‘rods’ which are ‘responsible for vision at low light levels (scotopic vision). They do not mediate colour vision, and have a low spatial acuity’.[2] and so cats although seeing some colour see less colour than humans [see below] but along with other advantages, slightly wider field of vision being one, this aids the cat in hunting in the pre-dawn and dusk periods of the day.

Some animals especially birds can actually see ultra-violet light which is invisible to the human eye, that would be an interesting view of the world. It would therefore seem that there is no colour in the external world and what we see is only a neural response to the various electromagnetic waves of light generated by the cones in the retina, and so the colours we see are a very personal response to the world around us.

So why do we perceive different colours?

When light hits an object some wavelengths are absorbed and others are reflected, this is governed by the molecular structure of the object, some wavelengths can be absorbed as energy what we see are the wavelengths which cannot be accommodated and so the reflected wavelengths of light stimulate the cones in the retina and the brain registers these as a colour. When all the wavelengths in the visual spectrum are absorbed we see black and when all are reflected we see white. When some are absorbed and some are reflected we see different colors of the spectrum. [3] [the above paragraph is taken from the cited webpage but has been altered somewhat by myself for brevity].


[1]. Peter Gouras, Colour Vision, 2014, , [Webvision The Organization of the Retina and Visual System]

[2]. Rochester Institute of Techbnology,

[3]. Vanseo Design,