Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Behind the Art: Black

At the top of the tower of West Quoddy Head lighthouse is the lantern and just below that is the “watch room” or “service room”, which houses the machinery for the light and is the room in which light servicing is done by the keeper.  This room is in a cylindrical iron structure, painted black.

All this brings me to the interesting challenge of painting “black”.  As I mentioned before, I do not use black paint to paint black.

This may sound ridiculous until you really look at things we suppose are “black”.  If you think about what black really is, then you realize that if you can see it, it is not really black.

Black is an absence of light.  Whenever we depict something, we have to be able to see it.  And to see it we need light.  And if it can reflect light, it is not totally black.

The colour of an object is the colour reflected from it.  The red paint on the lighthouse absorbs green, blue, yellow, all the colours of the spectrum except red, which it reflects, giving it the colour red.  What we have in black paint is a paint that absorbs all colours in the spectrum equally.

Therefore, I use all three primary colours to paint black.  Since we can see the black iron of the watch room on the lighthouse, it must be reflecting light.  So on the brighter, sunlit side of the tower, the “black” iron reflects more light, of the more predominantly orange-yellow part of bright sunlight. So the “black” is lighter, with a hint of orange-yellow.  On the shady side, the “black” iron still reflects light, but less light, and the shade is the absence of orange-yellow of sunlight and that is bluish-purple.  So the “black” there is shaded accordingly.

And so, as I have said, black isn’t really black; it is red, blue and yellow mixed together to reflect light according to the light striking the thing that we think of as “black”.

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