24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm)
Medium and Support:
The Charles Rand Penney Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery
Location: Not currently on view
The Charles Rand Penney Collection
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
X + X (Ten Works by Ten Painters)
This print is an adaptation of a gouache based on the painting Rabat in the Moroccan Series (1964-65).
Look at the yellow-blue-yellow vertical striped pattern in the lower left corner for 30 seconds (try not to move your eyes). Then look at the white wall to the left. What do you see? You might see the same stripes but in a different order–now reading blue, yellow, blue. This phenomenon is called an after-image.
Two types of photoreceptors are known to contribute to vision in human eyes: cones and rods. Cones, which are used for color vision, come in three types, each of which responds to a particular part of the color spectrum: blue, green, or red. Conversely, rods respond to the brightness of the light source. One of the models of color perception suggests that our visual system processes inputs from these photoreceptors according to three color opponent systems: red-green, blue-yellow, and white-black. These systems work in an oppositional manner, providing the foundations of the after-image effect. Where the eye registers the color blue, the blue pathway is excited while the yellow one is less stimulated. Conversely, where the eye registers yellow, the yellow pathway is excited, while the blue one is less active.
How does this explain what you might have experienced? Staring at the saturated blue and yellow color fatigues the respective color-sensitive pathways. When looking at the white wall afterwards, you might not see the color of the wall but the effects of your fatigued color system. The area that tired your blue pathway now only registers yellow, and the area that tired the yellow pathway now only registers blue.
The lesson? As artist Josef Albers noted, “no normal eye, even the most trained one, is foolproof against color deception.”
[Label copy from Seeing in Color and Black and White, 2018]