Seeing Things in a New Light

In color science, there is a phenomena called metamerism in which different combinations of pure colors can combine to create the same perceptual color.  For example, red, green, and blue light can be combined to form white.  This is of course, the basis for most color displays.  But another combination might be pure, narrow band, yellow and blue light, yet another might be red and cyan (bluish-green).  So, when we make physical objects that are a specified color, they are that color because they reflect some wavelengths of light and not others… and because they do, they are dependent upon the illumination to create the desired color.  If the illumination has a different spectrum, different combinations of pure wavelengths, the “color” of the object may change.  This is called Illuminant Metameric Failures.

You may wish to read more on metamerism and Illuminant Metermeric Failure here at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamerism_%28color%29

This illuminant metameric failure is usually something that is carefully avoided, or at least controlled to be made repeatable, especially in consumer goods manufacture, where the pigments used in the products are carefully monitored for consistent color match from unit to unit, batch to batch.

But in creative innovation and invention, sometimes the very place that others are trying to avoid is where we should look.  Could we not use illuminant metameric match deliberately, for effect?

An almost obvious one would be in security and authentication of documents, such as checks or money.  If one put such a document under a specified light, we might see a hidden pattern.  Consider for a moment that you are handed a document with a what appears to be a blank grey circle, but you know that only a valid document will show a pattern when shown under a special illuminant.  How might this be done?  We choose two colors of ink that both look grey under standard room or outdoor light, but under pure green light, one of the inks may be significantly less reflective, but high reflective to yellow and blue.

While useful, its not all that interesting you say?  I agree.

But what I do find interesting is the idea of applying illuminant metameric failure to art, especially painting.  Imagine creating a single canvas that is actually a diptych or even a triptych in which the same scene may have quite different appearance under different illumination.  For example, imagine a single canvas showing a woodland scene in winter, summer, and fall.  The illumination may come from a controllable set of bright Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) aimed at the painting.  I imagine a darkened room where these paintings may be installed for the public to admire, in galleries and museums.

To create these paintings, the artist would work in a studio in which the same controllable LED lamps illuminate her work and her palate.  She would observe her pigment tubes carefully under each illumination, selecting them, blending them, until she had just the right color for a given location on her canvas, under each illumination.  One other “trick” she may use is to consider the effects of pointillism.  It may not be possible to get each color just right under each of her illuminants, but she may perceptually blend colors seen at a distance to increase the range of her perceptual palate given her more limited pigment palate.

Thus, can art and science be blended to bring about something new, allowing us to see things in a new light.