[Image: “Colour experiment no. 61,” 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].
The forthcoming exhibition of J.M.W. Turner’s late works at Tate Britain not only looks amazing, but it’s also accompanied by a gorgeous new series of seven works by Olafur Eliasson.
Called “Turner colour experiments,” the paintings were made after Eliasson “analyzed seven paintings by Turner to create Turner colour experiments, which isolate and record Turner’s use of light and color.”
These are Turner’s paintings, reduced and purified to form, in effect, circular indexes of every color Turner himself once used. They are landscapes, abstracted and distilled.
[Image: “Colour experiment no. 58,” 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].
In fact, these are actually just the most recent pieces from Eliasson’s ongoing research.
As Eliasson writes, describing an earlier and related work called “Emergent fade—colour experiment,” he hopes this work “will eventually lead to a new colour theory based on the prismatic colours.” The technical effort behind all this is insane:
The visible colour spectrum in light ranges in frequency from approximately 390 to 700 nanometres. Since 2009, Olafur Eliasson has been engaged in a project that he hopes will eventually lead to a new colour theory based on the prismatic colours. He began these experiments by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact colour for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. Since the initial experiments, Eliasson has used this palette to make a number of different paintings, known collectively as the Colour experiment paintings. Each painting is different and individual, but all are attempts at investigating what Eliasson hopes will evolve into a new colour theory.
Specifically in terms of Turner, Eliasson adds, his goals—seemingly something more from the world of material science than from the history of representational art—are to “begin an experimental study by abstracting the prismatic colours of Turner’s palette and filtering them into a new, utopian colour theory.”
[Image: “Colour experiment no. 60,” 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].
But what’s perhaps most exciting about these, for me, is the idea that these are a bit like the color genetics—the base pairs and physical hues—behind Turner’s extraordinary landscapes and atmospheres.
These imply Turner’s landscapes, falling within the outermost parameters of their light and color.
In each wheel, in other words, we see the compressed and essential colors of Turner’s sunsets, coasts, and rainstorms blowing in to shower half a continent with new tones, the sky cracking open as mountain air filters ambient light into shining cascades, first blurred then separated here down to the nanometer.
I love the idea that these are the rays of light originally depicted by Turner, a kind of visual broadcast tuned to the exact same frequencies, only here purified and re-arranged.
It’s as if seven huge cyanometers have been assembled inside the museum: Eliasson’s brilliant engines through which Turner’s old skies can shine again.
(Vaguely related: The Great Age of Clouds).