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Retroreflection, baby!

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A number of my recent acrylic paintings incorporate lenses and other optics.  These optics allow the painting to transition from depicting light and color to actually focusing, casting, and directly manipulating the ambient light in the room. (Purchasing information is at the end of the post)

Neural Network, acrylic with lenses on canvas, Diffuse light

Neural network in  neutral light

Neural Network, Acrylic with lenses on canvas, directional light

Neural Network in the retroreflective condition
Neural network in the retroreflective condition

For me, the use of lenses solves a painterly (paintnerdly?) engineering challenge.  With glare and various pigment properties it can be difficult to create a painting that can be viewed in “normal” room light.  Most homes and offices are not lit like museums and galleries.  They have task lighting, windows, light streaming in from other rooms, reflective surfaces – any number of challenges for displaying a prized painting.  What if I could design a painting that not only “works” in real room light, but one that also works with the varying light in the room?  I’ve incorporated various approaches to address this challenge, from working with pigments to create patterned color metamerism, capturing and manipulating glare with surface texture, using matte and gloss contrasts, and using raised features.   Lenses are a natural next step.

Tabula Rasa, acrylic with glass lenses and sand on canvas

Tabula rasa, Acrylic with glass lenses and sand on canvas

Of course next steps, logical or not, often begin as stumbles.   A few months ago I was playing with some small glass spheres in a painting.  I thought they might create some cool textural effects.

There’s nothing unusual about glass and other “mix-ins” in acrylic painting.  Glass beads are sometimes used to create texture in acrylics.  The beads are mixed in with the media and incorporated into the mixed paint.  Golden, Liquitex, and other major acrylic paint brands sell gel media with glass beads already mixed in.

I obtained my glass beads in little jars from a company called Matisse Derivan that sells the “mix-ins” dry.  The artist then has the option to add as much or as little as he or she wants into the paint.

When I received my little jars of sparkly glass spheres, I was immediately reminded of the bubble rafts,periodic translational symmetry and crystal packing defects (keeping the “L” in nerdly).  What if the little glass spheres could sit on top of the paint, tightly packed, complete with dislocations?

Oooooooh!  In addition to the interesting bubbly textures, I noticed some weird light effects.  At certain viewing angles the glass spheres would seem to “flash” focused light, but the colors behind the beads weren’t lost.   This is an interesting property.

Usually when light sparkles off a hard refractive surface it bounces off the surface that’s in the air.  The result is a mirror effect, with features behind the sparkly thing  hidden by the bright sparkle.  With these glass spheres something more interesting was happening.  The light was somehow entering the sphere and then bouncing (being refocused) off the back of the sphere – taking some color from the pigments in the painting underneath.  A quick google later using the keywords “spherical lenses”  brought up several pages of information on retroreflective optics, which described the properties I’d observed in my paintings. A gallery of paintings incorporating retroreflection and other optical effects is shown below.

1.  “Rain”, no giclees available.  Original $450.00 through Colleen at the Seatuck Cove House, Eastport NY.  Call 781-643-1368, or email rvalluzzi@comcast.net, ask for Regina, and we’ll figure out the best arrangement.

2.  “Information Network”  purchase original through Artvenue, or an archival giclee (no lenses) through Fine Art America

3.  Tabula rasa, acrylic with glass lenses and sand 18×24  $800.00;

Twirl acrylic with retroreflective powder, sand and pumice 36 x 36 $3000.00

email rvalluzzi@comcast.net

Tabula rasa, Acrylic with glass lenses and sand on canvas 

4.  Neural Network, Acrylic with glass lenses, sand, sparklies, 24x24x1.5 with painted sides.  The original is available through Artvenue, archival giclees (no lenses) are available through Fine Art America

Neural network in neutral light

5.  Life Engine, Acrylic and glass lenses on canvas. Original available through Artvenue, no giclees currently available

6.  Ebb and Flow, Acrylic and glass on canvas.  Original available through Artvenue, Archival giclees available through Fine Art America