Light and Meaning in Astrophysics

In astrophysics, light and color are precisely measured quantities that carry almost all of the information that we use to understand the universe. For an artist, light and color carry a very different sort of meaning. Working together, we can reach new levels of meaning that connect human cognition and perception to the farthest reaches of the universe. These artists were  provided with multi-color data from the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory and asked to create a piece of art. The statements below describe what inspired them and what they chose to communicate with their art.

Liz Batronis

I chose to do my piece by using the image of the Eagle Nebula as inspiration. I sprayed an old canvas board with alcohol ink, and this created a rainbow of colors with some ink cells forming. Then taking straight black ink and a spunge, I created the dark abyss of space. Swapping between white paint and colored ink created the depth of the piece. I enjoyed using my alcohol inks again to create a great piece of art. I have always loved space and its vastness, as well as the unknownness of everything out there. Looking up at the stars is relaxing and creating this piece gave me the same feeling. Furthermore, space and art have always been calming to me.


Mars Faccone

For this piece, I explored the visual expressions of the Eagle Nebula. For each of these pieces, I used the different black and white images that represented the elemental filters of the Eagle Nebula. I was provided with Oxygen, Hydrogen and Sulfur images, and I layered those to create my coloured compositions. With the first piece, I went for a graphic novel aesthetic, giving each layer a hyperpigmented colouration. This was my attempt at creating a visual that allowed the viewer to see the concentrations of each element, but the hyperpigmentation creates an unrealistic response in the viewer. This reflects the idea of the general public, as they can view space as something that exists, but can never be touched.

The second piece I created was another layering technique, where I used colour filters on top of each element-filter image. This allowed me to create a multidimensional image that was still recognizable as the Eagle Nebula. However, I set each of these new images at a lower opacity, so that it was evident that there was more than one layer to view, creating more depth. This depth was then accented by upping the contrast in the image. I wanted to accent this depth to produce a stronger feeling of the tangible space as a three-dimensional environment, rather than a flat image to be observed. Within this piece, I also off-set the layers to further express that this was a multilayer image, alluding to the fact that the images the public sees of space are, in fact, multilayered and re-coloured, rather than the classic photograph we think it is. 

For the last two pieces, I was experimenting with the layering effect of colours on the individual element-filter images. I found that the realistic depth could be achieved with a single colour for each, which pays respect to the original technique of viewing each element as a single filter. The colours were chosen based off of the amount of contrast that was visible between concentrations of the single element image.

Jazmin Herrada

For this assignment I decided to use The Lagoon Nebula as my subject. I worked on a full sheet of watercolor paper and used masking fluid. I mainly focused on the colors and the effects it can have on when working on really wet paper. The painting has a full range of color, some of which was created by the colors washing together. I constantly had the paper wet to get the blending effect I wanted and used masking fluid to block out some areas to keep the light colors of the first layer. Then, I did a wash of black around the border and used some black within the painting. I think the black made the colors a bit muddy, but the black within the washes of color gives it a nice effect similar to the nebula I was referencing. Overall, this painting could be pushed further in terms of experimenting with the process and the materials.

Jayce Law

For this assignment, I decided to represent the Eagle nebula and used glass painting with acrylic paint. I used 4 old picture frames and took out the glass paneling of each one and wanted to play with the idea of depth in space. The back panel is a full color background of blacks, blues, and greens. When shown up against light, the blues and greens pop out. The next panel is a frosty white, used to represent the dust and dirt that is aimlessly floating around in space. The third panel is pure whites, used to show the light of the stars and illuminate small details of the nebula itself, as well as smaller starts around it. The final panel is the Eagle nebula itself. I used to red because I thought it would make the color pop more in contrast to the darker blue-green background. At first, I wanted to use yellow, but I was unable to get a good sense of lights and shadows without the figure looking muddy, so I switched to red.

Overall, I had a fun time with this piece! I think it came out well. My only issue was the presentation – I still could not get a decent photo of the piece without annoying reflections sneaking in. The idea of layering individual panels to create depth is not something I thought I would do, especially with paint. I believe with more practice, I could make more layering pieces in the future.

Marisa Mata

For this project I decided to make a gif by painting with acrylic on multiple square pieces of paper, then scanning them and saving them on photoshop as a gif. It’s something I’ve made a couple times before but always with a figure. This time my gif was not of a person but of a star. I wanted to research and also relate the star’s “life cycle” and the nature of its death to the human life cycle and death. One of the things I had in mind was that depending on the stars size the way it “dies” changes. I connected this with the thought that sometimes people have a hard time dying, the process is long and painful and some people have quick peaceful deaths. Not to say some people have “bigger lives” but maybe some people have more to hold onto, while others are more detached. Its still a concept that I want to continue exploring. The way I used color was to distinguish between elements, each element has a color and the star changes as it transitions using element to element as fuel.

Sanban Men

When I first saw the images, I was curious of how it would feel to touch the space. I imagined some areas are smooth, some rough, some dusty, and some soft. So I came up with the idea of focusing on the texture more than the color. I did intentionally choose the colors used, because I did want the piece to have more bright colors than dark colors. I used cotton, small rocks, clay, and acrylic paints on a Bristol paper for the project.

I also did “Do not look Just feel” experiment with a few friends. We mentioned about inclusion during the presentation and that really strikes me. I am very blessed to be able to see beautiful colors of an artwork. I think art is like a medicine to cure our inner and outer scars. People use art to heal, to communicate with other people, to point out major issues in the world. Art is a very important aspect in our lives. To those who aren’t able to see it visually, they will miss out this big part of their lives, if art was only to see. Therefore, I invited few friends to feel the artwork and have their own interpretation based on their personal experiences, rather than me showing them a piece and letting them guess what’s my (the artist’s) intention. They were very used to seeing artworks and were uncomfortable leaving with not knowing what exactly how it looks like. But I think that’s one of my intention of doing the experiment, we are living in the unknown, and there is no right or wrong in how one interprets the meaning of an artwork.

It was very interesting for me, as the creator of this piece, to see different responses. I feel a little sad as well, because I won’t be able to feel that curiosity like the audiences did. Unless someone else is doing the same experiment as me and I would have the chance to be an audience.

Jimee Padilla

For this project I used the eagle 673n image that we were given. Since it was space, I didn’t want it to be over detailed and I wanted it to come easy to me as well. I ended up using the scratch art paper, the tool it came with and a toothpick flosser. They are quite small so, I taped for of them in a diamond shape and left a small gap between the four. I didn’t want to color the whole thing in because in the reference image, I outlined the objects that I saw and around them I had done hatch marks and on those I did little swirls to give it more of a texture then added random lines everywhere. I wanted to keep it simple enough to where people want to look at it closer but use different tools to give me the lines I wanted. It looks really plain and boring, but I like how it came out. I am happy I chose to do the scratch paper because it had the color already on it, I just wish it had different colors then the normal red, yellow, blue. But I think it came out good, I was in a mood when I worked on it so I think it helped getting the scratch lines I wanted on there.

Angela Ploughe

For this assignment, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include some reference to “hydrogen alpha,” which Patrick so wonderfully discussed in his primary lecture to our class. It fascinated me that there was a possibility to see space and galaxies through a pink lens, or at least that being how the eye perceives the light. I began the process by layering watered down pink and yellow across the page of my piece, creating a vibrant and mingling underpainting. In all earnestly, and like I expressed in the in-progress critique, I wasn’t sure that I liked how it looked but continued to work with it nonetheless. Eventually, I arrived at my solution, incorporating deep crimson, translucent blue, lilac, and the underpainting’s vibrant yellow and pink to create what I think to be a very effective and successful, if abstract, piece. I appreciated my partner’s insight into it reflecting the pathways or human veins, as the colors certainly mimic that of both veins and bruising (to some extent), and I liked thinking about it as a way to portray the infiniteness of space in the most minute portrayal of human life. In the piece, I wanted to show that the new, brightest stars were surrounded by a sort of blue light, which is something Patrick mentioned during one of his sessions in the class. In addition to that, my use of gold framing the white body of the new stars, I feel, makes them reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles’ ceiling, as the entirety of my piece can be vaguely seen as if its shifting colors look like the clouds in the ceiling paintings. Overall, I would have liked to be able to create more depth in my piece, as I feel like the heavy amount of crimson doesn’t necessarily show much depth. However, I was unwilling to add black to express shadow and also attempted to shy away from dark purple, as I felt like those are very traditional colors in creating a galaxy illusion and I wanted mine to be quite the opposition to tradition. With the colors I did implement, I actually really enjoy how the piece turned out, as I find it very vivid and fluid, which is something I have never created before. It was fun to push my boundaries to create a solution that opposed what most would think a galaxy might look like, thus making something that felt very original to my own character and painting style. I would love to keep working with this type of slightly abstract painting!

David Red Feather

Three-panel series titled: A subtle flex from the Sun

My solution to our color and space assignment was to explore the knowledge of Pre-Colombian civilizations and incorporating some of their knowledge into my work. Living in Papago Park has presented me with a number of amazing opportunities. One, in particular, is the ability to see “Hole in the Rock” from my front door. The Hohokam village at Pueblo Grande Museum is aligned with “Hole in the Rock” in Papago Park. Overstanding the importance placed on aligning buildings and villages with the Sun’s positions for Pre-Colombian civilizations has made me think about the universe in a very terrestrial way. “As above so below”. In my Three-panel series, I have explored the concept of Time and the position of my paintings in relation to the sun’s light. Because of the finite speed of light, when you look up into the night sky, you are looking into the past. The bright star Sirius is 8.6 light-years away. That means the light hitting your eye in the evenings has been traveling for 8.6 years. So past, present, and the future are all happening simultaneously. Further, I have explored the concept of dispersion of light. Overstanding the fact that each color in light is refracted differently, each bends at its own unique angle. This results in the fanning and separation of white light into the colors of a spectrum. Using cut glass to refract white light and produce colors I partner with the sun and offer it a suitable platform for it to add its own artistic touch to the pieces. Essentially painting with sunlight. The same sunlight that is shining throughout the universe adding ingredients to the cosmic soup that is continuously being stirred. In return, the earth is being bombarded with particles, metals along with other building blocks for life from galaxies and universes captured on digital camera from the Hubble telescope and from across our skies.

Jordan Silvia

For my piece, I really wanted to focus more on the texture of space. I used a sponge and acrylic in order to achieve a more soft, fluffy effect. Instead, the final piece came out a little more rough and contrasted, giving it a more chaotic and sharp outcome. I was originally obsessed with getting that soft, dreamy look, but I decided to stop trying to fight against the original texture of the sponge and instead embrace it. The close up photos allow for a better view of the texture and depth of the piece that I wanted to capture.

Luke Watson

My solution for the project about the artificial coloration of outer-space images came through an understanding of color as light and light as energy that fuels life. The light is manifest to usable/consumable energy through the power of photosynthesis. While chlorophyll absorbs all but greenish light (in the visible spectrum) combining the rest with carbon dioxide to create sugar energies, the phototrophic life that supports and feeds the heterotrophic food chain, humans included produces a variety of colors besides green. Many of these colors come through fruit and flowers that entice consumption helping reproduction in the distribution of seeds and pollen exchange. 

Light is the essence of life, from the literal creation of usable life-sustaining food to creating colors to help perpetuate that process. To this end I decided to represent the cosmic origins of this light, the nebulas forming new stars and creating light that could fuel new life by portraying it with the very colors we eat to support our own life. I made these paintings/drawings using food and the natural colors and dyes found within. In this specific series of three I used mint leaves, purple cabbage, blackberries, red onion and lemon. Crushing these foods to let out the pigments I arranged them on watercolor paper in an approximation of the cosmic inspiration and microwaved them. The microwave serves twofold purpose, first the heating allows for a transfer of pigments to paper, and conceptually is utilizing another wavelength of light to create the piece. The results are colorful atmospheric images depicting the beginnings of light from the end result of light. 

Varissa Washington

Polar Bear Heaven

For this assignment, I did a series of photo transfers on top of each other. It is loosely based on the star temperature scale, where the warm tones and cool tones kind of flip their  association. Blue, pale green, and white are the warmest colors; well yellow and red are the  coldest.  

The overall effect that I wanted is for the image to look cold, and for someone to feel that temperature/affect when looking at the image. I did layers of photo-transfer instead of one uniform photo transfer because I wanted the paper pulp to still be on the ink transfer and create that icy/foggy affect. I included the paper pulp scraps from the photo transfer residue and use it on the top and bottom edges of the picture plane to have that snow suggestion, but not have it actually interact with the plane directly. After thinking about it some more, I would present  the scale when presenting the work in an exhibition. I think forcing people to rethink their association with the color, especially with the cold conventions that I set up in the image I think it's interesting.  

In terms of technique this is what I wanted to do right off the bat, though I didn't realize how messy it could get. I thought the image would be more detailed because the prints were very detailed and more aesthetically pleasing, but in most areas this was not really the case. The CMYK conversion made the pieces darker as, something I didn't realize there's something I don't think is negatively affecting piece; though I say that because it differs from my intention slightly. The thing that was the most unexpected was kind of a holes in the paper. At first I was  thinking about filling them with black to kind of suggest black holes, or fill them with paper pulp to directly have that snow association with a circular phones that are the holes; but I decided against both of those options. Surprisingly when I thought of the polar bear, the holes seen more intentional and uniform and seems more like pieces of ice moving than just holes.  

The reason it's called polar bear heaven is because I put a polar bear in space. Space is something that is above us, and heaven is something people associate the sky/the notion of up with. With the temperature being coded hot, it kind of relates back to climate change and how it's killing the environment that allows polar bears thrive. This results in the loss of polar bears. With a cool association, it's bringing the polar bear back to their idealize environment which is cold, and their environmental idea of “heaven”.