Color as Light
GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)
Street Light, 1909 (oil on canvas)
Color is the sensation that is stimulated in our brain by different wavelengths of light. One wavelength will stimulate our perception of red, another orange, another yellow and so on through all the colors of the spectrum.
Giacomo Balla’s beautiful painting of a street lamp is a poetic impression that represents the physical properties of light. At its center, the bulb burns with a white heat in the darkness of the night. Its radiant glow dissolves in concentric waves, each of which diminish in intensity and change color to suggest the different wavelengths of the spectrum.
Balla was an Italian Futurist who revered the modernity of urban life. He painted ‘Street Light’ at the time when electric lighting was first introduced to the streets of Rome. It is a Futurist celebration of the power of technology as a symbol of the new age. The light even outshines nature herself as the corona of the crescent moon struggles to compete with its incandescence. The painting technique that Balla employed was derived from Pointillism, a more scientific approach to the analysis of color, and as such forms the perfect marriage between the subject and its execution.
RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898-1967)
Empire of Light, 1954 (oil on canvas)
The ‘Empire of Light’ by René Magritte is an innocent image of suburban silence with a surrealistic twist: the scene is set at midnight but the sky is fixed at midday. This subversive image holds together a conflict of opposites within its unified structure: day meets night, dark meets light and reality meets the imagination. The convincing technique that he uses to paint the picture persuades the viewer to engage with the impossible search for a rational meaning, thereby drawing them into the irrational realm of the Surrealism.