Mantle of many colours
Having worked with iridescent ’pigment’ technology from its inception (circa1999), it took Schenk several years to gain a basic understanding of the complex optical principles involved and to transform the raw material (Fig.1), a white powder, into a medium suitable for painting.
Fig. 1 Silica flakes, in themselves transparent and colour-less, are layered thin-films that generate iridescence via the optical phenomenon of light interference.
‘Chameleon’ of the Sea
By 2004 Schenk was ready to introduce the new technology into her work. Whilst artist in residence at the National Marine Aquarium Plymouth, the cuttlefish caught her eye. Perpetually metamorphosing, this ‘Chameleon of the Sea’ - features a continuously changing display of kaleidoscopic colour, pattern and texture. In an instant, waves of colour can flow across its entire body, changing hue from maybe green to purple and back again - a dynamic flow of oscillating colour never seen in painting. Here colour is so sophisticated that it equals, if not surpasses, that of our digital age. In loose analogy to a television screen, cuttlefish skin contains individually adjustable ‘sub-dots’/cells. These cells are (chemical) primary-colour-units that switch on (expand) and switch off (contract), or remain in between, thus (in combination) assuming any colour desired via optical mixing. In addition, iridescent ‘mirror’ cells reflect colours from the surroundings (Fig.2).
Fig. 2 Cuttlefish: skin layers. This diagram illustrates the complex colour mechanism at work. Both chemical pigments and iridescent cells combine to create constantly changing colour displays.
But how can one ‘represent’ such an elusive creature in painting? With colour-variable hues now on Schenk’s palette, meticulous and time-consuming research eventually led to a triptych, ‘representing’ the cuttlefish in its many guises. The desired ‘chameleonesque’ effect was achieved. Forming the centre piece of a solo-show at the Aquarium, the resulting paintings fluctuate in perceived colour, depending both on light variation and the angle of vision (Fig.3).
Fig. 3 Mantle of Many Colours, triptych, iridescent medium on board, 4' x 9', 2004. The three paintings are identical. The same iridescent flake (which shifts from green to purple) has been used in all of them. Together the three panels demonstrate the gradual colour change effect experienced when the viewer moves around the triptych.
Mantle of Many Colours, National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, Nov 04-April 05.
- Skulduggery, diptych, oil on canvas, 180x425cm, 1999
- Denizen I, diptych, oil on canvas, 122x183cm, 1999
- Mantle of Many Colours, triptych, mixed media, each panel 3’ x 4’, 2004