Tensions Between Light and Water – An Experiment in Perception

Paul Kolker collection is pleased to present Paul Kolker: Tensions Between Light and Water…An Experiment in Perception. This exhibition of light sculptures and paintings opens at the Paul Kolker collection in Chelsea on November 10, 2016 and runs through January 13, 2017. While rehabilitating in an outdoors aqua therapy pool for months following an injury, Kolker used an underwater video camera to capture his many experiences of light and water shows of myriad light diffractions and refractions rendering images containing fractal-like shapes; some previously noted in his decalcomania paintings. Those static and moving images were transformed into paintings and light sculptures for exhibition as an experiment testing the viewer’s perception.


Paul Kolker: Tensions Between Light and Water...An Experiment in Perception - © 2016 Paul Kolker. All rights reserved.

light dancing with ripples, striations and other fractal shapes, 2016
inkjet and acrylic on canvas
33 x 33 inches

Kolker, as both artist and curator, asserts that the phenomenological experiences of a work of art, including its exhibition which is also a work of art, are emotional, memorable and understandable; i.e. perceptual. However, when that same art experience is critically assessed or tested, the work, or exhibition for that matter, is transformed into a psychology experiment about perception in which the viewer becomes the measuring instrument and the interpreter of the experimental results. The resultant art as experiment provides us with an understanding how our perceptions are influenced by biases of prior experiences, including how we have learned to see things as if we were a part of the picture; as in a projective psychological test. In this exhibition, the experiment tests how our prior experiences of seeing objects submerged in water, which gives the illusion of being bent or distorted, influence how we see the same objects through air; also as being bent or distorted.

Using surface and underwater videos of his aqua therapy pool’s refracted and reflected light by surface ripples and whorls of laminar currents projecting highlights onto the walls of the pool, Kolker creates a variety of illusions filling his six infinity video light sculptures in all dimensions; spacial and temporal. The result of the perceptual experiment is all about how the viewer sees, feels about and understands the illusions of streams of light distorted by refraction in water and reflected recursively within the mirrored video light sculptures.

Some of the tensions, or interactions, between light and water have already been studied by Kolker in his Abstract Decalcomania exhibition; ongoing at 600 Third Avenue. In decalcomania, sandwiched pools of paint under a plastic film are gesturally and intentionally moved by the artist. When the film is peeled from the original canvas, the surface tension and capillarity of the wet paint adhering to the decalcomania film negative results in rippling, striations and other fractal-like shapes, like those also seen in Kolker’s aqua therapy pool. For this experiment in perception photographs of the decalcomania negatives, showing the aqueous acrylic paint’s surface tension distortions, ripples and striations, are converted to 4K ultra high definition rectilinear grids of dots in archival inkjet printed on transparent film. The transilluminated abstract images, which have the appearance of an ultra high definition display screen, are repeatedly reflected between the mirrors of Kolker’s light sculptures; giving the illusion of streaming ad infinitum.

Kolker’s series of black and white paintings in this exhibition, like the one depicted above, capture the tensions such as optical distortions and illusions of light in water. Reflections and refractions of light on objects in a three-dimensional aquatic space give the illusions of bending. Memories of this illusion affect the viewer’s perception of certain two-dimensional representations of transecting straight lines which seem to bend as if they are refracted in water. Such are the illusions described by Poggendorff and Hering more than a century ago and referenced by Sergey I. Bozhevolnyi in his recent scientific publication in the journal, Perception; “Light refraction by water as a rationale for the Poggendorff illusion,” (2016).

Paul Kolker (b. 1935) is a New York-based artist with doctorate degrees in medicine and law. He is a Fellow American College of Surgeons, Fellow American College of Legal Medicine and Emeritus Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at North Shore/ LIJ Glen Cove Hospital, having practiced cardiothoracic surgery on Long Island from 1969 to 2013. In October 2001 Kolker moved his Long Island studio to his current address in the Chelsea art district so that he could produce his works and curate his exhibitions as an experiment in perception. His studio and gallery have together become his laboratory in which the viewer is the measuring instrument for Kolker’s art as a perceptual experiment. Tensions Between Light and Water… An Experiment in Perception is Kolker’s fifty-fifth solo exhibition.

In Paul Kolker: Tensions Between Light and Water… An Experiment in Perception, twenty-eight paintings and light sculptures are on view at 511 West 25th Street from November 10 through January 13, 2017. Paul Kolker: Abstract Decalcomania continues at 600 Third Avenue.


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