Amplifier for Art, Science and Society

The Chromatic versatility of black

The library of thirty-two black pigments made by the conservator-restorer Pierre-Antoine Héritier offers a glimpse into the extraordinary diversity of black pigments that can enter into a painting’s composition.

Organic, mineral or synthetic in origin, each one has subtle variations in tone and shading. The perception of black changes according to their properties (including the refractive index, coverage, morphology), their particle size (blackness is even lesser when the pigment is more finely ground) and their smooth or structured appearance (determined by the binder and the mode of application).

The experience created by the EPFL+ECAL Lab seeks to reveal the chromatic versatility of single pigment paintings 1 of Pierre Soulages. This project, supported by the startup Gamaya and the Signal Processing Laboratory LTS5, makes use of a camera dubbed hyperspectral – a piece of equipment typically used in agriculture with aerial photography to examine the condition of fields and crops – that is able to simultaneously capture different colors comprising the light spectrum.

While the human eye perceives visible light as white, the hyperspectral camera separately captures the flow of visible light reflected by an Outrenoir, color by color. The EPFL+ECAL Lab then translates the collected data into an interactive installation that exhibits a ‘hyperspectral map‘ of the painting in question. This visual representation corresponds to a constantly evolving digital surface that evokes not only the interaction between the light and the work but also the changes that occur as soon as the visitor moves, or with the changes in the ambient lighting.

In featuring a unique collection of different colors of light that animates an Outrenoir, this device creates a striking and evocative contrast that enables the public to approach the works entirely without artifice.

  1. Pierre ENCREVÉ, Le noir et l’outrenoir, in Soulages, Noir Lumière, Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1996, p. 37.

EPFL+ECAL Lab – Joëlle Aeschlimann, Tommaso Colombo, Delphine Ribes, Nicolas Henchoz
Gamaya – Luca Baldassarre, Manuel Cubero-Castan
Signal Processing Laboratory LTS5 – Jean-Philippe Thiran
Egli Studio – Yann Mathys, Thibault Dussex
Atelier Héritier, Geneva – Pierre-Antoine Héritier, Conservator-Restorer

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