The human brain can process certain types of information in as little as 13 milliseconds - that’s approximately 30 times faster than the blink of an eye. How does it do this? Well, it finds the most economical way to do it - it takes shortcuts and gives us an average. This means that what goes into our eye, is not always the same as what our brain tells us is actually there.
In painting, The Impressionists used the brain’s economical visual perception to maximum effect, and just as Aborignal and Native American artists had used repetitive mark making to evoke texture and pattern, Pointillism moved impressionism forward, by reducing what was there. It reduced colour and form, down to the most basic of elements: coloured dots.
Within a world where HD and hyper resolution has become the go to, we look at five notable artists using dots in their artwork to differing effect.
The godfather of ‘Pointillism’ George Seurat developed the technique in 1886. He wanted to branch away from Impressionism and created a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of colour are applied in patterns to form an image. Just like ‘Impressionism’ the term "Pointillism" was initially used by art critics in the late 1880s to ridicule the works of these artists, but the term has since outgrown its negative usage to encapsulate a style of painting used by many artists around the world.
An abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock is best known for his ‘splatter’ or ‘drip’ paintings which he made at the latter height of his career during the late 1940’s. The ‘action paintings’ as they became known, were produced flat on the studio flaw, with household, acrylic based paint being poured, dripped or even squirted from syringes directly onto the canvas from all angles. In 2013, Pollock's Number 19 (1948) was sold by Christie's for a reported $58,363,750 during an auction that ultimately reached $495 million total sales in one night.
Employing her signature ‘Polka dot’ the work of Yayoi Kusama has become some of the most recognised artwork in the world. One of the most successful living female artists, Kusama’s work, although joy filled and vibrant on the surface, belies a more tumultuous private life and struggle with mental health. Her work reflects her ongoing battle and her quest to allow viewers an immersive emotional experience.
From early childhood Kusama had repeated psychotic episodes in which her vision was flooded with dots and removed her from reality.
She said, “I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space.” She has lived in a psychiatric institution for the last 37 years – voluntarily where she continues to create artwork.
Hirst’s ‘Spot Paintings’ are very much self descriptive. They are simply paintings of colourful spots, on a white background, arranged in grids of differing numbers, sizes and colour combinations. However Hirst’s rule is that no two spots in any one painting are the same colour. The effect is that the viewer’s eye continues to move around the canvas searching for some repetitive pattern. By combining colours which jump out and colours which recede, Hirst is able to move the viewer around the painting harnessing an emotional response to what is otherwise a minimalist approach.
An icon of American Pop art, Roy Lichtenstein is known for his tongue-in-cheek parodies of American comic strip art. Not only did Lichtenstein draw inspiration from comic strip subject matter and language, he also drew direct inspiration from their production technique. Borrowing the aesthetic of the ‘spot colour’ method of layering dots, Lichtenstein produced large scale paintings using a combination of stencil and screen print, giving his work an industrial feel.
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