Electromagnetic • 15″ x 30″ • 2015

Here’s a new abstract work I created for the “Over the Top” show currently at Works/San Jose.

While considering the theme for the show, one of the first ideas that came to mind was radio waves and their dependence on a clear line of sight for transmission (I was a college DJ in San Luis Obispo, an area surrounded by hills). As I explored this further, I realized the electromagnetic spectrum itself was filled with potential imagery. While the majority of it affects us, much of it is not directly visible…and a lot is obscured by the atmosphere. I created the whole painting, layer by layer, with vivid colors and imagery before bringing in the “atmosphere” across everything outside of the visible spectrum (the rainbow). Some details are still visible while others gradually disappeared in the process.

I based it on this graphic from NASA and quite a bit of reading about each of the layers to get ideas for what to paint. Here are the layers of the spectrum you may be able to glean, laid out in logarithmic scale of their waves from the bottom to the top:

  • (noise) – little bits of color
  • Radio – AM, FM (set to 91.3fm for KCPR)
  • Microwave – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Amateur Radio
  • Infrared – fiber optics, infrared vision, solar flares
  • Visible Light – rainbow
  • Ultraviolet – how bees see flowers, barcodes & QR codes
  • X-Ray – x-rays, of course; and the TSA scanners
  • Gamma Ray – things that split the atom, like lightning and the atomic bomb

This painting changed dramatically along the way. Though it ended up the way I imagined, it was difficult to choose to continue since getting there meant fundamentally changing its look and losing interim details. In hindsighter, I wish I had created the lower layers with stronger contrast so they’d still be visible after the atmosphere was added. The final version did end up pretty close to my Photoshop mockup, though, so it got where it needed to be. The prog-rock-fueled red-and-black style will have to wait for another project.

Probably inspired by the yellow-ness of the NASA graphic

First layer: yellow ochre

I started filling in the rainbow as convenient

Layering in reds

Lots of dots for the transitions

Got impatient: this, rainbow

Decided not to paint a mushroom cloud; that thin line on the right is the representation of the atomic bomb

Gamma Rays layer

Skull, rib cage, and the TSA "stance"

X-Ray layer

Bees' views of flowers, and bar codes/QR codes

Ultraviolet layer

I originally put the amateur radio symbol too low, so this is result of re-painting it

Infrared layer

Starting to get wary about covering all this up with atmosphere

In progress

Added antennae of various kinds

Further infrared detail

Think this ended up with 8 different colors

Noise layer

AM & FM radio, set to 91.3fm

Radio layer

Wondering if I'm about to mess it up by adding the atmosphere

Just missing atmosphere

Yes, I did this in the middle of the night

With PS reference

A little more blue, but pretty close to how it ended up

The Photoshop mockup

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