Executed in 2015, Olafur Eliasson’s Colour experiment no. 72 encapsulates the Danish-Icelandic artist’s inquisitive and experimental practice which straddles painting, sculpture, architecture, installation and interactive art. The present painting belongs to a body of three Colour Experiments which explore the use of tone and light in the work of the great German painter of the sublime, Casper David Friedrich; the remaining two paintings are currently on display in the artist’s major solo show at Tate Modern, London. Extracting the colour palette used in Friedrich’s painting to the point of abstraction, Eliasson provides a compelling investigation into the ways in which the human brain extrapolates and processes information. In deconstructing Friedrich’s paintings into proportionately distributed colour wheels, the artist not only exposes the trickery behind painterly illusion, but simultaneously produces an incandescent and beguiling work of art in its own right. Eliasson’s artistic motive is an altruistic one: interested in how art can impact society, his work engages with a wealth of enviro-socio-political concerns, spanning climate change, education, sustainability and ecology. As the artist explains, “our perception of the world is easily fooled: I want to reveal the tricks, highlight the way the media or politicians wrongly address certain issues. I want [my works] to act as advocates for transparency” (Olafur Eliasson cited in: Clara Le Fort, ‘Olafur Eliasson reflects on ways of seeing ahead of his latest exhibition’, Wallpaper, January 2018, online).
Born in Copenhagen 1967, the multinational artist regularly visited Iceland in his childhood, developing a strong connection to the country’s landscape. Fascinated by the distinctive and phenomenal atmospheric conditions unique to Iceland, as much as by the devastating threat of global warming, Eliasson explores how artists throughout history have captured light in their paintings in order to grapple with the vast immensity, and underlying fragility, of the natural world. Captivatingly playing with perception, movement, light and space, Colour experiment no. 72 is a spectacular example of the artist’s thought-provoking and stimulating practice.
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