HIROSHI SUGIMOTO’S PRISM EXPERIMENTS
ON THE VISIBLE LIGHT SPECTRUM
Beyond our visible spectrum of color, Japanese multidisciplinary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto explores and reimagines colour fields captured on discontinued Polaroid film inspired by the same method of Sir Isaac Newton’s prism experiments created over 300 years ago. The results present mystifying gradations akin to paintings created from light as his pigment.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 069, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Contemporary Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work is hard to define, yet one thing remains a constant — his ongoing exploration of ancestries and the concept of time that inherently connects to the future. Through this radical traditionalism, his depth of historic explorations lends to the exploration of Buddhism, to collecting stone-age tools such as pottery and debris, and even fragments of meteorites. Yet it is his undeniable photographic series Seascapes that many may be most familiar with — capturing the tranquil, monochromatic horizons of the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. Through his new series Opticks, he explores 300-year-old prism experiments in a new modern context.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 032, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
“The world is filled with countless colours, so why did natural science insist on just seven?” The renowned Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto queries. “I seem to get a truer sense of the world from those disregarded intracolours.”
Through this visual exploration over the course of 15 years, Sugimoto developed a photographic series exploring light beyond existing hues inspired by the prism experiments of English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. It was Newton who first identified the originating ROYGBIV color range as a visible spectrum in 1704, and from this, Sugimoto reimagined those color fields utilising his own modern technologies in complex, technical and layered process.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 094, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Shot on a Polaroid 690SLR camera and on discontinued Polaroid film acquired before the company folded in 2008, the Polaroid film captures the flawless gradations and fragmentations appearing between colours. Sugimoto notes, “The profundity of the color gradation is overwhelming. I have the sense that I can see particles of light, and that each of those individual particles is a subtly different color form the next one. Red to yellow, yellow to green, then green to blue — the projected colors contain an infinity of tones and change every moment. I am engulfed in color. Particularly when the colors fade and fuse into darkness, the gradation seems to melt away into pure mystery.”
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 092, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 151, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
The resulting large scale square chromogenic photographic prints represent an expansive scale of time between our 21st and 18th centuries. Utilzing modern tools, it’s Sugimoto’s dedication to extensive research that makes his work so incomparable. Sugimoto achieved an exact recreation of Newton’s prism experiments through the same observational apparatus he had invented in the 18th century, even capturing the sunlight dispersed in the exact same tones that Newton had achieved. The photographs truly resemble a painting, as Sugimoto explains it as his use of “light as my pigment”.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 115, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
As the colors fade into one another, they fuse with an infinite darkness. Sugimoto notes, “I realized that I could capture those fine particles of color within the square frame of a Polaroid photograph. After years of experimentation, I managed to create a color surface that was sufficiently expansive for me to merge into the color. With light as my pigment, I believe I successfully created a new kind of painting.”
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks 124, 2018 Chromogenic print | Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery Copyright: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Text: Joanna Kawecki
Images: Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery