The Play of Water and Fire

KAMI1: The Play of Water & Fire is a series of color drawings I occasionally practice to the present day that I started in 2015 as an exercise aimed to initiate me into drawing and painting again after a long pause.

In the pursuit to find a more fluid way of expressing myself I started with containing the drawing into a small square – giving it imaginary borders that intensified my focus while limiting the hue to an interplay of blues, reds and yellows2.

The fact that I decreased the size of space I worked upon and gave it definite borders, even if just for the sake of crossing them later on, gave me the confidence to devote myself to work on this small piece of paper joyfully without chasing the finish line. So, paradoxically it was containment that made me thrust forwards into a new direction.

Upon my attempt to draw the series again after roughly three years I discovered I need to find out the formula again in which I was working – that same logic of form and color combinations that made the whole resonate in me specifically as KAMI: The Play of Water & Fire and not something else. So, I set myself up to analyze old drawings and find out the common denominator between them.

The shapes I was working with could maybe best be described as abstract and simplified ornamentals that at times became more akin to schematics. These shapes flow despite the stark contrasts that are present. The square in the middle of the drawing does not destroy the form that flows through it but acts as a lens or filter upon the form presenting us with an illusion of transparence – showing us another aspect of it – so blue shades prevail on the outside of the square while the red ones are mostly inside, sprinkling out occasionally now and then.

There is a certain balance present between the warm and cold colors as we can perceive both sets of colors have similar intervals3 between them. The warm colors range from cadmium yellow to scarlet red, while the blue ones range from a reddish helioblue to more subtle ranges of ultramarine. So, some color pairs of close or similar light intensity produce an effect of enforced contours or vibrating boundaries4. Staring into shapes of such contrasts produces semblances of vibration and pulsation that could be described as halos or auras. This effect refers to the after-image5 that presents itself to us after staring at an intensely colored object for a substantial time so when looking at a neutral background our senses present us an illusion of complementary color due to fatigue of the optical substance in the photoreceptors6. Staring at a shape with surfaces of stark contrast produces illusions of pulsation and vibration in our senses and while invigorating for a short time it is tiring if attempted to persist with sustained focus.

Therefore the series of drawings KAMI: The Play of Water & Fire are akin to sensory activators, attempts to explore the visual senses and subtleties of perception.

[1]^ Keane, John J. (2016). Cultural and Theological Reflections on the Japanese Quest for Divinity. ISBN 9789004322400.

One of the many theories about the etymological origin of the word ‘kami’ states it comes from the proto-Japonic ‘kamugami’ which means ‘to shine (into the eye)’. The word ‘kami’ is a Japanese word used in many ways so John J. Keane states that the word ‘kami’ is difficult to clarify because the Japanese language allows for proper interpretation only if the words being used are understood together with the nuances and implications contained in what is being said. That being said ‘kami’ also means ‘paper’ in Japanese, especially thin paper with one-sided print used for origami – a Japanese paper folding technique.

[2]^ Tanhofer, Nikola. (2008). O boji na filmu i srodnim medijima. (eng. On Color: Color on Film and Related Media) ISBN 9789536045556

Red, yellow and blue are the primary colors used in painting that are later, with the development of color printing, further designated into cyan, magenta and yellow. Both models are used within the model of subtractive color mixing.

[3]^ Albers, Joseph.(2013). Interaction of Color, ISBN 9780300179354

The perception of color intervals is more thoroughly explained through Weber-Fechners law which is at the core of psychophysics – a branch of psychology of sensation and perception that’s looking particularly into how to find out how objective things in the world that we can measure effect our subjective experience.

[4]^ Albers, Joseph.(2013). Interaction of Color, ISBN 9780300179354

During analysis I helped myself out with the book Interaction of Color by Josef Albers that also served as some inspiration for the continuation of this work. Here Albers referenced the effects of ‘enforced contours’ and ‘vibrating boundaries’ along with the aforementioned ‘illusion of transparence’.

[5]^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Theory of Colors; translated by: Charles Lock Eastlake; J. Murray, 1840, Oxford

Michel Eugène Chevreul; The Principles of Harmony and Contrast in Colors: and Their Application to the Arts; translated by: Charles Martel; Henry G. Bohn, 1860, Oxford

The effect of the afterimage was described as early as 1810 in Goethe’s Zur Farbenlehre as well as the nearly related law of simultaneous contrast in De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs et de l’assortiment des objets colorés by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1839.

[6]^ Tanhofer, Nikola. (2008). O boji na filmu i srodnim medijima. (eng. On Color: Color on Film and Related Media) ISBN 9789536045556

The German physiologist Ewald Hering proposed the color opponent-process theory in 1892 stating that there are three kinds of retinal receptors in the eye that can produce pairs of complementary sensations (blue/yellow, red/green, black/white). Scientific experiments later discovered proteins found in photoreceptor cells of the retina that differ by their sensitivity to light wavelengths. The phenomenon of the afterimage shows us how this optical substance is depleting itself through exposure but is also regenerating itself if given the right circumstances.

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