It’s a FACT: Bevil Conway Explores Color and the Brain

November 21, 2010

Bevil Conway’s “FACTS” exhibition at the Radcliffe Institute is a difficult one to decipher: there are no labels or explanations to guide the visitor through the gallery. Thematically, the exhibition appears to lack conceptual cohesion.  Although most of the artwork consists of watercolors, there is also a series of sculptures in glass boxes.  What, then, is the artists’ intention in putting the seemingly unrelated pieces together?

At first sight obscure, the purpose of the exhibition is illuminated by background information on Bevil Conway and his research. As both a scientist and an artist, Conway explores the bases of color and motor perception. Not only does he study the neurophysiology of vision in his laboratory, but he also experiments with his art to investigate how different color combinations work, what guides the direction of the viewer’s gaze, and how perspective and depth are conveyed. Through visual art, he expresses that he is “interested not only in representing the places [he] visits, in encoding a kind of visual diary, but also in trying to work out the kinds of rules that are important to communicate in the simplest way, [his] visual experiences.” In bringing together the worlds of science and art, Conway attempts to understand how art and the viewer’s perception of it tell us something about the way visual information is processed.

Conway’s watercolors embody this desire to provide insight into visual neuroscience. Most of his landscape paintings lack a single point perspective and do not have physically accurate shadows or reflections. Yet they retain acceptable impressions of depth and light. Thus, his paintings challenge the classical view that coherent perspectives or consistencies in shadows are necessary for image recognition. Aware of the fact that our eyes constantly move and shift from one point to another when we look at the world, Conway develops techniques that ultimately give the viewer the impression of a coherent image.

The deliberate use of color is another impressive aspect of the exhibition. At the entrance stands a glass box with floating bright red threads. The exhibition features two similar pieces: one with dark blue threads and the other with threads of a soft pink color. Each sculpture generates a different sensation, highlighting the visceral impact of color. This focus on color perception constitutes a large part of Conway’s work: from brain imaging to detect the mechanisms underlying color recognition, to aesthetic studies such as this glass-box visual experimentation, Conway works toward elucidating the complex intersection of cognitive function and aesthetic appreciation.

Bevil Conway’s FACTS runs through December 17th in Byerly Hall, located at the Radcliffe Institute, at 8 Garden Street.

–Esra Eczacibasi, Visual Arts Junior Board Editor

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