Color Blindness Paintings (2016)

Color Blind Artist’s Used Watercolor Tray, Oil on Wood Panel. Emily Wick 2016. Photo by Brian BrooksPortrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray
Set of two paintings by Emily Wick
oil on wood panel
24 x 36 inches
Completed in 2016.

Portrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray is a set of two still life paintings exploring visual perception.

One shows a watercolor tray after being used by a color blind artist. The other simulates how a red-green color blind person would see the tray for the first time.

Red-green color blindness is common, affecting around eight percent of people. Discussions about the condition are usually focused on functional obstacles that come with having difficulty distinguishing red, green, and brown.

The possibility that red and green–two completely opposite hues–could be mistaken for each other led me to wonder what such a world would look like. These paintings aim to highlight the unique perceptual world of color blind individuals, and demonstrate that vastly different realities can exist without either person being conscious of the difference.

Emily Wick, Portrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray - Red-Green Color Blind Simulation, 2016, oil on wood panel, 24 x 36 inches
Emily Wick, Portrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray – Red-Green Color Blind Simulation, 2016, oil on wood panel, 24 x 36 inches
Emily Wick, Portrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray, 2016, Oil on Wood Panel, 24 x 36 inches
Emily Wick, Portrait of a Color Blind Artist’s Watercolor Tray, 2016, Oil on Wood Panel, 24 x 36 inches

For a red-green color blind individual, blue and yellow are the only two primary colors. The rest of the colors, aside from black and white, appear as a range of brownish neutrals.

A red-green color blind person will have trouble deciphering differences, even striking differences, in the range of colors between these two paintings, and may be surprised to find out that–to the majority of the human population–the unlabeled tray is missing most of its colors, and that only three of the colors on the labeled tray could accurately be described as brown.
EW-tray-CB copy
Sensory input gives us the basic building blocks of our reality, and something invisible or easily overlooked to one creature can contain a whole world to another. It’s incredible to me that a common condition can create such a completely different perceptual world, and yet our senses still feel objective.

What else is escaping our attention?