Artist Alteronce Gumby paints with prisms to redefine colour

Alteronce Gumby, left, and his play Infinite and Beyond (for Sam Gilliam). Photos: © Alteronce Gumby. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Nicola Vassell

Isaac Newton used prisms to break down the components of light into the spectrum of colors we see. These experiments inspire abstract artist Alteronce Gumby’s paintings of tiny shards of glass and precious stones, which represent his own analysis of light and color.

The big picture: Color frames the world we see. Gumby – his first solo exhibition the color in everything is currently at the Nicola Vassell Gallery in New York City – seeking to redefine color for the eye and for our society.

  • In a conversation with Axios, Gumby alternated between the material – his interest in the tools artists create – and the abstract, including how “people have taken the palette of the rainbow, separated and dissected it”.

Details: Gumby’s paint is made of resin, shards of glass, and slices of gemstone – all prisms that refract and bend light.

  • “I’m always trying to see new colors that I haven’t seen before,” he says of his choice of materials.
  • The titles of his paintings – Helios, From Proxima Centauri with love, and We are not the others – reflect his inspiration in the colors of the cosmos and their intersection with earthly issues of race and identity.
  • Everything, everywhere & more Riffs from Stephen Hawking’s work and the quest for a theory of it all.
  • The question of “what other colors might be out there in the universe that we as humans just can’t see or haven’t seen yet,” intrigues Gumby, who is also a member of the Planetary Society.

Gumby is personally intrigued with Newton’s famous prism experiments showing that light is a spectrum of colors and with later research revealing the different color spectra of stars.

  • He says he’s struck by how people have given this palette of the rainbow “different definitions, different signs and symbols that we use in this society.”
  • “All colors are subject to certain conditions or within certain social structures or conditions… I’m African American, but people identify me as Black. That kind of color code is just embedded in American society.”
Alteronce Gumby, Everything, Everywhere & More, 2022 Photo: © Alteronce Gumby.  Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Nicola Vassell
Alteronce Gumby, “Everything, Everywhere, and More” 2022 Photo: © Alteronce Gumby. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Nicola Vassell

The art of crafting: Gumby says he’s interested in artists who “made their own tools to leave a mark on a canvas,” citing Jack Whitten’s 12-foot brush, which he would scrape across the surface of a painting.

  • Sometimes Gumby drew with his fingers. He also poured molten plasticine clay onto a canvas, moving it back and forth with oven-armed hands.
  • There are other similarities with science. “Artwork is more about the questions we ask ourselves in our studio than the resolutions,” he says. “And I feel like that’s part of the science too, isn’t it? Scientists are more interested in the questions than the answers.”

What’s next: Gumby’s obsession with color and the different ways it is formed in nature leads him to explore pigments in plants. One goal of his is to work with SpaceX or NASA to experiment with metals and materials from the moon, asteroids and beyond.

  • He says he also thinks about how atmospheric light is absorbed and reflected by his paintings, and studies the work of James Turrell and other light artists.
  • On Instagram, Gumby often posts images from the James Webb Space Telescope, which captures light emanating from stars billions of years ago, giving humanity an unprecedented glimpse of the universe’s earliest moments. He has a series based on images taken by the Hubble telescope.
  • Telescopes and lenses keep popping up. A discovery that fascinates him: When the Hubble was aimed at seemingly nothing for 100 hours. “It was an area of ​​the sky where they thought there was no light – and they found thousands of galaxies.”

Gumby’s first solo exhibition at the museum, Dark matter, will open later this month at the Allentown Art Museum.

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