OPTICKS I love your red shoes. They are yellow.
September 15 - November 2, 2023
Artist: Radu Comșa

Statement in 4 Tempi


I studied almost obsessively almost all known theories about colour (Goethe’s Theory of Colours, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, David Ramsay Hay’s Nomenclature of Colors [read more]

If one says "Red"...

If one says “Red” (name of the color)

And there are 50 people listening,

it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds.

And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.


Josef Albers, a promotor of perceptual painting, captures one of the most concrete ways to describe this imperceptible but permanent dialogue between perception and language. He refers to the difference between knowing how the color feels and the act of naming or describing it. All things considered, in knowing what kind of thing color is, neither discourse nor raw sensation can suffice. A more profound intuition is needed. One that passes through both, but doesn’t get stuck in either of them. Art offers this sort of medium that allows this intuition to manifest, surfacing the latent potential within color itself.

In total, there are approximately 30 different names of colors[1], so little linguistic space describing a virtually incalculable sum of perceptible hues. By such a disadvantage, how could we ever strive to discursively recreate such complexity? In one of his short stories by H. P. Lovecraft named The Color Out of Space, there is one particular and captivating situation in which the characters encounter a strange extraterrestrial substance, with an indescribable color. “It was only by analogy that they called it a color at all”.[2] The absurdity of this narrative which opens the possibility of perceiving a “new” color (one outside the knowable spectrum) is employed as a means to showcase the immense sum of unknowable things beyond human understanding that we usually equivalate with outer space. Although it seems to be the perfect premise for further developing cosmic horror, this narrative makes one realize that our “normal” colors are actually similarly hard to describe. The only aspect that cancels the emotionally terrifying impact is their familiar sensation.

Still, we can’t be certain whether this familiarity is native or empirically gained, a fact that ignited the most famous debate in the field of visual psychology at the end of the 19th century. [3] As a representant of nativism, Ewald Hering studies color vision starting from its simple interaction with language.[4] In his theory based on chromatic opposition, he develops a new model of the spectrum organized on two axes, each defined by two color extremes (red-green and blue-yellow), by noticing that our mind can’t conceive certain combinations of hues (we can’t imagine a reddish green or a blueish yellow).

In any case, we reach the same conclusion: by trying to describe a color as a mental exercise, may it be terrestrial or not, one reaches a dead end.

In OPTICKS I love your red shoes. They are yellow Radu Comșa breaks free from this trap, as he tells a visual story about what color can mean in itself, without using figurative or linguistic support. After he obsessively studied the most important theories about color, from pigment extraction and preparation to the physical/optical properties of light, the artist then returns to the palpability of raw perception to inspire new ways to understand color, this „given fact”, this apparently boring, instantly known thing which is impossible to be described through words or memorized from sensation.

Until recently, in paintings most especially, the color served as a symptom of representation. Chromatic symbolism is the first instance in which the perception of color and the sensations involved with it take a step forward, questioning the power of the depicted subject, without entirely leaving the secondary/adjectival character behind. The fully-fledged detachment from form comes into play with abstract art, through the act of its simplified and deconstructed view of representation. History reminds us of the important role held by the artistical movements at the start of the 20th century as the accepted origin of the dematerialization of the subject. Among the most influential art theories from this period, we can cite Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism, and the particular case of De Stijl (neoplasticism) with Piet Mondrian as a leading figure, along with the Bauhaus school. Through the abnegation of the subject matter, both Malevich (Black Square, Red Square) and Mondrian’s utopically-geometrical compositions point to a new way of viewing color along with the space it opens, defines, and orders at the same time. From this point in time stem multiple divergent artistic ways of creating that highlight the way in which color can act like a subject within itself.

Far from imposing a simple chromatic study, OPTICKS represents Radu Comșa’s analysis of color as space and of the space of color together, by combining different materials and techniques. Both concepts constantly overlap within his artistic practice, seconded by his keen interest in modernist architecture and atonal music. Ultimately, the objects are created as complex conceptual syntheses that reflect the mental composition through comprehensive material means.

With the same goal of chromatic exploration through the assimilation of pure perception as well as spatial relation, Radu Comșa’s compositions also contain a ludic element attached to color. Finding inspiration in two particular games, one logical (the Rubik’s cube), and one dynamic (twister), he visually depicts the way in which we are almost instinctively compelled to interact with color in given circumstances. The key point that links the two examples is the association of color as visual perception with a certain place in space. Although they impose very different solving rules, the hidden mechanism that serves as a base is one and the same. In the cube’s case, one needs to localize and order the colors on multiple surfaces at the same time, while Twister prioritizes the body’s position in relation to a color surface. The geometrical and algorithmic movement of one finds its opponent in the chaos and randomness of the other. The square meets the circle. Although these two examples perfectly serve this exhibition’s case, the truth is that color secures an essential role in almost all games, especially as a means of quickly assuming or identifying a position in space. Color efficiently fulfills this purpose because its perception and recognition are almost instantaneous.

The reverse is valid as well because, through association and localization, one develops the ability to retain and name individual colors from the very beginning of his or her cognitive journey. A child cannot learn “red” in an abstract way, but he/she can learn to identify where reading appears to be (as a sensation), and the situation doesn’t change through life. The simple fact of calling forth the memory of a certain color through words (like the opening quote suggests) comes with difficulty and utmost relativity. So comes to pass the eternal condemnation of color to be forever adjectivally employed: forever descriptive but never to be described.[5]

Moreover, when one considers the multitude of medical afflictions of the visual system (daltonism, dyschromatopsia), the systematization/generalization of perception becomes even more absurd. Radu Comșa studies these particular cases and he creates visual translations of color. In his apparently achromatic artworks, the greys are derived from actual colors, although the first impression acts like a black and white filter which instantly modifies the aspect of the hole specter.

In other words, we can safely conclude that the core of OPTICKS can be reduced to a simple observation: If we think about it in depth, the act of identifying a single, distinct color in objects should become impossible. We can’t affirm anything about color, in spite of the fact that it plays a crucial role in organizing space, mental or physical. The palpable aspect of sensation evades the generalizing force of theory. This anti-theoretical character reignites the fascination with the simple possibility of perceiving. On a more scientific note, the specter takes a limited appearance for us (a synthesis of 7 hues), but all the ways in which we individually interpret even a single one of them are infinite and irreplicable.


[1]Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, Yale University Press, New Haven-London,1963.

[2]H. P. Lovecraft, The Colour out of Space, Lancer Books, New York, 1967.

[3]Turner, R. M., In the eye’s mind: vision and the Helmholtz-Hering controversy, Princeton University Press, 1994.

[4]Wayne Wright, „Psychologically Pure Colors”, Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology, Springer Science+Business Media, New York, 2013.

[5] Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Evil Eye Music, 1974.

My skin is sort of brownish,

Pinkish, yellowish, white.

My eyes are greyish, bluish, green,

But I’m told they look orange in the night.

My hair is reddish, blondish, brown

But it’s silver when it’s wet;

And all the colors I am inside

Have not been invented yet.

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