Fluorescent colours are ubiquitous in our contemporary world, from day-glo signage and hi-viz work uniforms to street art and fine art installations. The super brilliance they produce is both eye catching and garish, and is a visual symbol of the modern era. I have always held a mildly scientific and aesthetic curiosity for such colours but it was only a few years ago that, as an artist, I sought a way of adding this vivid chromatic range to my plein-air painting palette.
A primary reason why I adopted fluorescent paints was to aid me in reproducing the artificial colours of urban night-time scenes with bright street lighting and colourful LED displays. For example, the orange-peach coloured glow of high-pressure sodium lamps, a very common sight on our streets, display an unnatural and cold chromatic tone that is difficult to represent in a painting. In the past I used my standard palette of colours to imitate this colour but the resulting paintings often made the lighting in the scenes appear more like candlelight or incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent pigments seemed to mimic better the cold and intense colour of these lamps, but I was initially reticent to try them out because I felt that they could make the painting appear unpleasing to the eye, or overwhelm and flatten a picture.
An early attempt I made was a small painting titled ‘Alexandra Park, Night’ which featured a London skyline with a typical nocturnal ambience and light polluted sky. When working, I illuminated the painting surface with a light adjustable white LED lamp which brought out the vividness of the fluorescent paints I was using. I found, however, that the colours did not mix particularly well (they created a greyish mud), but I persevered and the resulting painting gave a tentative sense of the orange-tinged nocturnal colours in front of me. I later found that I could mix and apply the paints with more confidence.
In addition to capturing urban night-time lighting, fluorescent acrylic paints are a natural choice for reproducing scenes that feature everyday plastic objects such as traffic cones and temporary work barriers. A recently completed painting, 'Construction time in Barking' features these plastic barriers in a bright fluorescent green. I used an acidic green paint, toned down slightly by mixing it with conventional colours to help convey the subtle and differing shades of green of the barriers. Another pigment, fluorescent blue, is a colour I frequently use in much of my work now and is perfect for capturing the bright natural azure of daytime skies as well as the deep intense blueness of dusk and dawn. The painting 'Leytonstone Station at Dusk’, for example gave me an opportunity to incorporate fluorescent colours to convey a cloudless evening sky juxtaposed with the orange lamps of an Underground station in east London.
Working with colours such as these has helped me to be more adventurous in my painting and strive to communicate and represent better the fabric and ambience of the contemporary world.