Todd Carpenter is a Los Angeles based artist who uses black and white paint to explore the perception of space and beauty. Carpenter's formal education is in science - he holds a MS in Neuroscience from UCSD and a BS in Psychobiology from UCLA - and he brings this background into service when making art. His paintings explore the mechanisms of perception and aesthetics, examining among other things how the depiction of light can impart realism and convey emotion. Like his paintings bridging art and science, Carpenter's career has similarly straddled the two fields, and he has taught subjects ranging from neuroscience and environmental science to photography and painting.
As a painter, I am particularly interested in how the depiction of light contributes to our experience of paintings. Painting, as with any visual art, is obviously dependent on light. But painting can also have a more specific connection in that the accurate depiction of light is crucial for achieving realism. Realism in paintings largely arises from the portrayal of depth - perceiving a painting as being realistic is equivalent to seeing its subject as existing in more than just the two dimensions of the picture plane - and one of the mechanisms by which humans perceive depth is through lighting cues. Light creates features such as shading, shadow, and contrast that tell us about the three-dimensional arrangement of our surroundings, and artists often use these features to impart realism to paintings.
Light also factors in to the emotional impact of paintings. The differential illumination of our surroundings can evoke different moods, as evidenced by the influence sunsets, candlelight, and darkness can have on us. Such effectssuggest that our perception of light could be tied to primitive instincts, with light signaling factors such as shelter, nightfall, and warmth, which were once crucial for survival. The depiction of light in paintings can potentially tap into these primitive responses, to contribute to the emotional impact of the painted scene.
One reason why I paint in grayscale is that it is suited for the portrayal of light. The lighting features that our brains use to perceive depth are based on color brightness rather than hue, and the parts of the brain that process depth work in black and white, separate from the areas that encode the colors and details we use to distinguish objects. By painting in grayscale I am attempting to interact specifically with this part our visual system, with the hope of imparting a degree of realism and perhaps even conveying some of the emotional significance that light can imbue.
It is through light that we see the world, but light itself is also seen, with an impact independent of the subjects transmitted by its waves. Light is both the crisp contrast of a back-lit forest and the gray haze of an industrial landscape, and the perceptual power of light is what communicates the atmosphere of such places. This ability of light to effect us is the principle subject of my paintings.