Artist considers entoptic imagery, phosphenes


The Erwin Gallery recently featured Art Education professor Cynthia Bickley-Green work on entoptic imagery, phosphenes and art afterimages.
Early in Bickley-Green’s career she focused on a representational style of painting. She would paint fruit and flowers against white backdrops. Bickley-Green said she would look “at the orange for a long time there would be a blue spot on the table.” This was when afterimages first intrigued her.


Bickley-Green later became associated with the Washington Color School, where she started working with Josef Albers theories of color.
The Washington Color School was an art movement in the ‘60s. The six artists associated with the Washington Color School wanted to refocus art on the original principles of light, form, and color field painting, a form of abstract painting. Color was very important to the movement, and the artists explored its optical effects. They used lots of geometric shapes, lines and stripes in their work.

Later in her career, Bickley-Green returned to school at the University of Georgia to earn her teaching degree, where she was exposed to afterimages while observing a portrait by Robert Henry. The portrait featured a young blue-eyed girl. On her right cheek Henry painted an orange spot that represented his afterimage. That’s when, after years of seeing her own afterimages and reading about them in art literature, Bickley-Green started to paint her own afterimages.

She began painting images she saw with her eyes closed eight to ten years ago. These ended up being “whole bunch of black paintings,” she said. She continued working to capture the sparkly sensation she saw with her eyes closed and also to mimic the movement she saw. She used optical illusions painted over the black background to mimic movement.


After a lack of success selling the predominantly black paintings, Bickley-Green decided to add color to her paintings. Some of the colors were suggested by the experience, she said, but she also utilized color gradients and complimentary and analogous to achieve the illusion of moving space. Many of these paintings were on exhibition in the Erwin Gallery.


Bickley-Green researched entoptic imagery a few years ago when she asked students in the School of Art and Design to paint what they saw when she changed the situation they were put in. Situations varied from sitting in silence and darkness for four minutes to listening to loud music in daylight. “This is obviously non-objective, it’s a factor of your biology” said Bickley-Green on her students work.

In this visual age where “we’re more and more aware of our visual experiences,” this research is becoming more prevalent. When giving a demonstration in Japan on entoptic imagery and phosphenes, a German attendee said to Bickley-Green that when he was in second grade he learned about phosphenes when doing a common exercise of pressing on his closed eyelid. “There could be a lot of research done,” Bickley-Green said of the phenomena.


-By Catherine Lochner, candidate for the BS in Communication