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Olafur Eliasson: Turner Colour Experiments

December 29, 2014

ArtsPainting | by James Joseph

Olafur Eliasson, Colour experiment no.58,  2014, © 2013 Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Colour experiment no.58, 2014, © 2013 Olafur Eliasson


 Olafur Eliasson is perhaps most well known here in the UK for his Turbine Hall installation The Weather Project which in 2003 saw a giant glowing sun and mirrored ceiling fill the Tate Modern Turbine Hall with brilliant yellow light. Since 2009 however Eliasson has been conducting a series of Colour Experiment Paintings with the intention of reproducing in paint, the exact colours for each nanometre of the visible light spectrum. His analysis of paint pigment and its application has led him to analyse seven paintings by Turner to create a new branch of his ongoing colour experiments – the Turner Colour Experiments.


Running alongside the EY Late Turner exhibition until the 25th of January, this new series of paintings in the form of doughnut shaped canvases are Eliasson’s response to these seven works by J.M.W. Turner. Each is a painted colour wheel depicting in a somewhat scientific manner, the pallet of colours used in each painting.


‘Turner’s ability to shape and frame light in his paintings has had a significant impact on my work….In the Turner colour experiments, I’ve isolated light and colour in Turner’s works in order to extract his sense of ephemera from the objects of desire that his paintings have become. The schematic arrays of colours on round canvases generate a feeling of endlessness and allow the viewer to take in the artwork in a decentralised, meandering way.’ Olafur Eliasson


Olafur Eliasson, Colour experiment no. 60, 2014, © 2013 Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson, Colour experiment no. 60, 2014, © 2013 Olafur Eliasson


Nestled in amongst the permanent Turner Collection in the Tate Britain’s Clore gallery under the same roof as the Late Turner exhibition, Eliasson’s clinical circular works might seem a tad out of place amongst so much history and the painterly brush strokes of cloud, water, landscape and light in Turner’s paintings. Yet the Old Master is likely to have approved of such a display being associated with his work on account of his own attempts to push at the boundaries of art in his own time and his inclination to rebuff the status quo and take risks well into his old age despite jibes from his critics. Yes Eliasson’s Turner Colour Experiments are a fitting addition to the Turner filled Tate Britain this winter.


Olafur Eliasson’s Turner Colour Experiments display is on at the Tate Britain until the 25th of January 2015. For more information go to www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/display/olafur-eliasson-turner-colour-experiments


For more information on The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free go to



For more information on the Turner collection in the Clore Gallery go to www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/display/turner-collection


Arts Editor, Maxine Kirsty Sapsford