“‘Journeys, like artists, are born and not made,’” says American artist Judith Sparks, recalling the line by British novelist Lawrence Durrell. Sparks goes on to say, “This seems true, somehow, but enigmatic. One common thing is that in making a painting or a journey, one must do the work, which is surprisingly physical.”
Sparks has put in that hard work. She is a self-taught artist who has been thinking about art since she was young. Using mixed media she creates a kaleidoscope of color and pattern inspired by poetry, mythology, and all things earthly.
“As a child it seemed that drawing could evoke reality, especially if accompanied by narrative or dialogue,” Sparks says. “You can see how this might evolve into painting as prayer, poem, homage, eulogy, confession, even atonement.”
Polar Bear I
Sparks now resides in Eugene, Oregon, where her studio is, but her favorite subject is Pyramid Lake, north of her once-hometown of Reno, Nevada. “Pyramid is a place of a thousand unnamed subtle colors, ceaselessly changing,” she notes.
Perhaps Sparks’s eyes are better equipped to see those colors as well. She recently learned that she falls into a small portion of people born with a heightened color perception called tetrachromacy.
Most people have three types of cone cells in their eyes, each type responsive to about 100 shades of color. This allows the average human to see around 1 million color variations. Adding in a fourth type of cone cell would expand that spectrum to around 100 million—a rare but not unheard of ability.
“This explained a lot,” Sparks says, “but also I realized I’ve spent my whole life trying to create colors most people can’t see.”
Whether or not the color in her work is perceived as she wants it to be, her palette is incredibly striking. She fills her work with violet mountains, pink deserts, and prismatic skies. Color bursts from her paintings in almost electrifying ways, radiating out from animals, clouds, and landscapes alike, and she has no intention of pulling back in her exploration of color.
“Currently, I’m very taken up with iridescent and interference colors, which seem intrinsically unnamable,” Sparks says. “These colors are impossible to photograph or reproduce, since they change, sometimes to their opposites, as the eye moves. You have to be there.”
Saint Francis of the Interstate
All images © Judith Sparks