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Stefanie De Winter



Tracking Frank Stella: An Empirical Evaluation of Art-Historical Issues in an Eye-Movement and Questionnaire Study (2022)  ART & PERCEPTION

An eye-tracking and questionnaire study was set up in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) to investigate the perception and appreciation of three Frank Stella paintings from the 60s (Tuxedo Park Junction and Effingham I from the collection of the museum and a hand-painted replica of Hiraqla Variation II). Effingham and Hiraqla were shown next to a printed copy without fluorescent colors, for a direct comparison between the two versions. The main purpose of the study was to assess whether the works were experienced according to Stella’s prescriptions as defined in his Modernist ‘logic’: all-overness, flatness, instantaneousness and self-referentiality. We found that the perception of Tuxedo resulted in a well-structured, coherent heatmap, while a more or less even distribution of fixations over the surface was found in the case of Effingham and Hiraqla (and their copies), which indicates that Stella’s target of all-overness was achieved better in the last two works. Although Stella claimed to have created “flat and frontal” paintings, depth was experienced, especially in Tuxedo and the Hiraqla replica. In the latter, this was mainly caused by the protruding fluorescent colors. Also, in this work more fixations were found in fluorescent-colored areas when corrected for area size. No such effect was found in the original Effingham painting. Most participants found only Effingham to be instantaneously capturable. In the case of Tuxedo, the specific material qualities, like alkyd and open canvas, were rarely recognized, which undermines Stella’s aim for self-referentiality. Participants noticed the fluorescent effect in the Hiraqla replica, but they did not mention other material qualities. A reverse effect was found for Effingham.

Stefanie De Winter and Johan Wagemans.


Colour, Pattern, Space and Time in Art Perception: Two Case Studies (2022) – GESTALT THEORY

Colour and space are pervasive topics in both perception and art. This article investigates the role of colour and pattern in relation to space and time in the art works by two artists: Frank Stella, a well-known Post-War American abstract painter, and Pieter Vermeersch, an emerging Belgian abstract painter, representing a contemporary trend to break the barriers between artistic disciplines. While Stella adheres to the Modernist logic of non-illusionistic, non-spatial, non-referential art as object, perceived instantaneously, Vermeersch explores ways to enhance the viewers’ spatial and temporal experiences through complex art installations with multiple objects and architectural elements interacting with each other and with the spaces in which they are embedded. We discuss these major themes in some representative art works, and in the way they are perceived and appreciated by contemporary viewers, investigated in four empirical studies: two laboratory experiments using well-controlled stimuli derived from at works, and two museum studies employing a variety of methods, including mobile eye-tracking and questionnaires.

Johan Wagemans, Stefanie De Winter and Christopher Linden


Multi-modal approach for the characterization of resin carriers in Daylight Fluorescent Pigments (2020) – MICROCHEMICAL JOURNAL 

Almost seventy years after artists such as Frank Stella (1936), Andy Warhol (1928–1987), James Rosenquist (1933–2017), Herb Aach (1923–1985), and Richard Bowman (1918–2001) started to incorporate Daylight Fluorescent Pigments (DFPs) in their artworks, the extent of the conservation problems that are associated with these pigments has increased progressively. Since their first appearance on the market, their composition has constantly been improved in terms of permanency. However, conservation practices on the artworks that are used, are complicated by the fact that the composition of DFPs is proprietary and the information provided by the manufactures is limited. To be able to propose adequate conservation strategies for artworks containing DFPs, a thorough understanding of the DFPs composition must be acquired. In contrast with previous research that concentrated on the identification of the coloring dye, this paper focuses on the characterization of the resin, used as the carrier for the dye. The proposed approach, involving ATR-FTIR, SPME-GC-MS, and XRF analysis, provided additional insights on the organic and inorganic components of the resin. Using this approach, we investigated historical DFPs and new formulations, as well as different series from the main manufacturing companies (DayGlo, Swada, Radiant Color, and Kremer) in order to obtain a full characterization of DFPs used by the artists along the years. First, the initial PCA-assisted ATR-FTIR spectroscopy allowed for an efficient classification of the main monomers in the resin polymer. Next, a further distinction was made by mass spectrometry and XRF which were optimized to allow a more specific classification of the resin and for detection of additives. In this paper we show the potential of SPME-GC-MS, never applied for the characterization of artistic materials, at present undervalued for heritage science purposes. We anticipate that this information will be highly relevant in the future stability studies and for defining (preventive) conservation strategies of fluorescent artworks.

Stefanie De Winter (joint first author), Alba Alvarez Martín (joint first author), Gert Nuyts, Joen Hermans, Koen Janssens, Geert Van der Snickt.


Instantaneous Art? Investigating Frank Stella’s Moroccan Paintings with a Short-Exposure Experiment (2020) – ART & PERCEPTION

In his search to create ‘instantaneously capturable’ paintings, Frank Stella started to use Day-Glo alkyd paints as a vehicle to communicate his simple, striped designs. Up till now, art criticism has neglected the visual impact of these fluorescent colors on this concept of ‘instantaneous art’. By presenting participants with Stella’s designs (fluorescent and conventional variants) for short presentation times (8 to 12 ms), we aimed to find out whether fluorescent color combinations are seen faster (i.e., yield better performance in identifying the specific design) than their conventional counterparts. In general, participants were very good in identifying the correct design among distractors, which means that the pattern and color combinations based on Stella’s work do seem to be ‘instantaneously capturable’. However, Stella’s formula for ‘instantaneous’ paintings is not identical for the different combinations. When exploring fluorescence in combination with other aspects of the design (color and pattern), we found two effects that seemed to predict performance. First, performance seemed to depend on specific design patterns. Second, fluorescence seemed to interact with specific color combinations in predicting performance. The red/yellow designs yielded better performance for the fluorescent variants, while the opposite was found for the green/orange designs. Contrast differences in luminance between the two colors of each color combination might explain part of the results. On the other hand, the effect of fluorescent colors might have been watered down by the confusion between the hand-printed fluorescent colors and the computer display used for the identification task, which only showed conventional colors.

Stefanie De Winter, Nathalie Vissers, Christophe Bossens, Johan Wagemans.


Frank Stella en DayGlo (2019) – DE WITTE RAAF

Transparantie vormt één van de belangrijkste redenen waarom Frank Stella er in 1963 voor opteerde om DayGlo verven te incorporen in zijn schilderkunst. Bij het bekijken van reproducties van deze schilderijen verdwijnt deze materiële eigenschap. Wanneer we de literatuur raadplegen is het opvallend dat een correcte lezing van deze werken vaak geheel achterwegen blijft. Nu, meer dan 50 jaar later, zijn de transparante fluorescerende verflagen vage overblijfselen van wat ze ooit geweest zijn. Deze tekst onderzoekt de rol van de transparante verfhuid in Stella’s fluorescerende reeksen.

Om te beginnen wordt de algemene context geschetst waarin de kunstenaar deze keuze maakt. Stella was één van de eerste, bekende kunstenaars die begin jaren 60 bewust industrieel ogende, niet-kunstenaarsmaterialen incorporeerde in zijn kunst, omdat die enkel naar zichzelf verwijzen. De transparante eigenschap van fluorescerende verven, die door veel kunstenaars als nadelig werd ervaren omdat dit de verven onmengbaar maakte, versterkte bij Stella net zijn concept van het zelfreferetiële. Daarbij vond hij DayGlo verven bijdragen aan de doorzichtbaarheid van het canvas. Beide karakteristieken, zowel het zelfreferentiële karakter als de zichtbaarheid van het doek, droegen bij aan zijn moderistisch concept waarmee hij het schilderij wou uitpuren tot een vlak, visueel object dat vrij hoorde te zijn van enige vorm van illusie.

Na de positionering van Day-Glo verven in Stella’s oeuvre wordt de dualiteit van de perceptie van deze lumineuze verflagen besproken en hoe dit er toe bijdroeg zijn concept van anti-illusionistische schilderkunst te herzien. Naar zichzelf verwijzende DayGlo verven vormden niet enkel een transparante verflaag, ze creërden ook typische visuele effecten. Bij de observatie van deze schilderijen werden vaak vibratie- en diepte effecten ervaren. Deze optische illusies voldeden niet aan zijn modernistisch ideaal, waardoor hij genoodzaakt werd zijn conceptuele benadering bij te stellen. Vanaf dat moment categoriseerden critici en Stella deze optische effecten dan ook onder “abstract illusionisme”. Deze abstracte illusies zijn, volgens hem, intrinsiek gebonden aan de specifieke materialiteit van het schilderij, waardoor de vlakheid ervan nog steeds wordt benadrukt.

In de literatuur blijft het vaak beperkt tot (theoretische) claims van de kunstenaar en enkele critici. Het is dan ook de vraag hoe het publiek deze werken ervaart. Tot slot eindigt de tekst met enkele inzichten uit studies die ik samen met perceptie-psychologen organiseerde rond de DayGlo werken van Stella. Daarbij onderzochten we hoe een toeschouwer deze werken ervaart en of ze eerst bewust werden van het platte, transparante, verfoppervlak of dat ze net diepte ervaren door deze sterk contrasterende kleuren.

Stefanie De Winter


DayGloification: Frank Stella’s Fluorescent Turn, an Art-Scientific Approach (2018) – THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE IMAGE 

This contribution focuses on the fluorescent turn in the work of Frank Stella, a subject only scarcely and superficially addressed in the literature. It places the use of this synthetic palette within Stella’s artistic discourse by tracing the evolution that directly leads up to it. A specific emphasis is put on material aspects and their unique visual effects. In the first part, his choice for self-referential household paints is analyzed, in which his fluorescent turn is seen as the logical successor to the previous metallic paints. After mapping this transition, a study of the visual effects of his DayGlo artworks is made, using knowledge from phenomenological studies and vision science. In addition, some preliminary results of a short-exposure experiment are discussed, in which the instantaneous quality of replicas of some of the Moroccan paintings are tested. The insights of this study are held against the light of the art criticism of the sixties, to address the influence of Stella’s DayGloification on the experience of time and illusion in his artworks.

Stefanie De Winter


Illusory Depth Based on Interactions Between Fluorescent and Conventional Colours: Case-Study on Frank Stella’s Irregular Polygons paintings (2018) – ART & PERCEPTION

Although Frank Stella intended to create flat, illusion-less Irregular Polygons paintings, it is not uncommon to experience the illusion of color depth, based on the interaction between their fluorescent and conventional colors. Some critics praised these artworks’ flatness, while others described odd depth experiences that they categorized as a new kind of illusion. In order to provide a correct reading of these works and to reassess their art historical significance, a scientific case study regarding this color-depth effect imposes itself. This article discusses an experiment in which we determined whether twenty artists, twenty art historians, and twenty laypeople experienced fluorescent colors as protruding, receding, or flat in combination with conventional colors. We additionally looked at whether they still perceived color depth when all fluorescent colors were replaced with their conventional variants. All participants observed fifteen designs, which they had to rate according to the perceived depth of each colored region with a number between −3 (strongly receding) and +3 (strongly protruding). The results revealed that most participants experience fluorescent regions as strongly protruding, unlike all conventional colors, which were rated as much less protruding. When a fluorescent color was swapped with a conventional variant, all participants experienced significantly less depth. The differences between the subject groups were statistically negligible when looking at the mean depth ratings for both color types. However, we discovered that artists experienced more contrast effects, as they gave different ratings to different panels (of identical color and shape) in the same design, depending on their position.

Stefanie De Winter, Pieter Moors, Hilde Van Gelder, Johan Wagemans


Conservation problems with paintings containing fluorescent layers of paint (2010)  CEROART   

In modern art, we can see that artists are breaking with traditional techniques. New materials like sponges, polyester, sand, etc. are being used. This causes a lot of new problems in the (preventive) conservation of works containing these materials. Every material needs to be researched individually so the exact intention of the artist can be preserved for a (relatively) long period. My research is about very recent materials: fluorescent pigments and paints. These only started to be used by artists from the ’60s. That's why there is not much information about their aging and ways to (preventively) conserve them. A lot of fluorescent paintings are meant to be shown under UV light. If a fluorescent painting has damage and needs to be retouched there is a big esthetical problem. The retouched damage is visible under UV light. The title of this thesis is born out of this last problem: Conservation problems with paintings containing fluorescent layers of paint. The first topic of research for this thesis concerns the composition of these different sorts of paint and pigments. Afterward, the causes of damage resulting from UV-light –and other factors- were thoroughly analyzed. Finally, a possible remedy is being proposed.

Stefanie De Winter



Flattened Intensities: An Empirically Informed Assessment of Frank Stella's Fluorescent Paintings from the Sixties (2020)

This dissertation investigates the role and visual effects of daylight fluorescent (DayGlo) paints in Frank Stella's works of the sixties. In the first part of the dissertation, a theoretical framework is developed through a step-by-step extraction of the logic of the Modernist theories of Clement Greenberg, Frank Stella, and Michael Fried. This framework helps to position Stella's intentions and decisions, starting from the Black Paintings, which eventually lead him to the use of fluorescent paints. The second half of the first part is devoted to Stella's fluorescent turn. Here, Stella's understanding of self-referentiality, developed throughout the black and metallic series, is applied to the fluorescent series that were made between 1964 and 1970 (Moroccan, Persian, Irregular Polygons, and Protractor series). Part two consists of empirical studies related to Stella's DayGlo works. In the first chapters, an introduction to the physics and chemical composition of daylight fluorescent pigments is given. In addition, a multi-modal approach for the characterization of daylight fluorescent pigments has been developed in collaboration with prof. Geert Van der Snickt and his team (University of Antwerp). This is followed by a phenomenological study of the specific visual aspects (and their relation to Stella's concepts of 'actuality,' 'anti-illusionism,' 'transparency,' 'arbitrariness' and 'directness') of the different series that contain fluorescent colors. In the penultimate chapter, a number of claims that were central to Stella's Modernist approach have been tested for their validity when applied to his fluorescent works. For this, three studies were conducted in collaboration with prof. Johan Wagemans and his team (KU Leuven). In the first study, the effect of fluorescent colors on the experience of color depth was tested using color sets adapted from four Irregular Polygons paintings. The study showed that the fluorescent colors, unlike their conventional variants, were experienced as strongly protruding, which is inconsistent with the claims found in art criticism that these works are anti-illusionistic. In the second experiment, we tested whether fluorescent colors amplify the instantaneous-effect, by testing four color combinations and patterns based on Stella's Moroccan Paintings. In order to speak of Modernist, anti-illusionist paintings, they had to be immediately capturable. It turns out that some fluorescent color combinations contribute to, while others diminish the speed at which these structures can be perceived. Therefore, Stella's assumptions are not valid for the whole series, but only for some of the works. The last study investigated how fluorescent colors are experienced when observing them in real paintings, using eye-tracking methods and questionnaires. This study was organized together with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, where it also took place. For the occasion, the exhibition Tracking Frank Stella was curated, which consisted of three Stella paintings (Tuxedo Park Junction (1960), Effingham I (1967), and a painted replica of Hiraqla Variation II (1968)) and life-size non-fluorescent printed copies that were shown next to each other. The study revealed that different participants experienced significant differences when observing the same works, which undermines Stella's intended uniformity of experience. In the last chapter, it is shown how the interdisciplinary approach of this research consists in a new art-historical methodology, which can be called 'empirically informed art history.' This new methodology helps to adjudicate debates, illustrate (visual) complexities, and reveal biases and individual differences in the appreciation of works of art in a way that 'traditional' art historical methods cannot.

Board of examiners: Prof. dr. Hilde Van Gelder (supervisor); Prof. dr. Johan Wagemans (co-supervisor); Prof. dr. Geert Van der Snickt (co-supervisor); Prof. dr. Jeroen Poblome (chair); Prof. dr. Barbara Baert (secretary); Prof. dr. James Elkins

Book Chapters















Microcosmos (ca.1960) by Richard I. Bowman, fluorescent oil and conventional oil on shaped canvas, Bowman Estate

Microcosmos (ca.1960) by Richard I. Bowman, fluorescent oil and conventional oil on shaped canvas, Bowman Estate

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